Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eating our way through Seoul (1)

We tripped to Seoul and ate Korean food for a good few days.

And for me, a non-chilli eater, it was both exciting and a touch scary as it meant that I was entering a city where pretty much everyone eats chilli - and lots of it. What I love about Korean food is that it always makes your table look really full. Lots of side dishes which really are eye openers. What my Korean friend also pointed out was that Korean food tends to be really pretty healthy and grease lacking. Even Maccas in Korea seems non-greasy (according to my friend).

Our first meal in Seoul was quite a difficult choice. This was because 1) We don't speak Korean and Koreans don't speak too much English and 2) My partner was feeling sick and didn't really want to eat much. Nonetheless, we entered a restaurant which claimed to serve "Traditional Korean Food".

We decided to order the bbq pork ribs. This came with a multitude of side dishes. There was kimchi, potato salad, cold veges, coleslaw, cold chilli noodles and super spicy tofu soup. These side dishes were pretty standard and were pretty much everywhere. There was also rice. My partner said that Korean's don't pick up their bowls when they eat as it's rude. As a result, the rice tends to be stickier and soggier and generally comprises of a mix of grains. Not sure I like the rice, but it definately diffuses some of the chilliness.

pickled veges
cold brocoli with enoki mushies and sweet chilli sauce
potato salad
chilli tofu soup
lettuce to wrap the pork ribs in
cold kimchi noodles

As for the pork ribs. These were really really quite yummy. Very tasty and very tender. The marinade appeared sweet at first but after eating most of the plate, I found the meat getting ever so slightly spicier and spicier. It could also have something to do with my attempt to eat even the chilli side dishes :)

pork ribs

And so that was our first dinner in Seoul. I, the non-chilli eater, almost polished the whole meal as my partner wasn't feeling well. As a consequence, I believe that my chilli-eating tolerance has leveled up a few :P

Our next Korean meal was eaten with our Korean friends. What this meant was that they ordered :) We had korean pork bacon-style meat cooked on a quartz hot plate. That's right - Quartz. No oil or anything was needed. The cooking was really simple. Fire up the quartz plate, slab the pork on (the waitress did it all), put the kimchi on (assumedly for extra taste) and when the pork is almost done, sprinkle with a little bit of seasoning.

quartz plate
pork cooking on quartz

It was simply cooked. No oil yet non-stick. Even though there was sooo much fat on it, I still ate it all - it was really really really juicy and flavoursome. Super super tender. Mmm....

A Korean lunch in the traditional side of Seoul (in Insadong) took us to this cute little tranquil restaurant. Prices were slightly hiked up but the ambiance of the place made it worth it.

As I was dying to eat Japchae - cellophane potato starch noodles stir fried with veges and seasoned with sweet soy and sesame type sauce, that's exactly what I ordered. This one came with seafood. It was simply divine! (but I probably would have said that about any Japchae). The best seafood of the lot was the octopus. Not the touch chewy substance you get normally but a really really soft tender octopus.

seafood japchae

My partner ordered the boiled pork with jellyfish and veges. It was only after the dish came that we figured out that this was most probbly a dish meant for 2. There was sooooooo much pork belly. It also came with this brown sauce. Looking like sweet sauce, the first thing I did was drench my cold pork piece into the sesame brown dip and OMG did I get a surprise. The sauce was sesame mustardy horseraddishly HOT HOT HOT. It cleared all my blocked noses, sore throats and anything I might have had at once. After the slight shock, I decided that I'd neutralise it with some awesome jellyfish. I shoved a huge pile of jellyfish in my mouth without noticing that it was actually drenched in the mustardy wasabi ish sauce already and WOW- I was crying~

boiled pork with jellyfish
mustard wasabi sesame sauce

This definately wasn't a bad dish. After we figured out that you are probably meant to eat a bit of the jellyfish with the pork and veges and got the balance right, the dish was really very yummy. Clean and healthy-illusioned type yum.

Before our trip, one of my partner's Korean friends had informed him that there were places where you can eat like the olden day emperors. For these emperor's feasts, we trekked a little bit to the city outskirt and ended up at this cool looking place.

I believe that we ordered the traditional seafood feast and this is what we ended up with...

As we sat down, pickled onion bits and a warm pumpkin soup was already awaiting us. The onion bits were sour and nice. The pumpkin soup however, was a bit wierd. Not like the normal pumpkin soups I'm used to which are really smooth and creamy, this was really really pumpkiny. Probably not much cream in it. Seemed really unbelievably healthy.

pickled onions and pumpkin soup

We were then greeted with a star-fruit flavoured puree salad. This was slightly odd. Not because it wasn't nice but because it was really unexpected. I thought that the yellow stuff would be mango but I guess starfruit brings a sweet and tangy taste to the dish. We also got a fish piece. This wasn't crazily awesome. Just normal curry fish piece. There was also a sweet chewy dessert-type triangle dumpling. It had this sweet yellow beany pastey filling. Again, it was odd because I never expected a sweet dessert-type entree.

starfruit salad
curry fish
sweet dumplings

Next up was a DIY wrap. Looked like a small multigrain healthy wrap where you wrap lots of healthy veges in it. The taste was very subtle. The dish with kiwi fruit on it also left me with mixed feelings. For a while, I was scared that the thing under the kiwi fruit was sweet potato - in which case I wouldn't of touched it. But it wasn't. It was a weird fishpaste tofu type skin ish roll with kiwi fruit piece and nashi pear bit topped with caviar. Ummmmmm......... Healthy?

vege wrap
fishpaste kiwifruit roll thingi

The next dish definately an eye-opener. It was deep fried ginseng. All three of us were like... omg is that what we think it is??? LOL The Ginseng was bitter sweet and mushy. The tree root type side was crunchy. Though it was deep fried - it was not oily in the slightest. However, I don't think it's a dish we can eat too much of. It was too rich and had slightly started to give me a headache. I'm not made for precious foods.

deep-fried ginseng

I had thought that the next plate was tempura. It was not. It was a fish piece, a cucumber piece and a crab-corn patty wrapped in egg. Healthy tempura-look-a-like. The dish we had after that was a stewed beef rib home-cooked asian style with veges. The beef was melt in your mouth tender sweetness. The big chunk cut veges were also doused in sweet beefy sauce. Pretty yummy.

egg-covered fish, cucumber and crab-corn patties
stewed beef rib

Raw beef came after that. Beef strips marinated with eggy subtly sweet sauce. This seemed like something we'd commonly see in Sydney. It was nice and simple but delicious. The next was prawns topped with soybean powder and edamame. What can I say? I miss Sydney seafood. These prawns were slightly ugh. The meat was not fresh - it was mushy. Could have been overcooked or could simply be because Seoul has no fresh prawns. Mushy meat texture topped with mushy powdered bean. Mmm... not my type of dish.

raw beef
powdered bean topped prawns

After that came this flaming bronze pot. Don't touch - super hot. But we were curious. What on earth was in it?

walnut soup

The answer- it was soup. Walnut soup. I'm used to walnut sweet soup but walnut savoury soup? First time. Soup came with lots of delicious mushrooms and veges and red date. The texture was slightly grainy, not super smooth like the sweet soups. It was an unusual dish. This is becauce the walnut is by nature a bitter ish sweet ish nut. But the soup is savoury. Definately elements of healthiness in here.

walnut soup

The last traditional Korean food before the array of side dishes came was the eel. It was beautifully presented. My partner and my friend said that the eel was simply divine. It was smooth and silky. Not overly sauced up like the Jap ones. But really smooth and delish.


Last but not least, the array of side dishes with rice. Lots of root veges and kimchi. But most interestingly was this raw drunken crab. The meat, as it was raw, was gooey but really really sweet. It was the type of food which makes me think I'll be sick after eating it but I can't stop eating it because it's so sweet and the texture is so interesting.

drunken cold crab

We also got a fish each. The fish was wonderfully grilled. The skin was crisp. The meat was also nice. It was definately a good fish.

crispy fish
array of side dishes

Close to the end of the meal, we got this burnt rice soup. It was tasteless. My Korean friend said that it cleanses the digestive system and is good for you. But ugh - I couldn't stomach bland rice water. There was also this sweet plum drink which was served before fruit.

rice water
cold sweet plum tea

Unfortunately for me, there wasn't any awesome desserts which I was hanging out for. Nonetheless, it was definately an interesting meal. I didn't really know what to think of it. Healthy and interesting but I'm not sure if I liked every dish.

Prior to one of our dinner meals, we couldn't resist the street food. There was street food galore in Seoul. The aromas filled the streets and were extremely tempting. There were skewers, frankfurts, squids, candy etc etc. Koreans swarm around these street stores. The one we chose to try was a frankfurt wrapped in a deep-fried fish paste. It was pure YUM. Crispy, tastes of fish paste and porky frankfurtness. Deliciousness!!! I only wish we had street stores in Sydney.

fish paste wrapped frankfurt

Our last Korean meal was comprised of bubbling beef rib soup and dumpling soup. We got 2 massive bowls of kimchi with this (which of course, we're not supposed to finish). The kimchi was yummy. My dumpling soup was also deliciousness. Each dumpling was the size of my fist. The filling was pork and mushroom and chives. In the soup was also potato noodles and and slightly spicy beef slices. Mmmm.... My partner's beef rib soup was also very tasty. The beef was tender yet chewy near the tendons. Nice.


beef rib soup
dumpling soup

So overall, our Korean eats was a good experience. It level upped my spice tolerance. It seemed all really organic and healthy. I didn't believe my friend when he said that Koreans lack greasy food. But I guess that in all our eats, everything did seem truly really healthy and really clean. Makes our eating splurge more justifiable... just.

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