Korean Food

After a month and change, I guess it’s about time that I spoke about Korean food.  Now, the hundred or so meals I’ve had in this country hardly qualify me as an expert, especially since many of them have been my own “cooking” (mostly various styles of eggs, hot dogs, and ramyan- Korean ramen noodles, of which there are many flavors, especially if you count ‘hot’ as a flavor).  Still, I have been able to sample a variety of dishes, and am overall pleased with the food here.

I do have at least one Korean meal a day for lunch while I’m at school, which has done wonders for my chopsticks skills.  However, I still have no idea how you’re supposed to debone a small fish with them, which results in either less fish or more fish bone consumption.

Mmm…*

The lunches are set up like a typical Korean meal- that is, there’s always rice, a fish/mussel broth soup, and kimchi present as well as a vegetable or pickled substance and a small portion of the main course (a meat, fish, egg, or soy concoction of some sort).  I already mentioned kimchi in a previous post, but I failed to document the variety you see of the fermented vegetable dish.  Cabbage is the most common main ingredient, but I’ve tried it with several types of fresh vegetables, most successfully turnips.  The fresh cabbage variety is probably my favorite.

Eating out in restaurants is much the same, although the Koreans definitely prefer the ‘watch it cooked at your table’ (hibachi-style) or the ‘cook it yourself’ formats.  Instead of Western-style tables and chairs, the table is usually much lower and everyone sits cross-legged on mats, which can be a pain for less-flexible waygooks (foreigners).  A burner and pot is set inside the table with a boiling pot of broth or a wok, and you add the ingredients yourself as you like them and cook the meal as much as you like.  This type of restaurant is patronized breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Although extra-spicy mushroom stew can be a lot to handle in the morning

Last week’s mentioned all of the food I ate on my school trip to Andong, and I tried quite a few of those stews that weekend.  I also got to try my two favorite dishes that I’ve had here so far- Andong bulgogi and Andong chicken.

Bulgogi is simply the Korean word for beef, which is a specialty of the Andong region.  Their typical way of preparing it is slicing it thin and adding it raw to a boiling stew of mushrooms, green onions, and turnips (with ever-present red pepper powder for seasoning).  This spicing is similar to most Korean dishes, but really accentuates the flavor of the beef in this one.

Andong chicken, on the other hand, is a more Chinese-style dish, relying on soy sauce for its flavoring and including rice noodles, carrots, green onion, and potatoes with the chicken.  Instead of cook it yourself, large platters are brought to the table and diners are given individual cups of rice on the side.  Obviously, there’s more to the seasoning than soy sauce and red pepper, and whatever else is in there is magical.

The last dish that I’ll pad this post with is a Korean staple, and one I’ve attempted to make myself, bibimbop.

Not pretty, but tastes just as good.

The base of the dish is a solution of traditional vegetables which are the same ones offered to their ancestors on the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving, Chuseok.  I was gifted with some of this special holiday food myself, which is how I ended up making the dish in the first place, but any cut vegetables will do in theory.

This made things quite a bit easier

Next, you add hot rice, preferably still steaming, and gochujang, a salty red pepper paste, although you can substitute soy sauce and red pepper flakes (just don’t tell any Koreans).  To top it off add an egg, sunny side up or over easy so there’s plenty of yolk, and stir the whole mess together.  You can use whatever veggies you like and add some cooked meat as you wish if you want to try this very simple, quintessential Korean dish yourself.

*Only the non pro-looking pics are mine, of course…

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About zijerem

I spent two years neglecting my Peace Corps blog in Peru (zachinperu.blogspot.com) and now I've relocated to Korea (teaching English) and promise to get off my ass and write something every once in awhile...
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