Since I am a mere week away from my departure from Korea, I figure I would reflect upon my time here. And what better topic is there to cover besides food? I certainly have done the most research in this field.
I've tried to show a range of foods here, so anything goes: snacks, main dishes, side dishes, desserts, and so on. Also, you can expect a sister list of Korean foods I did not enjoy in the coming days. Here goes.
5. Ddeok (Rice Cakes)
Made mostly from a glutinous rice flour, and coming in a plethora of flavours, colours, and shapes, this snack/dessert is good anytime. Depending on what kind you choose, it may make for a quick breakfast, something to cap off a meal, or to compliment tea. Admittedly, I found most ddeok to be bland at first. Over time I began to enjoy the subtle flavours and textures (mmm....chewy to the max). The more I tried them, the more I enjoyed them. They can be made with many sorts of things like honey, sugar, nuts, dates, sweet red beans, persimmon, peaches, apricots, etc. Also, sliced bits of plain rice cake added to soups and other dishes is great.
4. Mandu (Dumplings)
Man, I love me some mandu. It's basically the Korean equivalent of a pierogi, but filled with meat, tofu, veggies, or spicy ingredients. Once I ate a mandu so spicy it gave me hiccups for a solid half hour. There are several varieties, and you can get them steamed, pan fried, or boiled in a soup. While a large sized mandu is practically a meal itself, I prefer a mixed selection of freshly made dumplings with a little soy sauce for dipping.
My boss and his wife were nice enough to invite me to their home one Sunday to show me how to prepare mandu and we enjoyed a mandu stew that achieved a level of deliciousness I could scarcely believe. Despite having participated in making them, I'm pretty sure it would take years for me gain the skill to make them well. But I'll have to learn fast since any frozen style mandu I discovered in Canada came nowhere close to the real thing.
More than a year ago on my blog I wrote about this dessert and how it was a ridiculous hodgepodge of ingredients that made me think of groceries spilled in the snow. I still think that way, but I also fucking love it. The dessert starts simply with a bowl of shaved ice topped with sweet red beans. I know you're thinking, beans?! I'll pass, thank you very much. But trust me that these are not beans for a chili. These beans are more akin to candy.
Anyway, it seems everywhere I go restaurants are trying to outdo each other with elaborate toppings. I've seen patbingsu served while it towered more than half a foot out of the bowl. But the toppings are always different; you got condensed milk, cereal, syrup, yogurt, fresh fruit, candy, cinnamon, ice cream, bits of rice cake, nuts, sprinkles, the list goes on. It's refreshing, delicious, a sno-cone on steroids and I will do my very best to duplicate it in Canada ... or go mad trying.
I could hardly make a list of Korean food without mentioning this. It's the quintessential Korean food, and represents a huge part of their food culture. If you don't know, kimchi is a spicy pickled vegetable side dish (basically like a sauerkraut) and has a staggering 187 documented varieties. The most common type is made with Chinese cabbage, and that's the one I know best. It really is a delicious addition to any meal. I love having it with steamed or fried rice, in soup, or Korean style pancakes. Some westerners have let me know that when cooked alongside beef on the BBQ, it makes for a hell of a good burger.
Due to the variety of seasonings, spices, ingredients, preparation methods, and fermentation times, the taste of kimchi is always different. Sometimes spicy, salty, sweet, sour, or a mix, it always adds something unique to a meal. As a bonus, it's widely recognized as being great for your health, and has even been listed in the top five "World's Healthiest Foods".
1. Bibimbap (Mixed Meal)
Easily my favourite meal from Korea. This dish is basically a bowl of rice topped with sautéed and seasoned vegetables and usually a fried egg, red pepper paste, and dark sesame oil. When mixed all together and eaten along with soup and side dishes, it becomes a savory delight. It works well as a summer meal, or if you want something to warm you up in the winter, you can get dolsot bibimbap which comes sizzling with meat in a stone pot. It's just fantastic.
Like so many other Korean foods, like the ones I've mentioned above, because of the ever changing ingredients and recipes, the taste is never quite the same as before. And although it's usually a heaping bowl of food, it doesn't sit in your gut like a greasy weight making you long for a nap, but instead leaves you feeling energized and satisfied. I wonder if airport security will notice when I fill one of my suitcases with everything I need to make this dish for the next several months?