I’m not a foodie. My take on food is that it’s mostly for survival – I eat to live and I hardly go out of the way just for a good meal. Also, I don’t believe you should eat anything you don’t want to eat – I love my comfort food, I don’t like vegetables and my mum has given up on getting me to eat them after all this time.
So eating out in Seoul on my own was going to be challenging. Not only would the language barrier be an issue in ordering food, I knew I was definitely going to be lazy and skimp out on meals without anyone to convince me to eat, and wasn’t that keen on sitting in a restaurant on my own… but I definitely wanted to enjoy some traditional Korean food, it’s part of the whole cultural experience after all!
Here are some of the more interesting food experiences I had on my Seoul trip:
Oodles of Noodles
I’d been walking all day and after emerging from the shopping centres of Dongdaemun, I was all ready for a nice hot bowl of noodles to cap a fruitful and tiring day. I ended up in a little food shack of sorts behind Maxtyle shopping centre where the menu had some English translations, so ordering was just a matter of pointing.
Hm, noodles in white bean broth, sounds pretty standard…
My order came soon, and my first reaction was what the heck is that floating in my soup? It turned out to be… ice cubes! What the picture and name of the dish failed to convey was that this noodle dish was icy cold, and I definitely wasn’t prepared for that as I was craving a nice bowl of hot noodles…
The noodles in itself were pretty decent – but it was a tad strange eating it cold, especially with the soy bean broth (Singaporeans: felt a bit like eating noodles that fell into your cup of tao ni!). I would find out quite a lot later that cold noodles (Kong Gook Su) are a summer Korean speciality, and yes the cold soup sure is refreshing on a hot night, but it’s definitely an acquired taste if you’re only used to hot soup noodles! It’s also a little plain – just noodles, cucumber and an egg, but makes a good vegetarian option if you swing that way.
It was a rainy, rainy day in Itaewon. I braved the pouring rain and headed to Busan Galbi to get some lunch and wait out the rain. Since it was pretty chilly, I went with Galbitang, a soup version of the popular Galbi, or grilled beef short ribs.
Now I was just expecting something like your typical Singaporean Bak Kut Teh, or Pork Rib soup, where I would just get one sumptuous bowl of soup to enjoy, but no… every Korean meal is a FEAST. Check out that spread!
Besides all that Kimchi, they also gave me this clay pot of rice which was scraped into a separate bowl. Water was then added to the remnants of burnt rice, which was then left to sit on the table. Apparently you’re supposed to have this weird rice-water mixture with the kimchi. My suggestion is replacing the water with soup for a super yummy combination!
Check out more of my Itaewon journal here!
Somewhere in Ewha I chanced upon this cute restaurant with grass outside its door, and after perusing the English-Korean menu upstairs, I made my way down to the basement level where the restaurant was. Oddly enough, while there was an English menu upstairs, neither the menu nor the wait staff downstairs spoke any English, and merely kept nodding politely at me while I tried to get some recommendation. argh!
Luckily, there were some pictures on the menu, so I pointed at what I wanted to eat – the Bulgogi set, but there were lot of different types, so what sauce would I end up with? After about 15 minutes of trying to make myself understood that I didn’t want anything spicy, I decided to just take a chance and point at a random entry and hope for the best!
This is what I ended up with… wasn’t too bad! It wasn’t spicy at least… sometimes you do luck out =)
Check out my Ewha journal here.
I’d visited Korea before during winter, and the strongest memory I have of Korean food is their quintessential Ginseng Chicken Soup, or Tsamgyetang, and how wonderfully tasty and comforting it was, especially in the cold! The weather when I returned in 2011 of course was as far from winter as could be, but I still was jonesing for a great steaming bowl of chicken soup.
I checked in with the tourist information after my Jogyesa tour en route to Insadong, and they pointed me to Songdo, a tiny little shop where you had to take out your shoes to enter, and it was PACKED. Lucky there was just one of me so I took a vacant seat near the door and pointed at the giant picture of Tsamgyetang while the busy Ajuma bustled around. Tsamgyetang is actually a pretty simple meal – a steaming bowl of soup with a stuffed chicken and a little salt on the side for flavour. And it was awesome. Yum, yum. It’s surprisingly filling too – even without the numerous plates of Kimchi as you can see below!
Check out my Insadong journal here.