Following up on my last post about everything we ate in Japan, here is a recap of all the food we tried during the first leg of our trip to East Asia, in South Korea. We spent five days in Seoul and Busan, and managed to keep our bellies very full the entire time.
I wrote about our experiences at the 7 Eleven in Japan on my last post, but our first time discovering the wonders of Asian convenience stores took place in Seoul. Mr. Chuckles and I were severely jet lagged on our first morning after arriving from Toronto, so got up at 5 am to take a walk and ended up at 7 Eleven. The selection in South Korea is a little different than in Japan, but still full of great treats. We tried out the banana flavoured milk, fried chicken chips, and grape candies. Breakfast of champions.
In the Insadong neighbourhood, we found this small restaurant serving Korean style dumplings, known as mandu. There are several variations, usually filled with beef, pork, or vegetables and either steamed or pan-fried. We tried a few of each via the mixed platter.
After our dumpling lunch, we wandered into a quiet courtyard and came across this traditional tea house. I had a cup of ginger tea, accompanied by a side of rice cakes. Their chilled persimmons are also a well-liked snack here, but I am personally not a big fan of this fruit.
This was our first of many market visits while in South Korea. Located near Jongmyo Shrine, Gwangjang is a massive traditional street market filled with vendors and food stalls. We were quite full when we ventured over here so ended up only trying the mung bean pancakes, which were tasty.
We went to this smaller market for their lunch special. It involved purchasing a collection of tokens, which we redeemed at some of the 75 vendors to fill up a lunchbox. My favorite was the gimbap, rice with vegetables wrapped in nori.
Mr. Chuckles and I love KFC, Korean Fried Chicken. Usually referred to as chikin, KFC differs from American fried chicken in the crust, which is more thin and crackly rather than crusty and craggy. This is how it is described by a certain New York Times food writer, anyway. Kyochon is one of several chikin restaurant chains throughout Seoul. It was a perfect stop for dinner and a cold beer after a long day of walking around.
This was our lunch break in Gangnam, the upscale, modern centre of Seoul. Yes, it’s the Gangnam referenced in that song that came out a few years back.
Saebyukjib is known for its Korean table barbecue, but we came here for the bibimbap. We had a bit of a funny experience when we realized that we have been eating bibimbap incorrectly all this time. The shame! According to the kindly server who came over to correct us, you are in fact supposed to place the rice and toppings onto a nori sheet and eat it like a little wrap, not spoon it directly into your mouth like a bowl of porridge.
On our train ride to Busan, I did some reading up on regional cuisine and learned that milmyeon is the dish to eat in this coastal city. It is a concoction of cold wheat flour noodles topped with a spicy paste sauce, vegetables, and sometimes beef. There is also a variant called mul milmyeon which is served in a cold broth. The history of this dish is interesting; it is thought to have been invented around the time of the Korean War by North Koreans who fled to Busan. The North Korean version is called naengmyeon, made of buckwheat noodles.
Sundubu jigae is a soft tofu dish served in spicy stew with rice. We have tried this several times in Toronto’s Koreatown and it is a lovely classic Korean comfort food. In contrast to every other restaurant we visited during the trip, there was no English menu here so it was the one place where we resorted to miming and pointing to make our order. It worked out fine for us!
Our top choice
With all this being said, our favourite dishes in South Korea were actually at our Airbnb in Seoul, where our host prepared us traditional Korean breakfasts every morning. I wrote about this in my original post about this trip and it still holds true. Goes to show that nothing beats a cozy home cooked meal.