While traveling, you don’t really know a country or people until you try their food. Ingredients, flavor combinations, cooking styles, presentation, etiquette- it all varies so much from place to place. It really reflects the culture and what people value. Our relationship with food reflects us, as a people.
I’ve lived in Korea for the past year and could talk endlessly about the food. First off, it’s highly underrated. I don’t know why it hasn’t taken over my home country of America yet. I live in Seoul, so Western-style cuisine has slowly crept into people’s daily meals, but the communal-style Korean restaurants are still ubiquitous.
My Korean Top-10:
1. Dalkgalbi- communal-style medley of chicken, cabbage, sweet potato, rice cake, some other vegetables, and chili pepper paste (gochujang) cooked in front of you on a hot plate- you get several servings, cook it all together in the middle, and share
2. Mandu- Korean-style dumplings, usually filled with meat, though my favorite is with kimchi
3. Kimchi- though becoming more popular, it’s still not as easily found as it should be (looking at you, hometown in PA)- it’s fermented cabbage (or Korean radish, or other vegetable) in a spicy chili mix
4. Pajeon- Korean-style pancake, made of egg, wheat and rice flour, filled with vegetables and seafood- squid is best
5. Korean BBQ (samgyeopsal)- generally the only Korean cuisine that’s made it abroad, as far as I’ve seen
6. Kimbap- kind of like sushi minus the actual fish- various ingredients rolled in rice and seaweed, then sliced like sushi
7. Bibimbap- mix of rice, a fried egg, seaweed, lots of vegetables, sometimes meat
8. Naengmyeon- buckwheat noodle dish served cold, perfect for the very hot summers here
9. Maekgolli- rice wine, looks a lot like milk- not ever to be confused with soju, the quite intense equivalent here of vodka- both can be found at convenience stores for A DOLLAR per bottle
10. Tteokbokki- incredibly delicious and popular street food consisting of rice cakes and a few vegetables in sort of a spicy red soy sauce
Koreans are extremely proud of their cuisine, and rightfully so. I find it very unique, and it really reflects the value of family, with communal-style restaurants, and Korean history, with old rituals and customs still very much alive at the dinner table.