South Korea 1/2009, 5/2012

My first experiences with food in Korea came in the form of one of the many nameless kimbap restaurants lining the streets in Suwon where the menu is a list of 10 items hung on the wall and Grandma Korea laughs while the two gyopo try to decipher what and how to order. My cousin who had been in Korea for a few months already on an English teaching assignment recommended I go for the dolsot bibimbap. When I sheepishly spooned in some gochujang from the box on the table and started to mix in the raw egg incorrectly with my chopsticks, Grandma Korea kindly came over and showed me how it’s really done. Don’t be shy about kneading in the gochujang and egg with the spoon. Don’t forget to scrape up the rice crust from the stone bowl, either. Definitely beat the cold Korean Air rendition. My other favorite was Mandu Ramyun, which I have made for myself many a time at home with packaged Shin ramyun and frozen mandu. The soups were always served boiling hot and they continued to bubble for most of the meal. Perfect for the cold Korean winter. Also, can’t for get the many mugs of Cass, Hite, and Cafri at Now Bar, a foreigner hot spot in Suwon.

명동 (Myeongdong), 1/15/2009, Dinner at 유가네(Yoogane)

My cousin took me to one of her favorite spots, a dak galbi restaurant called Yoogane. We ordered the 모둠 찰판볶움밥 (Marinated chicken galbi special fried rice) with 치즈딱사리(Mozzarella stuffed dokboki). This was my first experience at a restaurant that had the grill built directly into the table. They stir fry the concoction for you tableside and the product is delicious. Also, if anyone knows what the green apple-y salad dressing they use is and where I can get it, please let me know!

홍데 (Hongdae), Saturday 1/17/2009, Dinner at 본가 (The Bone) and Drinks at Oi

For my cousin’s birthday, we went to a Galbi restaurant for Korean BBQ called 본가 (The Bone). I’ve been to Korean BBQ restaurants both in and outside of Korea since, and this was by far my favorite. All the meats were super thinly sliced. We got lots of samgyeopsal and kimchi chigae, and I was impressed by how many bowls of food they were able to fit on the relatively tiny table space given that a good portion was taken up by the grill. Afterwards, we went to Oi (which has since closed) for drinks and hookah in this crazy cave-like atmosphere.

명동 (Myeongdong), Thursday 5/24/2012, Dinner at 유가네(Yoogane)

On my second visit to Korea and on vague description by me, we were able to return to Yoogane for another round of모둠 찰판볶움밥 (Marinated chicken galbi special fried rice) with 치즈딱사리(Mozzarella stuffed dokboki), and it was just as delicious as the first time.

홍데 (Hongdae), Dinner at홍데안동찜닭 (Hongdae Andong Jjimdak)

Now that my cousin had been in Korea for awhile, she was able to lead us to another Korean favorite – Andong Jjimdak. We ordered the standard 뼈없는찜닭 (Boneless Steamed Chicken), which is served slathered in a delicious brown sauce with veggies and glass noodles. Very tasty.

홍데 (Hongdae), Snack at 던컨도너츠 (Dunkin’ Donuts)

My soon to be sister-in-law couldn’t resist all the Dunkin’ Donuts with signs for the Bulgogi Hot Balls. She ordered the 헛벌(Hot Ball) – 불고기, 소시지 (Bulgogi, Sausage). Basically the Korean version of a hot pocket, they weren’t too bad if that’s the caliber of food you’re expecting. A good snack.

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부산시 해운대구 우동 544-1 (Busan-si Haeundae-gu U-dong), Thursday 5/31/12, Dinner at 블이아 (Bulia)

Another Korean favorite that my cousin introduced us to was Shabu Shabu. On recommendation by the concierge, we ended up at 블이아 (Bulia) and ordered the shabu shabu with lamb, pork, and chicken. It came with both mild and spicy sauces. I loved this so much I bought a split hot pot when I got home and have made this several times. With the proper sichuan peppercorns, the you’ll be very happy you have the mild side to cool down occasionally.

대구 (Daegu), Friday 6/1/2012, Drinks at 막걸리3000냥 (Makgeolli 3000)

For our last night together, we ventured to where my cousin was stationed in대구 (Daegu) and got some 막걸리. It’s a milky sparkling rice wine that looks terribly unappetizing, but it dangerously drinkable and has the plus of being served from metal or wooden bowls/spoons that make you feel like you’re part of some ancient ritual.

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A few other notes, tea houses are all over the place – everything from traditional to strange nouveau. Also, it’s impolite to drink without eating, and some places won’t serve you a drink unless you order food. That’s how I ended up ordering some very sad BBQ octopus dish one night. Also, fried chicken is huge. We had some at a random hole-in-the-wall the first night in Busan on the second trip, and there are KFCs everywhere. Don’t forget to try Soju Cocktail. Soju on its own is rather vile (unless you like rice wines). However, add some juice and maybe some soda and it’s delicious.

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