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Kimchi Chronicles & Korean Food 101

May 4, 2011
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When most people think of cuisine in Asia, most think of Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian….not necessarily Korean.   Though  Korean food is gaining more popularity around the world, I still feel like most people have no clue about it.  Given that Korean food has now become a daily part of my life, its only right that I include it in this blog.   There are so many different dishes here in Korea, and I’ll touch upon the most popular ones and my favorites, but the list of other dishes goes on and on!

If this staple food ran out, Korea would stop functioning…

KIMCHI 김치

Kimchi is a staple in the Korean diet.  They eat this alongside  every meal, and some dishes are centered around it.  I am not exaggerating when I say that Korea would stop functioning if this food ran out.  Back in October, heavy rains damaged many napa cabbage crops (the main ingredient in kimchi) and it made national headlines.  People stood in lines for hours and paid heavy prices just to get whatever cabbage was available.  The government even subsidized certain cabbage farms to help lessen the pain of this kimchi crisis.

Kimchi is basically fermented cabbage.  The cabbage is salted then covered in a red pepper sauce that sometimes includes garlic, ginger, scallions and other spices.  There are also various types of kimchi made with radish or cucumber instead of cabbage.  All the ingredients ferment together and as time goes on it gets more sour.  Yes, it sounds disgusting (and looks disgusting).  It’s really not bad.

I like kimchi and I have had it before coming to Korea.  To me, it just tastes like cabbage with a somewhat spicy sauce.   The fact that it is also very good for you makes me feel like I have nothing to lose every time I eat it (which is sometimes twice a day).  Sometimes I just mix it in with my rice.

Koreans are very health conscious (sometimes to a ridiculous extent) and kimchi is supposed to aid is digestion, speed up the metabolism and help ward off certain illnesses.  Since it is fermented, it has some of the same good bacteria as yogurt.

The other week, my school district took all the foreign teachers on a field trip to Kimchi land where we got to make our own kimchi…

SIDE DISHES GALORE 반잔

A main characteristic of Korean cuisine is the side dishes.  When going out to a traditional Korean restaurant or Korean bbq, you will be brought out many different side dishes to accompany the meal.  Even at a normal restaurant you will usually be brought out one or two side dishes with your plate.  These side dishes ALWAYS include kimchi.

Korean BBQ 고기구이

Koreans love their meat, and there are many “Korean BBQ” type restaurants everywhere around the city.  You come and sit down, usually sitting on the floor at a low table, and there is a grill in the middle.  You order which type of meat you’d like and then you grill it up at your table.  You then put the meat into lettuce, with red pepper paste and what ever you’d like and eat it.  The meat you order can vary from thin slices of beef,  to think fatty pieces of pork.  Its delicious and usually very cheap at local small restaurants.

Bibimbap 비빔밥

Bibimbap is a signature dish in Korea and I find myself eating it pretty often.  You can get it for really cheap and when I need an easy and healthy take out dinner I’ll go to the little Korean restaurant near my building and pick it up.  Bipimbap is rice with a mixture of vegetables on top (usually julienne cucumber, zucchini, daikon, mushrooms, bellflower root, soybean sprouts, gosari and lettuce), topped with a fried egg (or sometimes raw if you get hot bibimbap).  You then mix it all up in a red pepper paste.  Sometimes there will be a little tofu or meat inside as well.

The ‘Jjigaes’ 찌개

Jjigae is basically the Korean word for stew, and there many different varieties here.

One of my favorite Korean dishes is Sundubu Jjigae.  This is a spicy stew with soft uncurdled (sometimes homemade) tofu and seafood.  There is a lot of tofu in the stew and usually oysters, prawns and clams.   It comes in a boiling pot and then you crack and egg in it and it cooks.

Another popular jjigae is none other than…yup, you guessed it….Kimchi jjigae

Kimchi jjigae is a spicy stew of sour kimchi and usually pork.  Sometimes it will also include tofu, or other meats and veges.

These are only two types of jjigaes but there is also crab jjigae, soybean jjigae and pollack jjigae.

Jeon 전

Jeon is a Korean pancake-like dish that has many varieties.  Different meats, seafood or vegetables are mixed in a flour batter, then covered in an egg batter and pan-fried.  It is sometimes eaten as a side dish, or ordered to eat while drinking.

Korean Street Food

There are many different types of street food that you can find in Korea.  Some are strange, some are pretty normal and others are just plain delicious.

Ddeokbokki 떡볶이

In my opinion, this is like the Korean version of “gnocchi”.  It is a rice cake covered in a spicy sauce.  Sometimes it reminds me of some type of rice cake pasta.  It is dense and chewy.

Fried…everything.

Fried squid, friend octopus, fried vegetables, fried meats, …

The usual late night “sober up” snack…meat shaved into a tortilla with cabbage and spicy sauce. (kebab)

and my favorite….the french fry encrusted corn dog…

So…do they REALLY eat dog in Korea?

Short answer is….yes.  If one day I said, “hey I really feel like eating some dog right now” I could most likely go find it.  Most restaurants are differentiated by the type of meat they serve.  There are the chicken restaurants, pork restaurants,  seafood restaurants and yes there are a few dog restaurants.  Nowadays, eating dog is not a very popular practice, but it does still happen.  The dogs come from “dog farms” (animal activists don’t get all upset and mad now….its just the way it is) and I’m not too sure what types of dogs they usually are.  I’ve heard its most popular to eat dog in a stew and from the people I’ve talked to that have actually eaten it they say it’s quite good.  Just so you know, not all Koreans eat dog and many of them think the dog restaurants should be gone completely.

I just find it a little coincidental that I never see any stray dogs on the street….only stray cats….

All this food talk is making me hungry.

This blog would be a novel if I really tried to dig into all types of Korean foods and dishes but these are the most popular in my opinion.  With every meal Koreans eat rice, and it is said that if a Korean does not have rice to accompany the dish they will not feel full.  Besides all the rice, Korean food is really healthy and nutritious.  I really do enjoy it and I think I’m lucky to live in a place that has such a great cuisine.

*A lot of these pictures are not mine, I took them off the internet.  If I waited until I got a pic of all these foods with my camera this blog would have taken me longer to put out*  😉

Now go and eat your Korean food!  Check out a Korean BBQ restaurant (they can be pricey in the US sometimes) or I suggest you hit up the Convoy Tofu House in San Diego for Sundubu and other Korean dishes.

맛있게 드세요…  or bon appetite!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. sunlightandrainbows permalink
    December 17, 2012 3:39 am

    Looks so good!! Are you still in Korea:)

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