Seoul Food

FEELING KOREANOVELA. Selecting ingredients at a tent restaurant along with a bottle of soju is one way to feel like a lead star in a Korean drama. (photo by Tyrone Chui)

I must admit that at first, I was a bit hesitant to try out food in Korea as my only experience with Korean food in the Philippines consisted of me almost scalding my tongue from the spiciness of the dish. However, despite not being a fan of spicy food, it seemed like a waste to go to the South Korean capital and not experience their gastronomic delights.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF KIMCHI. Kimchi dumplings made fresh at a local establishment. (Tyrone Chui)

We were famished after commuting from the airport so the first stop on our itinerary was food. We had our first Korean breakfast at a small dumpling place where we were surprised by many extra side dishes served to us by the unni and her co-worker. The dumpling was similar to Chinese style dumplings but had a sweet dough. We also tried kimchi dumplings, our first time to taste it. It was good but a bit spicy for my tastes. We also shared a sweet bun with sweet bean filling.

During our first night in Seoul, the family and I decided to try out local tents that serve a variety of dishes. We often see these tent establishments in Korean dramas as a venue for the leads to vent their frustrations in life with a bottle of soju. Because the ajumma at the tent did not know how to speak English, we just pointed at the ingredients available and she took charge of cooking it for us. We also ordered a bottle of soju to complete the experience.

BUYER'S CAVEAT. Make sure that you know the level of spiciness before you order. This is me while testing out the spicy chicken feet. Water please! (Aileen Garcia)

Despite now knowing what we were getting ourselves in for, we found the roasted pork and the squid (simply rinsed in boiled water) the best of all — very tasty (Mashi seum nida!). The rest of the dishes were not bad either but I met my match when I tried the chicken legs, which were very flavorful but super hot. We had to take them back to the hotel to be eaten later because we needed a lot of milk to counteract the spiciness.

TASTY, TASTY. Porridge served with a variety of side dishes in Myeong deong. (Tyrone Chui)

We also tried out food at a Korean congee place where we ordered different flavored porridge. My mom ordered curry, I had beef and oyster, while my soon to be sis in law had chicken and mushroom. I forgot what my brother had but it looked good. Aside from the porridge, there was also a variety of side dishes which one could eat separately or combine with the congee. As it happened, this place at the Underground Mall of Myeong deong  was actually used as a venue for the Korean drama Hooray for Love which recently ended in January.

Perhaps, another thing not to miss out on is bibimbap, an assortment of vegetables mixed together with rice. A bowl costs KRW 5,000-6,000 and is best coupled with marinated pork. Yum.

BIBIMBAP. A must try in the Korean adventure is this dish of mixed vegetables and rice. (Aileen Garcia)

We also tried out an establishment where pork is fried in burner in the middle of the table. We ordered samgeopsal, which pork wrapped in lettuce with one’s choice of vegetables or bean paste along with bibimbap. I liked the roast pork from the tent better but the samgeopsal wasn’t bad.

SAMGEOPSAL. Strips of pork roasted over a burner and wrapped in lettuce is one of Korea's signature dishes. (Tyrone Chui)

We also tried an assortment or streetfoods but if one converts the cost, its a bit pricey admittedly. While I’m a big fan of pork poppers with a barbecue dip, and skewered pork with chili, I wasn’t very impressed with the sushi wrapped in egg because I felt that there was no kick to the flavor. We also tried our favorite takoyaki from a local street vendor and was duly unimpressed. And how can I forget one of the permanent side dishes served with every meal? The kimchi. Contrary to earlier belief, not all kimchi is super spicy and I was able to appreciate the flavor of Korea’s favorite dish.

All in all, food tripping in Seoul was not only memorable but educational as well. I learned that I should not be hindered by perception and try out different kinds of food in my future travels in order to fully appreciate the experience.

STREETFOOD SELECTION. Take your pick with a variety of new flavors to try along Seoul's streets at night. (Aileen Garcia)