1st part: Seoul Food: The Neighborhoods
2nd part: Seoul Food: Markets & Munchies
last part: Seoul Food: My Favorite Foods
Nobody can fry chicken better than the Koreans. Haven’t you heard that KFC now stands for Korean Fried Chicken? Astoundingly crisp and craggy-coated, these are the various types that I find while in Seoul.
Boneless, almost like chicken poppers laced in a tangy-sweet sauce. This particularly delicious specimen is accompanied by sliced onions marinating in a soy-vinegar soak. A refreshing alternative to the usual pickled radish.
This one’s a combo of crispy chicken and chicken that’s been coated in a spicy cheese powder. It looks so benign but it’s so spicy it brings me to tears!
What goes best with fried chicken? Anything else fried, naturally! I find that fries are a welcome accompaniment. If the restaurant will allow “half-half”, I recommend a half portion each of crispy chicken and yangnyeom (spicy seasoned sauce) chicken as shown above.
If you’re a beer drinker, then you can do as the Koreans do and enjoy chimaek: a chicken and maekju (beer) combo!
Chicken houses to titillate you.
In Korean cuisine, galbi (also, kalbi) are a variety of grilled, marinated dishes, usually beef but also pork. I’m told there are two types, the non-traditional in which you cook it yourself, and the traditional, where the server cooks it for you. I’m surprised that there aren’t more banchan (side dishes) that are offered, but perhaps that’s more a function of the restaurant than anything else.
It’s a quick pleasure to gaze at the picture menu and choose which meat cuts we’d like to partake in.
I welcome the intense heat emanating from the smoldering coals. It beckons: a beacon of pleasurable promises we will soon partake of.
We’re gently chided by our server when my Bin attempts to wrap some cooked beef in the proffered leafy greens. Apparently, only pork should be wrapped, as in the common samgyeopsal. The server is also specific about certain meat cuts being dipped only in – i.e., seasoned salt, or the accompanying soy-vinegar marinade. Oh, isn’t eating such enjoyable education!
A great discovery for me are dishes that are meant to be eaten along with the galbi, like this bowl of noodles in a cold kimchi sauce.
Hail, hail, the family’s all here! Other dishes to dine on while grazing on galbi. From bottom and clockwise: bibimbap, cold kimchi noodles, beef shank stew, hot tofu stew.
*See link at end of this post for where we eat our best galbi meal.
Scissors and chopsticks: this can only mean a table set for a Korean meal.
A chicken dish I fall for
Andong jjimdak, so named for the Andong province it hails from in South Korea, is an old dish that seems rather fusion-like in its preparation. Cuts of chicken meld and marry with sweet potatoes, onions, and peppers — each ingredient contributes its individual nuance to the marinade. A tangle of glass noodles and rice cakes toss and tumble in, the lot of which is then simmered in an enormous skillet that’s brought to table. It’s unexpected and all kinds of irresistible. The sauce itself, a magic melding of spice and soy, is very light; I liken it to a very mild asado. Truly, one of those dishes I’m enamored with, the memory of which makes my eyes well up and my stomach growl.
*See address at end of this post for Bongchu Jjimdak.
Tteokbokki – also ddeokbokki, amongst a myriad other ways to spell this soft and super-hard-to-resist treat is a simple rice cake. I see it sold on the street bathing in a fiery-red chili sauce. But when I see a restaurant offering these cakes simmering in a skillet along with a motley cast of characters, my curiosity gets the better of me.
Apparently, there are heaps of things I can order to go with my tteokbokki – the better question is, what doesn’t go well with tteokbokki??! My Bin and I order a kitchen sink-selection of mandoo (dumplings), instant noodles, fish cakes, boiled egg, sweet potatoes, and onions. The skillet is set atop a fiery flame and before I can say “I love rice cakes!”, the noodles have yielded to the swelter of the sauce, thick chili paste staining everything a torrid saffron, the color of tteokbokki desire, I believe.
The rice cakes are chewy at first bite – more of the same, I think – but every chopstick-ful introduces threads of noodles weaving throughout, and the green onion in the dumplings begin speaking up. And don’t forget the firm starchiness of the sweet potato. With one more deft little bite of yet another tteokbokki, the predictable chewiness becomes a new flavor sensation.
I’m all about fried food on this trip, it seems. On right, a basket of fried fabulousness, everything from shrimp to pumpkin. I forget to do this, but should you eat this “crazy tteokbokki,” order rice at the end of your meal to make a fried rice out of the sauce. Now that’s what I call clever.
It’s the biting cold that sends me straight into the arms of danpatjuk, sweet red bean porridge. Unlike patjuk, savory porridge, a danpatjuk’s texture is silken smooth. Earthy and only slightly sweet echoing the Koreans’ penchant for subtle flavors, the soup is topped with mini morsels of delight: pine nuts, walnuts, sometimes chestnuts and sliced jujubes (red dates), but always, always, some little rice balls and a smattering of cinnamon for soulful heat.
This is sigh-inducing food.
Honeycomb ice cream is as ubiquitous in Korea as macaron ice cream sandwiches and açai-topped ice cream. The ice cream itself is (again) only slightly sweet and not as creamy as the usual soft serve. It also takes an eternity for it to melt, but then again, it must be the weather. The cool treat is served with a square of honeycomb, its hexagonal pattern glistening against the stark white. The rawest and most healthy form of honey, honeycomb has a fascinating texture, like hard caramel dissolving into something wax-like, but far from unpleasant. The best is at the bottom when the sticky-soft honeycomb caressed by cream lies waiting for that one last luscious bite.
Addresses of establishments mentioned in post:
Myeongdong Station (Line 4), Exit 6.
Upon exiting the station, turn left onto Myeongdong 8-gil Road.
Walk a ways and then turn right in front of Woori Bank.
Walk a little bit more and turn right into the small alleyway.
Bongchu Jjimdak (봉추찜닭) is up ahead on the right.
*The best galbi meal we have is here: www.wangbijib.com. It’s a Korean website but show it to a local and you’ll be shown how to get there. The quality of the meat here is unsurpassed.
*There are plenty of sit-down restaurants you can eat tteokbokki in. I have the fun one featured here at Crazy Dduk, a chain that’s everywhere in Seoul. The more upscale tteokbokki restaurants are in Gangnam.