As much as I love food, I surprisingly don’t plan too much about where, or what to eat. I arrive with a general idea in mind, and just prefer to be spontaneous. In Korea, I knew I wanted to eat plenty of bibimbap (mixed rice), kimchee, and try as many different types of banchan (side dishes) that I could lay my hands on.
雖然我對飲食很重視， 但每次出國的時候其實不會特別規劃要去那一家餐廳。一半的原因是因為我是路痴， 所以想去的餐廳不一定找的到！ 另外一半是因為我想很隨性的看到那個好吃的， 或是令我好奇的餐廳就跑進去試一試。 這次去首爾也就沒特別安排什麼～只想說， 想吃泡菜，大碗的拌飯，烤肉， 及試一試各式各樣的小菜。
回家之後， 回想這次的旅程，感覺很滿足每一個願望都有達成！ （而且發覺我的食量真的很驚人～平常只吃半碗飯的我， 既然在韓國可以吃兩三倍的份！）
I took the 7 am flight, and by the time we landed in Incheon Airport, I was starving. So the first meal I had in Seoul was at the airport. It was my first bibimbap, and it tasted ok. My first impression is that it was saltier than I expected. But it was a decent meal and left me feeling energized to brave the airport bus terminal.
I stayed in the Nakseongdae area, which is on the Korean metro’s green line. The name translates to “the site of the fallen star” (In Chinese it’s 落星垈). I thought it was a wonderful neighborhood. There is Nakseongdae park to explore (and I would have totally gone if the weather was cooler!) Seoul National University is nearby, so that means that there are lots of restaurants, coffee shops and fun little shops to explore. There is even a traditional market in one of the alleyways nearby. Every few blocks, there were these fruit stands, selling all sorts of gorgeous fruit.
I was thrilled to see these little yellow and white stripy melons, and large juicy peaches and nectarines. I also saw apricots, which is a fruit I miss dearly after moving back to Taiwan.
My second meal in Korea was in the restaurant downstairs of the accommodation I was staying in. I ordered their spicy beef stew. I wasn’t aware of this, but apparently it is very strange to eat alone in Korea! I got a lot of stares from the other diners (who were obviously not dining alone). Apparently it’s a growing trend in Korea, you can read about it here and here.
But, of course that didn’t deter me from enjoying my delicious dinner.
I loved all the different banchan~ I had never had quail eggs before! I think these were lightly marinated in soy sauce. I also enjoyed the seaweed sprouts and the crudités. Be aware. That innocent looking green pepper? Incredibly hot and spicy, with quite an after kick. Whew! The beef stew was not as spicy as it looks, and had lots of interesting vegetables swimming around inside. Another item that I really enjoyed was the steamed purple rice. It was a lovely chewy texture, and slightly stickier than the rice we are used to in Taiwan.
Luckily for me, my aunt joined me the next day for the rest of my trip, and I didn’t have to worry about eating by myself for any of the other meals! The second night, we went out into the Nakseongdae neighborhood and walked into a brightly lit restaurant. The entire menu was written in Korean, so we had to rely on the friendly waiter to decide what to order for us. This is what arrived: stir fried pork (with onions, carrots and chives) and a bubbling kimchee tofu stew. Delicious!
Also, the banchan was placed in huge bins at the back of the restaurant, alongside with a huge rice cooker. Both rice and banchan were self-serve, so you could have as much as you wanted. The yellow bean sprouts and spinach were fresh and lightly flavored and balanced the spiciness of the other foods perfectly.
Another advantage of not having specific restaurants planned into my itinerary was that we could simply pop into any restaurant that we wanted to try. We happened upon this traditional Korean restaurant, where you sat on cushions on the floor. The menu was posted on the wall, with clear photos and prices, so you could easily just point to the item that you wanted.
This restaurant came with the most generous portions I have ever seen! The kimchee arrived in cute black urns, which you dished out with the stainless steel tongs provided, and onto small side plates. The banchan also included a bowl of chewy pearl barley that definitely tasted much better than it looked.
I ordered the cold bibimbap, which came in an enormous bowl. This bowl was filled to the brim with fresh and pickled vegetables, and topped with a sunny side up egg. The seaweed was sprinkled with ground sesame seeds, which I enjoyed. I also noticed that some of their vegetables were lightly dressed with sesame oil.
Before I knew it, I had finished the entire bowl. (My aunt was impressed) I ate so much rice during this trip! At home, I am usually a half bowl girl. But my goodness. The rice in Korea is irresistible. Soft, fluffy, yet slightly chewy. And the perfect backdrop for the spicy kimchee.
As much as I love kimchee and spicy food, around midway through the trip, I needed bit of a change. So for one dinner, I ordered grilled tofu. The set came with rice, a variety of banchan and mugwort leaf soup.
Of course you can’t visit Korea and not have barbecue (Gogigui 고기구이)! For one of our first barbecue meals, we went to a restaurant that grilled the meat for you, and served it with either cold noodles (Mul Naengmyeon 물 냉면), or of course, bibimbap.
My bibimbap came with at least two heads of lettuce, which were perfect for wrapping around the barbecued beef.
My aunt ordered the cold noodles, which arrived in an icy cold broth, topped with paper thin slices of daikon, and half a hardboiled egg. I tried a bit, found the soup to be refreshing, and the buckwheat noodles to be nice and chewy. But I definitely prefer bibimbap!
For our last dinner in Korea, we decided to treat ourselves to real Korean barbecue. The kind that you have to grill yourself! The restaurant we went to was near Hongik University, and it was filled with locals and students. The minimum order is one platter of meat per person. We also ordered a side of mushrooms. The meat was thoroughly marinated and it was fun to cook (or over cook, in my case) the meat ourselves.
Aside from all the meals, I also found time to try some of the drinks available in the supermarkets. Aside from banana milk, my absolute favorite drink was this water jelly. They came in a bunch of different flavors, like apple, peach and orange and were a perfect balance of sweet and sour. The drink was bit like soft Jello, so it felt a bit more substantial than drinking just juice. Plus the squeezy bottle was so convenient! If they sold this in Taiwan, I would have a huge stash in my fridge at all times. (oh, and I also love the packaging)
The only bad food item that I tried was Korean Egg Bread (계란빵) – I read about it here, and it looked so tempting. However, this one I had, the cheese was burnt to a crisp, the egg was rubbery and the bread was dry. I let the pigeons have the rest after one bite.
All in all, it was a fabulous trip! Seoul has an abundance of restaurants to choose from, so if you’re a foodie, you will never run out options. Another experience I really enjoyed was having a thorough browse through the local grocery stores, to pick up some ingredients I saw at the restaurants.
Three items that made it into my suitcase this time were the sesame oil, chili powder and chili paste. If I had more luggage allowance, I would have also brought back a bag of their pancake mix and different type of salts.
After coming back from this trip, I’m already planning my next trip. Hopefully I’ll have some time to visit again around Christmas. I heard Seoul is lovely around then! I’ll make sure to arrive this time with an empty stomach and an empty suitcase.