Seoul-Busan Backpacking 2011 – Food

Hi everyone..

Is this my fourth write up? Fifth? Hehe. Let’s just stop counting. Don’t know how long this would take me to finish but I hope I could do it fast coz suddenly I feel like there is still so much more to share with everyone about Korea. 🙂 For this entry, I will talk about FOOD. A rather sensitive issue for Muslim travelling in South Korea, where only a small percentage of the citizens are Muslims.

This would probably be the most popular question I would get when I mentioned about travelling to Korea; “Is it easy to find HALAL food there?” My answer would always be the same. It’s hard, but it’s possible. Meaning you CAN FIND halal food in South Korea, but of course there are not as many choices as those in Malaysia.

Don’t expect to find a restaurant with Halal logo because it’s almost impossible in central Seoul. You will need to go to Itaewon where most restaurants operated by Muslims are situated. There are a variety of choices here and most of the menus are suitable with our taste palette (Indian food, Pakistani, Middle Eastern) et cetera.

However, if you’re like me, who wants to taste the local food when you’re in Korea, here are some suggestions. After all what’s the use of coming to Korea if you can’t eat its food,right? Food has always been one of my reasons to visit Korea. So here are the list of food that I have eaten during my stay in Seoul, Gyeongju and Busan.

Ttokbokki (떡볶이) – Spicy Rice Cake

Ttokbokki - Spicy Rice Cake

You would always see this dish if you’re a Korean drama addict. Ttokbokki is a very popular street food usually sold in stalls on the streets in a big and deep rectangular pans. You won’t miss the ahjummas (or even ahjusshis) making this spicy and hot dish. Ttok means rice cake. It’s a type of Korean rice cake made from glutinous rice flour or plain rice flour, steamed and made into big rod-like shapes.

You should be careful however when buying the ttokbokki. Look into the pan carefully. Usually the ttok are cooked with fish cakes, which means it’s perfectly fine for us Muslims to eat. But there are some who mixed the ttokbokki with Korean sausage (순대 – soondae) which is a Korean dish made generally by boiling or steaming cow or pig’s intestines that are stuffed with various ingredients. So do check the ingredients before you buy the ttokbokki.

Kimbap (김밥) – Rolled Rice in Seaweed

1,500 won per roll. Veges+fried egg kimbap

Kimbap is probably our equals to rice during our stay in Korea. Or maybe just for me and Shambie. We would eat kimbap everyday bought from the nearest 김밥천국 (Kimbab Heaven) near our guest house. If you’re staying in Myeongdong area, take Exit 4 and you won’t miss this outlet. Also if you’re staying at Namsan Guest House like I did, it’s just a few minutes walk from it.

I think this place is used to having Muslim customers so when I asked for kimbap-minus-the-ham, the ahjumma quickly understands my request. “Ham pae-go?” she asked. Which means leave out the ham? I said yes. You could just tell the ahjumma “ahjumonim, ham shiro-yo” which means I don’t want the ham. Alternatively, ask for tuna kimbap (참치 김밥 – cham chi kimbap) from the ahjumma. The price here is very reasonable and you have a lot to choose from the menu.

Jang-eo-gui (장어구이) – Grilled Eel

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super duper delicious eels made our mouths water

This was our scrumptious lunch in Gangnam. Freshwater eel is a delicacy in South Korea and is super duper expensive. A kilo of this costs a fortune so we were really shocked us when we found out about it. Thanks to Appa (Oggy’s foster father) we got to taste this super-duper-finger-licking-good dish.

The eels were still moving and wriggling when they were put on the fire, so it was actually a new sight to us. LOL. The ahjumma at the restaurant skillfully grilled the eels for us. When they are ready, we eat it in vegetable wraps, with salad and also sesame leaves. The taste?? M-I-N-D B-L-O-W-I-N-G!!!Oh my goodness, writing about this made me salivating all of a sudden. Haha.

A fun fact about the eels. I asked Appa why Koreans (especially the men) love to eat the eel’s tail. He laughed at my question and told us it’s because the tail is believed to be good for their “stamina” if you know what I mean. *wink* LOL. *blushed*

Chu-eo-tang (추어탕) – Mud Fish/Loach Stew

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Tastes like Laksa gravy. lol

After finishing an eel each (at first we thought one eel for each person is not enough – but we were so wrong!) Eating eel on its own might not make you full, but try eating it with wraps, it will surely make your tummy burst. But Appa said it doesn’t end there.

The ahjumma brought us a bowl or Chu-eo-tang EACH. We were all like, HUHHHH??? More food?? Thank god Appa was being considerate and ordered only 3 bowls of rice so we shared them (he would’ve ordered 6 bowls of them if it’s according to the locals’ appetite.) Hhhnnnnggg.

The chu-eo-tang is surprisingly good, and tasted very much like the laksa gravy we have in Malaysia. The “tang” – meaning stew – was made from grounded mud fish or loach and made into stew/soup and added with some herbs. But it was not as sour as the Laksa Penang. The taste is just nice for me.

Soon Dubu Chigae (순두부찌개) – Soft Tofu Stew

Soon Dubu Chigae - Soft Tofu Stew

This was our lunch in Gyeongju. It’s soft tofu soup/stew, mixed with eggs, dried shrimps and some vegetables/herbs. The taste is a bit bland, perhaps because Abonim (our foster father in Busan) purposely asked for a non-spicy dish for us. To be honest, I think Korean’s level of hotness (in terms of food) is rather acceptable to us Malaysians. If they said it’s spicy, perhaps for us in Malaysia it’s just a mild taste of pepper/chili. But IDK, this is just my opinion.

The dish was served with a few banchan (side dishes) and a bowl of rice. O-M-G. Try having rice with a bowl of tofu+egg soup. Too much for me I think, sadly I could’t finish all (which made me guilty for wasting the food). Huhu.

This is something that I can make at home. Just a simple dish of boiling tofu,egg,dried shrimp and some vegetables. Very healthy, and fulfilling.

SWEET TREATS

Bbopki (뽑기) – Sweet Candy

Sweet Treats - Bbobki @ Myeongdong

Bbopki is a candy made from mixing sugar and baking soda on a ladle over a fire. Once the mix is melted, it’s poured on a flat surface and made into a flat disk with various shapes stamped on it. Sometimes it’s also molded onto a stick to make it like a lollipop.

It tastes sweet, but with a tinge of bitterness in it, which I kinda like. And you might be wondering why the vendors stamped the shapes on the candy. There’s definitely a reason. 🙂 Take some time to sit at the vendor stall and try to take out the shape without cracking the figures. If you managed to do it, I’m told you will get one piece of bbopki free. LOL. Though I got one anyway because the ahjumma was surprised I told her I like the candy. Hehe.

This sweet candy costs 1,000 won a piece and you can see vendors selling them in Myeongdong.

Gyeongju Bbang (경주빵) – Gyeongju Bread

A must have if you ever go to Gyeongju!

Thankfully, we managed to squeeze Gyeongju into our 7-day-itinerary in South Korea. Gyeongju is a beautiful city with lots of monuments for you to visit. It’s very tranquil here and picturesque. If you have the chance, take the free bus tour here. You won’t regret it (take the tour bus, as going around on your own might be hard – we had Abonim to tour us around).

You will see lots of outlets selling Gyeongju Bbang (bread). So after touring the city, while waiting for our friends, I asked Abonim what’s so special about Gyeongju bread? He said according to him it tastes like any other bread, so he didn’t really get it why Gyeongju bread is so special. LOL. But he bought us a box anyway, and I think the warm bread tastes so nice.

It’s the usual bread with red bean paste filling, but I guess WHERE you eat it matters. Having Gyeongju bread in Gyeongju, perhaps made it tastes a bit more delicious? Hehe.

Hodo Gwaja (호두과자) – Walnut Cake

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Yummy Walnut Cake at the rest stop on the way to Gyeongju

On our way to Gyeongju, Abonim stopped at a rest area to get ourselves a bottle of water each. He also bought us a packet of these heavenly walnut cake. The cake was still hot from oven and we even got free pieces from the seller onnie. Ahhhh, sometimes it’s nice to be a foreigner! LOL

The cake was in the shape of a walnut (what else?) and its filling was made from red bean paste, but there’s a piece of walnut in each of the cake. We could not stop eating the cake. Haha. If you ever found this in your trip to Seoul, do try it!!

Deli Manjoo (델리만쥬) – Corn Shaped Cake with Cream Filling

You can get this at Myeongdong Station

I would say me and Shambie literally ADDICTED to this during our stay in Seoul. A packet of Deli Manjoo costs 3,000 won, was just not enough for the two of us. We finished them in a blink of an eye.

You can find the Deli Manjoo stall at the Myeongdong Subway Underground Shopping arcade. You won’t miss it as it is situated just outside the exit from the subway. The ahjummas at this stall were all very nice and friendly.

You can buy 3,000 won packet (I think about 9 pieces) or the 7,000 won packet. Eat this while it’s still warm. Guaranteed to satisfy you. 🙂

{ Coffee Houses.Universities }

-coming soon-

#11 on 50 Things About Korea – Ramyeon (라면)

Ramyeon (라면) – South Korean noodles in soup, served in food stalls, made of instant noodles with toppings added by stalls. In the 1960s, instant noodles were introduced to South Korea from Japan. Its quick and easy preparation, as well as its cheap price, ensured it quickly caught on. It is typically spicy with chili and kimchi added, amongst other ingredients.

I guess Korea and Koreans are inseparable with ramyeon. Besides Kimchi which is their staple food, ramyeon is considered as one of the common food among Koreans. This ramyeon-eating-culture is featured in ALL Korean dramas I’ve ever watched!

So what is so special about eating ramyeon? Isn’t it the same as eating Maggi in Malaysia, or ramen in Japan? The answer is yes and no. Basically it is the same thing. But Koreans have this sort of ‘special’ utensil used to cook the ramyeon that is the copper pot. 😀 And whenever Koreans eat ramyeon, they always use the lid to put the ramyeon on before eating [this helps the noodle to cool down].

#9 on 50 Things about Korea – Bibimbap (비빔밥)

Ref: My Name is Kim Sam Soon ep 11.

Yeah, again I’m referring to Kim Sam Soon. No need to guess, because it’s the second-best k-drama for me, after Goong. 😉 In the scene, [18:26 onwards] you’ll see how Sam Soon enjoyed her Bibimbap that it’s almost impossible not to make your mouth water. Seriously.

my own version of bibimbap, made it MYSELF. 😉

The name Bibimbap simply means “mixed rice” ( bibim – mix; bab – rice). Well, that’s basically it. The rice is mixed with various ingredients, mostly vegetables,meat,gochujang (chili paste) and sesame oil. It may not sound delicious, but once you’ve tried it, you can’t forget how good it is. But mind you it’s advisable to eat it when you’re REALLY famished, if not you might not finish all of it.

Tried making my own bibimbap, and thankfully it was a BIG success. But it was such a hassle trying to prepare all the ingredients, as I wanted it to be perfect. If not, it can be made with whatever ingredients that you have, such as leftover veggies, chicken et cetera.

#5 on 50 Things about Korea – Bulgogi (불고기)

In my opinion, besides Kimchi, Bulgogi is probably the most well-known Korean dish among foreigners worldwide or to be more specific to the likes of me. Hehehe. This meal is constantly featured in dramas and Korean TV shows and the way it is eaten is definitely making it looks ten times more delicious.

This signature Korean meal is made of thinly sliced beef, marinated in sweetened soy sauce and grilled on a small barbecue grill attached on the table. Once the beef is cooked, it is enjoyed by wrapping it in a lettuce or sesame leaf along with garlic and other side dishes like Kimchi.

Watching people eating Bulgogi never failed to make me drool. Especially when the meat is wrapped in lettuce and one had to open his/her mouth widely for the big wrap to fit in. Totally mouth watering.

I doubt I’ll be eating any Bulgogi in Korea later, due to Halal factor. But thank god I’ve been to local restaurants that serves Bulgogi and I really enjoyed it. It is delicious but I still *heart* Kimchi more. Lol.

#1 on 50 Things About Korea – Kimchi (김치)

Among all the things about Korea, Kimchi has definitely got to be number one. It’s like the first thing that comes to my (if not everyone’s) mind if  Korea is mentioned. A staple food for Koreans, kimchi is directly referred to as ‘pickled vegetables’. Unlike most of other countries where veges are only pickled with salt, Koreans add chili powder and fish sauce too among other ingredients. By doing so, it gives kimchi a special taste (or ‘weird’ taste for first timers!), but they say it’s healthy, so get use to the taste. In time, it’ll taste like everything else. 🙂

I’m proudly a Malaysian. But since I’m a Korean at heart (lol), making kimchi is definitely something that I must try. The main reason is because I love everything Korean, and I tried to be as Korean as I can (if only that’s possible! haha) but most importantly is that I can’t find kimchi in the supermarket near my place. Even though recently they started selling the kimchi, I wasn’t even tempted to buy it. Until now, I’ve made kimchi about 3 times already and thank Allah, the taste got better by the time the third batch is finished. Well, that’s only according to me and my friend’s taste buds. Hehe. I’m sure if any Koreans eat my kimchi,they’d feel weird about the taste too.

Anyway, there are A LOT of vegetables that can be made into kimchi. The most common is the napa cabbage, which I always use. Cabbage kimchi or baechu kimchi (배추 김치) is also the type of kimchi that’s always featured in Korean dramas. So it’s not your fault if you think of cabbage when kimchi is mentioned. It’s like a generalization. 🙂 Just so you know, radish and cucumber can also be made into kimchi.

If you ask me, the first time I taste kimchi, it did taste weird. And to add to that, I never like sour food. But just like I mentioned before, get use to the taste and one day you’ll find it manageable. But up until now, I can’t eat kimchi on its own. I have to cook it in chigae (soup), fried it with rice or as a side dish with plain hot rice.

Bet I’ll be eating LOADS of kimchi in Seoul. Looking forward to that. ♥