Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die tomorrow.

James Dean

Monday, March 7, 2011

The delicious side of Korea

In Korea they love their food. They love to share their food and it is considered rude and a personal insult if you decline the food that they offer you. When you meet a Korean person it is not uncommon to be asked 밥 먹었어요 (pap megeoseoyo) which when translated means "have you eaten"? In most cases this is just another way of asking how are you, but be careful how you answer because if you say no you may suddenly find yourself being whisked away to a Korean restaurant and being force fed food that you may not want. Meals in Korea are a communal event usually with one main dish and then everyone sharing from the various side dishes that are always part of the meal. These side dishes vary usually with some sort of salad, different vegetables, sauces and always kimchi. The best part is that they come with the meal meaning you don't pay extra and you can refill them as often as you like.

Seriously though, there is no excuse to go hungry in Korea as food is available in abundance. There are restaurants everywhere, ranging from small family run bibimbap places, to Korean bbq's to street food. The small family run establishments are great for a quick meal. They usually have a few plastic tables, limited decorations and you can get a delicious and healthy meal of bibimbap and beer for about $5.00. They aren't fancy and often you have to get your own water from a giant water cooler at the front of the restaurant. They rarely have English menus but usually the menus have pictures on them so you know what to order and most neighbourhoods have 2 or 3 of them. There is a particular one on my street that I am rather fond of, when I go in I get a big smile from the ajumma working there, spend $3.00 on bibimbap and leave full for the night. For those who don't know, bibimbap translated means mixed rice. Basically you get a bowl of steaming, boiled rice, it usually comes out in a cast iron dish still sizzling, mixed in the rice are various vegetables, bean sprouts, sometimes bulgogi or hamburger meat and always an egg. You can then mix in some spicy sauce to make it less dry. It is delicious and one of my favourite Korean dishes.

Probably one of the most popular style of Korean eating, and one of the more delicious, is the Korean bbq. BBQ restaurants are everywhere and some of them specialize in certain meats such as pork or duck while in others you can choose any. At a bbq you sit a table in the center with be a small grill, either heated by propane or hot coals that are placed underneath it. Slabs of raw meat are brought to you along with tongs and scissors and you proceed to grill your own meat. Along with the meat you always get the side dishes mentioned above and usually individual portions of rice. Once the meat is cooked you use the scissors to cut it into bite sixe pieces and the feast begins. The appropriate way to eat bbq meat is on leaves ... yes leaves. You will be given a basket full of romaine lettuce leaves and sesamee leaves. You use your chopsticks to take a piece of meat, place it inside the lettuce leaf, put any sauces, salts etc. as you desire, add any other vegetables and then eat. Although bbq restaurants are more expensive than the bibimbap places, compared to restaurant prices at home they are relatively cheap and you always walk away stuffed.

If you are looking for a really cheap meal then there are always street food vendors. They are everywhere and sell everything from hot noodles, to shishkabob meat to my favourite fishbread. Fishbread is more of a snack and is similar to a waffle with a red bean paste inside. They taste the best when they are freshly cooked and the insides are steaming hot.

On the street where I live there is often a man selling hot noodles from the back of his van. He has a portable propane stove set up with a pot of boiling water and noodles cooking. He opens the back door and the people line up to buy his food. I have never tried it but given the lengths of his lines I am guessing it must be good. Finally lets not forget about the pizza. There are just as many pizza shops here as there are in Canada some are cheap and some are not. The difference here has to do with the toppings. I often frequent a little place on my street called Pizza Maru where I wil order an Italian cheese pizza. This is just a plain cheese pizza with some corn mixed in. I have seen pizza here with such topping as pumpkin, potatoe wedges and bbq'd steak. As well with every pizza you order you get a complimentary packet of pickles.