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Korean Food – Interview with Juno Kim

Juno Kim from RunawayJuno.com

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.

Kimchi a Korean favorite

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

Korean BBQ Suwon

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.

Tteokboki a popular snack food

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.

Kimchi Soup

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.

Kimchi and side dishes at marketGyeongbok Palace