Sunday, November 23, 2014

Land of the Morning Calm - Eat

One of the best things about Korea (and, in my case, arguably the best thing, period) is food!   When I used to live in Toronto I would eat Korean food almost every week.  Yes, parts of it can seem meat heavy and pretty anti-vegan.  But there's enough vegan stuff that, for me, was pure heaven. Especially since most of it was spicy!  So this opportunity to eat Korean food in Korea itself was precious, and I made as good use of it.


My very very favourite ever is bibimbap (비빔밥).  It's quite a simple dish, actually, with a bed of rice, namul (that is, sautéed and seasoned vegetables) and gochujang (chili pepper paste).  And once it reaches your table, you mix and stir everything together yourself.  And it's so, so good!   This one here is from a tiny (couldn't seat more than 20 in very, very cramped conditions) place near Deoksugung (see my previous post Land of the Morning Calm - Red).  This dish usually comes with a raw (or sometimes fried) egg on top, and the place was so local that nobody spoke English except  a couple of students that were having dinner there,and who helped me explain I didn't want any egg or anything animal in it.   

And you know what's also great?  Banchan (반찬)!  See those two smaller dishes?  When you go for a meal, it's customary to serve a number of little side dishes.  Since this was a modest, simple place, I just had these two - kimchi (김치, which is spicy-sour pickled cabbage, and which I totally love!) and some pickled radish.  Plus a small side bowl of noodles.  Oh my, so good. So good. 

Even at Incheon Airport, when I left Korea, airport Korean fast food was delicious!  And accompanied by banchan!  And those kimchi noodles?  Yum!  I mean, airport fast food - yum?  At least it is so in Korea!


When walking around Korean markets you'll find plenty of stuff on skewers.  For the vegan likes of us there's plenty you cannot eat, but there's also this one very tasty option - rice cake skewers (떡꼬치)!  First of all, I love rice cakes (떡볶이), which are basically made of soft rice cakes and a sweet chili sauce.  Then to have that on a skewer while walking around Myeongdong (see my previous post)?  Super good.   


Now, I know this post is called "Eat", but where else am I supposed to put the drinks?   Remember my previous post where I mentioned we started a night out at Hongdae with Korean food and unfiltered rice wine called makgeolli (막걸리)?  Well, this one here below is a picture of a bowl of makgeolli. To me, it somewhat resembles unfiltered Japanese sake (濁り酒).  Anyhow, any alcoholic beverage you get in a big bowl and serve with spoons into smaller bowls belongs in my list of favourites.  Plus it's just 6-8% alcohol, so you can enjoy plenty without any serious problems!

And you know what else you can enjoy in Seoul?  Good coffee!  Yep, these people are serious when it comes to coffee!  I mean, in so many places I've asked for an espresso or a ristretto an got something similar in volume (and strength) to an Americano.  Well, see this photo below?  That's a double ristretto.  Before drinking any.  And that's a pretty tiny cup.  This might probably be the very first time I had a proper ristretto ever!


Finally, and because any post about food should end with sweet things, I was happy to find these two, both in the open air market of the commercial area of Myeongdong.   First, roasted chestnuts!  I first had these in Beijing, and I enjoy them so much, especially on cool autumn-winter nights!   It's the kind of thing I really do avoid buying, because I can go through a bag of these goodies in one sitting! I was very happy to find them in Seoul.   These should count as comfort food for the soul.   

And I also found kkultarae (꿀타래).   Apparently they're a version of a sweet from China, but I never saw them there, so this was completely new for me.  Yay!  Anyhow, the thing is, the confectioner starts with a ring of starch or maltose or some mixture, then stretches the ring, and brings it back together, and then stretches again, each time getting thinner and thinner strands until they're hair-like thin!   Then you put some nuts or chocolate bits or some other sweet stuff and wrap it up!  The end product looks a bit like a mix between a tiny pillow and a cocoon.   Frankly, it's a strange sweet.  The moment you put it in your mouth there is one strange sensation of all these strands.  Then, that mixes with your saliva and is also changed by your mouth's temperature, and it sort of melts!  And then you get to the filling.  So glad I got to try this!  I wanted to buy some at the airport before leaving, but I couldn't find any.  If you see them anywhere, don't think twice and have a bite!

Now, you go get your hands on some Korean food, pronto!  

I'm almost done with my Korea posts.  Not bad for such a short work trip, eh?  Gotta make good use of whatever little free time you have!   Next time, my last post - the "odd" things!

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