Intro to Korean food

Everything you need is in a bowl of bibimbap!

Everything you need is in a bowl of bibimbap!

At our dinner table growing up, my family used to all go around and say something that we did that was interesting. The long windedness of many of my siblings eventually led us to enforce rules such as not beginning with “Well, first I got up”, or even simply “Well…” (a clear sign of an impending monologue). High fives, “bathroom language”, movie quotes, and calling dad “dude” were also prohibited. The ambiguous rule “must be of general interest” was my parents’ way of catching anything that fell through the cracks.

According to my mom, for my turn I often regaled the family with stories of what I ate that day. It was much more interesting than what I learned in school. I had quite a sweet tooth, too. If I was hungry midday, my mom often suggested something like some vegetables or toast, to which I’d respond “I’m hungry for something sweet.” She should know better. This food-fascination continued; once when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I replied with the obvious choice of being “a taste-tester for Nabisco or Keebler.” I think I was around seven years old at this point. I loved cookies.

Though my career path has changed and my stomach has shrunk, my appetite is no smaller. A lot of you know this, and may be a little surprised that I haven’t posted much about food yet. Well wait no further, because you’re going to be educated! Though Korean food doesn’t quite have the international reputation of places like Italy or Thailand, the food is pretty good. There are some staples that also stand out:

Bibimbap 비빔밥 (“mixed rice”) is the quintessential Korean dish. The _______ has tried to tout it as an amazing example of Korean cuisine in order to increase tourism, but unfortunately there’s not too much exciting rice mixed with egg, vegetables, and hot peppers. My friend described it was the Korean equivalent to a Midwestern hotdish, or basically a haven for leftovers and scraps.

Kimchi, the fermented cabbage we all know and... love...

Kimchi, the fermented cabbage we all know and… love…

Kimchi 김치. Arguably more Korean than Korea itself, kimchi is served as a side with literally every Korean meal. Typically it’s cabbage that undergoes a long treatment involving ____________ . Radishes, bean sprouts, and cucumbers are all common alternatives to cabbage. It’s heavy on the ________, and many Koreans are quite impressed to find a foreigner that actually enjoys it.

Banchan 반찬 will accompany most of your Korean meals as well. This usually includes a few varieties of kimchi, maybe some odaeng (fish bread), and whole garlic cloves. I always feel a bit wasteful when it comes, since I hardly eat any of it, but going without is like having bread without butter. It’s simply not done.

Here's 막창 (makchang, or pig rectum). It's an awfully chewy experience, but my favorite is still 갈매기살 (galmaegi sal, a type of pork).

Here’s 막창 (makchang, or pig rectum). It’s an awfully chewy experience, but my favorite is still 갈매기살 (galmaegi sal, a type of pork).

Galbi 갈비 is a general term for Korean barbeque. Usually marinated pork or beef, always delicious. This time the banchan is a crucial part of the meal. While you could eat the meat by itself, the best way is to take a lettuce or sesame leaf, throw some meat, bean sprouts, garlic, onions, and kimchi, wrap it up like a taco, and stuff the whole thing in your mouth. Bam. Balanced meal.

Kimbap is essential to any hiking trip.

Kimbap is essential to any hiking trip.

Kimbap 김밥 is the Korean alternative to a sandwich: It’s cheap, easy to make, healthy, packed with carbs, and super easy to eat on the go. It’s basically dried seaweed (kim 김) wrapped around rice (bap 밥), and stuffed with veggies, cheese, tuna, meet, and/or spam. In fact, a whole type of restaurant is centered around this convenient food. Instead of heading over to McDonald’s for a quick lunch, or Perkin’s for a midnight snack, hungry eaters will stop in at one of many 24 hour chain restaurants such as Kimbap Nara (Kimbap Land) or Kimbap Chungook (Kimbap Heaven) for a quick, somewhat healthy, fairly cheap meal. In addition to kimbap, the restaurants serve stews, soups, fried rice, bibimbap and loads of other menu options. This is fastfood done right.