Lately, Asian food is increasingly popular in the West. Thai noodles, Japanese sushi, Vietnamese spring rolls, Chinese dumplings etc., are one of the most common items to be found in any Western country. However, Korean food is not that known. And you might not know yet, but there are plenty of reasons why you should try Korean food!
What is K-food?
K-food is much worth than you might think. As I am considered, my favourite cuisine is the Korean one. And I am not referring to the famous dishes such as kimbap (rice rolled in seaweed) or bulgogi (sweet-spicy meat) and tteokbboki (spicy rice cake). I fall in love with the real, traditional Korean food which hides many symbols and interesting stories. In general, the very traditional Korean food has a strong smell and flavour as 70% is composed of fermented food. Lately, due to our chaotic lifestyle people started to show interest in slow food and for that Korean food might be your answer.
In K-food the balance is the key. Yin and Yang had a big impact on Koreans` way of eating. Too much of something might cause your body dysfunctions that is why you will find Korean table food so colourful as each ingredient have its own role to nourish and make our body strong.
For Koreans, food is a medicine that is highly respected
Koreans have a saying: food is the best medicine (음식이 약이다). This stresses out how much importance Koreans gave to what they put in their mouth. In Korean cuisine, there are so many herbs and plants that are used as side dishes that you would be astonished. In the past, the Korean peninsula was an agricultural society, rice (and in general cereals, depending on the region) was the main food to be put on the table. That is why Koreans say 밥 먹다 which means I eat rice, but they refer to I eat food. Back in the days, meat, especially beef was a very rare item reserved only for the royal family and the aristocracy that is why common Korean people ended up to cherish every single plant. Because Korea has four seasons, Koreans used to ferment in salt seafood, veggies or to dry out herbs and plants that were going to ensure a good source of vitamins during the harsh winter.
In Korea, food is so beloved that Koreans show their affection by asking you:
Did you eat? (밥 먹었요?) Or they say goodbye by telling you Next time let`s eat together. (다음에 같이 밥 먹자).
Another example that at first shocked me is the way Koreans refer to their family: shikgu (식구) which literally would be translated as food and mouth, which means family is somebody with whom I share and I eat food.
Korean cuisine in the global era
Nowadays, Korean cuisine is very dynamic, adapting it to the new realities such as globalization. But you will still find in each Korean household the three fermented sauces: soy sauce, fermented soybean sauce and hot chilli paper sauce. And of course, kimchi.
During my stay in Korea, I got the chance to try out so many kinds of Korean food and I must confess that I love the traditional ones the most, especially fermented seafood, rice and kimchi.
Interestingly, I used to be that kind of person who eats in order to live but during my stay in Korea, this changed into I live to eat. Koreans love to eat and maybe that is why their cuisine is so diverse and versatile that you will never get bored to try out K-food.
Where to eat in Korea?
If you really want to try local food, I would recommend the traditional market, local restaurants or homestay`s food.
Seafood is a must while in Korea. Being a peninsula, you can find fresh seafood in Korea. As I mentioned before, K cuisine is so complex, sometimes it is extremely simple like grilled seafood and sometimes is so complex that requires a lot of time and passion to make it.
Traditional market food: kimchi, kimbap (rolled rice with veggies and seaweed), kimchi dumplings, fish cake soup recommended especially during winter time (어묵탕)
The best thing about traditional markets is that the food is cheap and the old ladies are so happy that you came to try out K-food that they will give you food for free as well.
Bapsang (밥상)- dining table
There are many restaurants in Korea that are specialized in only one kind of food. One of my favourites is bapsang which is a meal with many side dishes, soups and lots of veggies (it is literally translated as rice on the table). All the side dishes come in small plates. I remember Daniela asking me: Don’t they get tired of washing so many plates? Haha I found her question so funny yet so true.
Anju – food served with alcoholic beverages
Koreans love to drink alcohol, as they think this will help out to get closer to the person they are sharing the bottle of soju (Korean distilled alcohol), magkolli etc.
In Korea, there are so many suljib (alcohol house 🙂 ), pojangmatcha a tent in the middle of the street or just restaurants.
What really surprised me is that Koreans love to eat while drinking and if in the West people just have simple snacks such as nachos or almonds, in Korea even the food served with alcohol is taken to another level. Usually, it is composed of meat (fried chicken, boiled or grilled pork, raw beef, etc) and pickles as a side dish.