April 29, 2015
On our month in Seoul with side trips to Jeju Island and Seorak Mountain on the eastern coast of the peninsula, we enjoyed the tastes of South Korea. It helped that we were guided by our Korean friends into local and off-beat places. Here you have it – a list of food experiences in three categories:
1.) Yummy! 2.) Really should try since you’re here
3.) OMG You have GOT to be kidding!1.) Yummy!
#1 Korean BBQ
This is an experience as well as a meal; you need at least two people to order it, and the more the merrier. You have hot coals delivered to your table, and with the help of your waiter, you cook the meat, garlic, onions, etc. on your personal grill (with your own little hanging exhaust fan). Sometimes the meat is fresh, sometimes marinated. Side dishes always include kimchi (fermented vegetable with seasonings – often radish, cabbage, scallion or cucumber), lettuce (for wrapping little meat/garlic/kimchi sandwiches), salad.
There are a couple rules to Korean BBQ. You always share (don’t order your own meat, order for all). You cut pieces with a scissors not a knife (brilliant!). And no taking small bites. Once you wrap your little sandwich in lettuce, pop it in at once.
It’s nice for the person who’s cooking to move the cooked pieces right onto the plates of the dining partners.
We found a local BBQ place called “Female General 여장군 right here in Dongtan.
We warmed to this place because the owner, Mr. Lee Lee, speaks pretty good English, and he chatted with us as he cooked our meal. There was no English on the menu or even on the outside of the store, so we had our friend Nathan translate the restaurant name and menu for us. Here you see that speaking the local language would come in handy if you order your meat by simply pointing to the picture of the pig or the cow in the restaurant. There is pig, there is beef, and then there is this stuff:
-Beef Sashimi 육사시미
-Row meet (beef) 육회
-Pork Entrails 막창
-Thin Skirt 안창살
-Beef attached to the spleen 토시살
It really tasted good and we went back two more times! God knows what we ate.
When I asked Lee for “pork,” he said he only had baby ones. John and I looked at each other (?) Then he came over with a small fork. “I aways have trouble with p’s and f’s,” he said when we laughed and made fork-eaing gestures. When Lee was in the states, he told us he once asked a waiter for chop sticks and the waiter brought him chapstick.
#2 Seafood fresh from the Seafood Markets.
The fish markets are simply the best when it comes to visual experiences and extravaganzas for the palate. These pics are from Noryangjin Wholesale Fish Market in the middle of Seoul. You can wander around the miles of vendor stalls, then pick out your fresh meal (sashimi on the spot), or do what we did: take your fresh seafood purchases to the restaurants just outside and have them cook your food for you.
Here’s another seafood market, in Daepohang Port, near Sokcho on the eastern coast. This place had restaurants behind many of the retail booths; you could pick out your food, find your table, and enjoy your fresh king crab and scallops steamed and served just minutes later. Can you beat that?
# 3 Another MUST TRY Korean experience: Shabu Shabu. Here you cook your own food in a boiling pot of broth at your table. Veggies, meat, all kinds of pretty mushrooms, and finally noodles. It’s scrumptious. And if you didn’t get enough in your soup, there’s a never-ending line of add-ons from snacks to salads to icecream.
#4 Street Food along the Han River near the Yeouinaru subway stop.
#5 Honey Candy from the vendors at Naedamun Market – they put on a show, and the candy is heavenly. Here’s a honey candy vendor in action http://youtu.be/mo29fuOgZg8
#6 Gimbap. Delicious variety of meats and veggies with rice. As good as (and cheaper) than sushi.
#7 Waffles from Caffe Bene – Stuffed with chocolate and nuts or fruit and ice cream.
You’ll see (mmm and smell) waffles on the street all over the place, but these are especially fancy and delish.
2.) Really should try since you’re here
# 1 “should try” Sashimi .
# 2 “should try” Live Octopus Tentacles Sashimi – Sannakji
This is not a dish for those with moral qualms about eating things that seem to be alive, or stomachs too skittish to handle tentacles that wriggle and suck you back as you gnaw on them. They were delicious after being dipped in sesame sauce.
Here they are in action: our tentacles. http://youtu.be/yIbdJ-bkFug
# 3 “should try” Bone soup – Gamjatang:
# 4 “should try” Abai Soondae – a special sausage in the eastern area of Korean near Sokcho. It’s made from cow or pig intestines into a sort of blood sausage. Sometimes it’s made with rice or vegetables. Nice flavor.
# 5 “should try” Silk worm larvae – Beondegi
We tried this on Jeju Island, but you see this snack at street stands all over Seoul. It’s steamed or boiled silkworm pupae which is seasoned. Tasted okay – disappointing if you were expecting a crunchy nut texture. But certainly good nutrition.
3.) OMG You have GOT to be kidding!
Korea is full of wonderful tastes and textures, and the list of “OMG” no eats is short. Short but dramatic.
# 1 “OMG no eat” item would be Raw Sea Worms, or Faebul.
Raw Sea Worms. These are worms which live in sand or mud. You see them all over – in the big fish markets and in live tanks outside of seafood restaurants in our area. They are eaten raw, and they squirt sea water in your mouth when you bite them. Disgusting enough? They are also called “sea weiners” or “penis fish.” Apparently they are popular among middle aged women. We asked our friend Nathan about these, and he said they taste okay, kind of like eating skin.
That’s it. Only one thing to avoid when nibbling your way through South Korea. Maybe we’ll change our minds and give the Faebul a try on another trip to Korea, and we’ll be glad we stretched beyond our usual understanding of what and what is not food.