Juno Kim, travel blogger, travel photographer and former mechanical engineer. She left her cubic farm to follow her true love: the world. A firm believer of serendipity, astronomy enthusiaster, and living by passion and love in life. Currently, on a quest to find the place where she can call ‘home’ while eating, drinking tea, and good beer and wine.
First of all could you tell us, what is Korea’s national dish? Is it Kimchi, or is that more of a side dish/condiment?
Kimchi is definitely the most significant food of Korea. It’s a side dish, and almost no Korean would sit down to a meal without it. There are almost 200 different types of Kimchi out there. This cabbage based dish was traditionally fermented in earthenware pots underground. Today, many families have their own special kimchi refrigerators. Families still gather in fall to whip up massive batches to last the following year. Kimchi is often described as Korean sauerkraut.
What dishes must a culinary traveler try when visiting Korea?
For lunchtime pick me up, try Bulgogi or Bibimbab. Bulgogi is sweet seasoned beef cooked with soy sauce and vegetables. Bibimbab is a bowl of rice with cooked vegetables and fried egg. It’s served either cold, or in a hot stone pot, and always with red pepper sauce to spice it up. Fried chicken is a popular Friday night meal, often accompanied with local beer and shop talk. I’d recommend skipping the fast food and spending some time turning meat
at a galbi restaurant—traditional Korean BBQ. Each restaurant offers its own unique side dishes, which are a gratuitous part of the meal and always refillable. The meat is every carnivores dream: sweet, salty, or spicy, but always grilled to tender perfection. Beware: while many travellers consider the blackened parts delectable, most Koreans think its unhealthy. Cook your meat too long and one of the restaurant’s staff will quickly scoot over and slice the chargrilled parts off. Best to eat the black bits quickly. An average meal, with a king’s portion of food and drink will cost between 15,000 and 20,000 won.
Can you tell us about the street food in Korea, it seems to be very popular?
Basically, you can find street food on any street corner in Korea. It’s key to feeding hungry workers and students quickly. a) Ttokboki (rice cake cooked with red pepper sauce): this is the most common and the most popular street food in Korea. The main ingredients are rice cake and red pepper sauce. It’s usually cooked in a very big square frying pan. It’s a simple, but tangy dish that can be fortified with pefectly dippable eats like kimbop or fried vegetables. (2000 won/plate) b) Mandoo (Korean style dumpling): It’s similar to Chinese dumplings, but the ingredients are different. Usually there are two types: gogi mandoo (pork) or Kimchi mandoo (Pork and Kimchi). A popular cold weather treat is Wangmandoo which means the giant mandoo. (2000 won/plate) c) Soondae (sausage): Pig’s intestine with noodles inside. Usually you can find it in the ttokboki vendor. Soondae taste like noodle cooled with
pork. (2000 won/plate) You can easily find these anywhere in the country, but in Seoul, Jongro is well known for street food and they are open till midnight.
What are your favorite dishes and why?
The variety of Korean food is enormous, but if you ask me what I would eat when I want Korean food, I would say Kimchi chijae. I don’t eat out for Korean food; mainly because all the food is very easy to cook at home and my mother is a great cook. Kimchi giggae is a very basic Korean meal and is a combination of Kimchi and hot soup. And this is a comfort food that reminds me of my mother and her kitchen.
What are some of the more extreme foods there?
Bundaegi: Literally meaning “chrysalis” or “pupa” in Korean. Bundaegi are steamed or boiled silkworm pupae, which are seasoned and eaten as a snack. It was a very common street snack until the 90s, but now its only sold in particular regions, notably hiking trails. However now it is available in supermarket as a canned good. Personally, I had no idea this might be an extreme food; while I was growing up, it was every kid’s snack. Sannakji (Live octopus): Sannakji literally means live small octopus. It is served sliced, diced and still wriggling! Usually, its lightly seasoned with sesame and sesame oil. Seafood is a huge part of Korean cuisine, especially raw. Bosintang (dog meat soup): Bosintang is a soup mainly made with dog meat. This is not considered a popular cuisine anymore, but it is still part of our food culture, and considered one of the most extreme Korean cuisines. The consumption of dog meat in Korea can be traced back to the 4th century and earlier. These days it’s hard to find restaurants for Bosintang, but it is still here because it is thaught to improve male stamina.
Can you name some regional specialties that are only available in certain areas?
Ingredients vary regionally, but as you can see Korea is a very small country. And due to transportation development, there aren’t many regional barriers. These are considered as regional specialties: South West (Jeollado): Hongeo (Fermented Skates), Gul Kimchi (Kimchi with Oyster) South East (Gyeongsangdo): Gukbab (pig meat and intestine soup) East (Gangwondo): Potato, sweet potato and corn West: Clams, Shellfish
What are the essential ingredients in popular Korean dishes?
Garlic People would most often think ‘red pepper’ because Korean food has a reputation for being spicy and looking hot. However one of the essential ingredients in Korean dishes is garlic. A jar of smashed garlic can be found the refrigerator of any Korean home.
What are they drinking there, and what is the drinking scene like?
Soju is the signature Korean alcohol. It goes well with any Korean cuisine. Usually it is better with a soup-°©‐based meal. Soju is usually comparable to vodka. Makgolli, another signature Korean alcohol, is a milky, sweet alcoholic beverage made from rice and several different grains and it’s easier to drink than soju. This is a great way to wrap up any hiking endeavour, and is best enjoyed with sore legs, good company and pajeon, a korean pancake.
What are some of the popular desserts or sweets?
Sikhye: traditional sweet beverage made with malt and rice. Soojeonggwa: traditional sweet beverage made with cinnamon, ginger, and dried persimmons. These are often served at the restaurant for free, after the meal. Also, both are available in canned form. Yeot: Soft like taffy, hard like candy. It’s Korean traditional candy made out of pumpkin or ginger. Easy to get at the supermarket or from the street vendor.
What else can you tell us about the food and drink of Korea and the people that live there in general?
Korean food is more about the culture than the cuisines in general. Eating well is very important to Koreans because they have a long history of poverty. They had ate anything they could find. ‘Have you eaten yet?’ became the normal greetings. Because of the historic basis, Koreans value home cooked meal more than anything. Food was a survival, before pleasure. Maybe because that’s why there’s no strict way to cook. There are always few key ingredients that should be included, but no measurement required. If the taste is right for someone who eats, than it is right. This is what I like about Korean food: there’s no rule, and it’s more about culture and concept than doing it correct.