10 Things to Eat When You Visit South Korea

3:03 PM

Now that I've used up most of the leftover adrenaline from our bumpy ride home, I think I have finally collected my thoughts.

So you're headed to the land of k-pop. Aside from filling yourself with a healthy dose of fan-girling, the next best thing is going on a culinary adventure. And I'm telling you, from the local produce to intricately prepared Hansik, they DO NOT disappoint.

The real tragedy here is that you won't get to taste everything on your first trip or even your second--unless you're planning on staying or bringing home an extra 10kgs of love handles. But you can pick your shots. 

A good rule of thumb would be to start with delicate fresh produce that cannot handle shipping and signature dishes. 

1. Kimchi
Of course this is a given! A word of caution to first-timers, kimchi is an acquired taste. The first time for me? It tasted like a sour, vinegary, fermented cabbage that had hints of some fishy smell that was going to mutate anytime soon. Unappetizing. Try it a couple more times and it will blow your mind. So a word to the wise, eat kimchi BEFORE you take your trip.

Once you get over its pungency, you'll taste all the subtle flavors that are improved by the fermentation process. The interesting thing about kimchi is that it is prepared differently everywhere. Some regions add squid, others more salt, a vegan version skips the fish sauce and opts for more soy sauce. You'll find that aside from the mass produced ones, no two homemade kimchi are the same.
Baek Kimchi or White Kimchi. For those who don't like it spicy
2. Strawberries 
Ttalgi!  In colder areas, fruits grow slower, taking their sweet time to really pack all the flavor they can, making their berries more plump and fructose rich. Yes, it's different from the strawberries that grow in Baguio.

3. Sweet Potatoes
On a cold morning in Jeju, while waiting for our bus to arrive, I sleepily wandered to the nearest food stall with steaming food. Yes, I look for food even when I'm sleepy, I think I was Hansel in one of my past lives. I chanced upon some sweet potatoes or 고구마 (goguma). It sounded like a safe choice. I was mind blown! I offered all my companions a bite and they all seemed to agree.

The meat is silky soft, a bit nutty, delectably sweet. For something so simple, it tasted so sinful. 

no wonder it was a part of their folk village. But that's just me playing with my food.

4. Hallabong
In the province of Jeju, many varieties of oranges and tangerines grow. But none (or so I'm told) can rival the sweet Hallabong. Grown in Halla mountain, where they get their name, the fruit's peel resembles that of a ponkan/dekopon. Bumpy, and not shiny-smooth like the usual Valenciana, the peels are  not too attached to the meat inside. This makes it way easier to peel. I've shot myself in the eye with citrus juice many times from peeling clingy oranges.

Jeju also boasts of a wide variety of citrus fruits
5. Sannakji
Chances are, you've seen them used in many "eating challenges". Because these squid will live up to the challenge long after they've died. Well technically, (just to ease your fears) the chopped ones are already dead---dying. You know how your hands need your brain to tell them what to do? The tentacles don't need their brain to continue twitching and sucking until you chew them to oblivion. I haven't tried it so I put it first in my list on my next visit.

There should be an entire book for their street food as it is difficult to choose which ones to get.  But in the spirit of staying true to my title (God, I hate link baits haha :p), we'll keep it at ten.

6. Tteokbokki 
Nothing beats a super spicy sauce on a cold day. It burns my lips so nicely, calming the chill the rest of my tropical-loving body endures. The gochujang sauce has been simmering for hours with tteok or rice cake. Usually topped with a bitter Perilla leaf to refresh your palate from the rich, sticky sauce.

Kimari, and a variety of tempura that goes well with the tteokbokki sauce. There's also odeng and intestines on either end but that's, as Maz Kanata put it, "a good story for a different time"

7. Chicken Barbecue
The true stars of this street snack are the sauces. Start from a sweet un-spicy sauce and move up to the Hydrogen Bomb. If you were in any way cold before eating this, you'd be sweating profusely after.

8. Gyeranbang
Literally egg-bread. The steaming sticky-sweet bread is sold at around ₩1000-1500. A cheap but filling snack--saved our lives a couple of times.

9. Chimaek (Chicken and Maek-Ju/Beer)
Chicken and Beer! The first thing we ate after we set foot in Seoul.
Double fried chicken , made fresh and tossed in a generous coating of either barbecue, chili or garlic sauce. The double frying keeps the chicken light and crisp, the ice cold beer eases some of the chili sting. I could go on all day trying to justify why you need to eat this.

Even the chicken in Kyochon is a little different. The chicken is a bit bigger, comes with three dips and free pickled radish.

10. Coffee
I'm not saying this because I'm a coffee-holic! Okay, maybe a little bit. For a country that does not produce their coffee beans, there are a lot of coffee shops, a number of brands in convenience stores, and multiple coffee vending machines. and hey, many koreanovela plots progressed thanks to coffee/coffee shops <3

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It's a good thing that I was disciplined and managed to keep my caffeine intake in check. Unlike these anonymous coffeeholics. They have a serious problem. Tut. Tut

If you don't get to eat everything on your first trip, don't worry, it's so easy to miss the place, the food, the people, you'll be booking again come next seat sale ;)

A huge thank you to my travel buddies. The trip wouldn't have been this good without you guys. That, and I would have frozen outside the hotel trying to remember the passcode.

Photo credits; Cammile Amparo, Regina Dayao, Kring Punzalan and Ana Marie Carreon

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