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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Beyond Ramyeon: A Beginner’s Guide to Korean Food

When moving to a new culture, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by how different everything is from home. One of our biggest comforts is turning to food, and it can be unsettling when the food is nothing like what Mom used to make. Some people struggle with this when they go to a university half an hour away from home, and here we are half a world away. I mean, they eat fish, soup and kimchi for breakfast here! That’s a little different than cereal, or eggs on toast.

This will give you a very basic break-down of the most common Korean foods you’ll encounter, with the hopes of making it a little less intimidating, especially since in my experience, many Koreans can’t really explain what’s in the food either due to not knowing the vocabulary in English, or not knowing what’s in there themselves.

It’ll also help you avoid the weight gain many people experience when they avoid the unknowns of Korean food and stick to pizza and McDonalds. If you want to have a true Korean experience during your time here, remember the wise words of my (and probably your) mother, “Try it! You might like it.”

For those of you who don’t like spicy food, I’ll include a rating system to help you find food that won’t burn your face off. I do recommend building your spice tolerance, however, as many foods here are spicy, and it severely limits your ability to both experience and enjoy good food. (When I first got here, I found mild salsa pretty hot, but I can now eat just about anything.)

Kimchi (김치) – The most popular, and quintessentially Korean food you’ll encounter, kimchi is spicy, pickled and fermented cabbage. It is served with every meal. While some people do enjoy it from the first taste, it usually needs a little bit of getting used to. Some kimchi is definitely better than others, homemade being the best. It’s chock full of vitamins A,B, and C, antioxidants and the same healthy bacteria found in yoghurt, though there is some doubt it’s the cure-all ajummas make it out to be. If you find it hard to take at first, try it in soups or cooked on the galbi-grill – it mellows the flavour. Become a fan of kimchi and you’ll instantly win the respect of every Korean you meet. Spice level is similar to a medium salsa.

samgyeopsal

Bulgogi (불구기), Sam gyup sal (삼귶살) and Galbi (갈비) – Bulgogi literally means “fire meat”, or barbequed meat. It usually refers to the strips of meat you cook on the table-barbeque in front of you. However, bulgogi can also mean a soup of shredded beef cooked with carrots and onions in a beef broth. More commonly, the barbequed meat is ordered by type. Beef is “so” (), and pork is “dwedgey” (돼지). Due to various political and agricultural factors, beef is very expensive here, so most of the time pork is the way to go. Sam gyup sal is the same cut as bacon, but not cured. The name literally means “three layers of fat”. Galbi is rib meat, and is usually marinated. You order per serving, which is usually between 150-200g, with a minimum order of 3 servings. Your order includes a wide variety of side dishes (ban chan 반찬), from the leaves to wrap the meat in, to salads, all kinds of vegetables in sauces, kimchi, scrambled egg, etc. The ban chan is different from restaurant to restaurant, from meat dish to meat dish and from season to season. The meat is not spicy. The side dishes vary in spice level.

bibimbap

Bibimbap (비빔밥) – a dish of rice topped with shredded, sautéed vegetables, meat and an egg. To order it without meat, ask for “gogi bego”. It’s often served with the hot pepper paste (gochu jang) served on the side. If not, there’s a big dollop under the egg. It’s easy enough to scoop out if you’re not fond of spice. This dish can also be served in a stone pot, which cooks the bottom rice crispy. Served this way, it’s called “dole sot” (돌 솥) bibimbap. The spice level depends on how much gochu jang you add, which means you can make it as spicy as you like it.

Kimchi jiggae

Jiggae (지깨) – Kimchi Jiggae (김치 지째), Dwenjang Jiggae (됀장지깨), Chamchi Jiggae (참치지깨), Soondubu Jiggae (순두부지깨)

Jiggae is similar to stew. Kimchi jiggae is made with kimchi, dwenjang jiggae is made with fermented soybean paste (dwenjang is like a strong miso), chamchi jiggae is kimchi jiggae with tuna (chamchi) instead of pork, soondubu jiggae is made with soft (soon) tofu (dubu). Add to these basics veggies such as Korean radish and zucchini, and onion. Dwenjang jiggae often contains seafood. Jiggae is always served with rice. In fact at a Bulgogi restaurant, when you order rice, they serve dwenjang jiggae for free along with it. (You can’t, however, order dwenjang jiggae outside of lunchtime. That is impossible. You must order rice and get free dwenjang jiggae, instead.) Jiggaes are generally mild to medium spice level, though dwenjang can sometimes be quite hot, and soondubu is generally quite mild. This does depend on the restaurant, however.

Donkas (돈가스) – A breaded, fried pork cutlet, served with rice and a brown sauce. This meal is not spicy, and is quite popular with foreigners as it is very similar to what you might find at home.

kimbap

Kimbap (김밥) – Similar to what we know as sushi rolls, kimbap is made by wrapping seaweed, “kim”, around rice, “bap”. There are different kinds of kimbap, depending on the filling. Basic kimbap is ham, egg, crab meat, Korean radish, shredded carrots and cucumber, and burdock root. Other types of kimbap can include tuna (chamchi 참치), beef (sogogi 소고기), kimchi, cheese (치즈), among others. This is a popular picnic food, as it’s easy to transport. Kimbap is not spicy.

Ramyeon (라면) – Ramyeon is noodles cooked in broth. Similar to Japanese ramen, or Vietnamese pho, except the noodles are thin and squiggly. There’re a wide variety of broths and spice levels. Many restaurants serve the pre-packaged stuff like you’ll find in the stores, but there are places that make it by hand, which is like the difference between a McDonald’s hamburger and homemade burgers on the barbeque.

Soon dubu

 

There will be more to come on this topic, as we’ve barely scratched the surface of the kinds of food Korea has to offer.

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