Food is an important part of Korean culture and I mean it is IMPORTANT. Eating and drinking together is a popular, much embraced activity and it is essential to eat well. Especially in the past people used to greet one another with the phrase 밥 먹었어요? (bap meogeoseoyo) - Did you eat? The phrase became common after the war when the country suffered from shortage of food. This simple question became a way of showing care for others wellbeing.
A friend of mine also shared the story of 라면 (ramen) - the very same kind of instant noodles that are also very popular among students in Europe. Again after war there was not enough rice available to feed eveyone. According to the story, the head of the country at that time stated "No citizen shall be hungry" and introduced a more affordable meal, 라면, to Koreans. Nowadays it is a popular snack and lighter meal.
Today there is plenty of food in Korea. If you like food, Korea is like a heaven on earth for you. Eating well is appreciated and the meals are delicious. Introducing all the typical dishes would require a book of their own but here are some of my favorites among the ones that I have had during my stay here.
According to the meaning of the name bibimbap - "mixed rice" - is various vegetables mixed with warm rice and often (but not always) some meat; bulgogi, tuna or pork for example. It is very typical to have an egg on top of the portion.
비빔 국수 | Bibim Guksu
Like Bibimbap, Bibim Guksu is a dish with plenty of fresh veggies but instead of rice it is based on homemade cold noodles. Mix and enjoy!
As you may notice, Korean dishes are often served with small side dishes - normally with kimchi, pickled radish and small warm soup.
내명 | Naengmyeon
Another popular noodle dish is naengmyeon, cold noodles. This refreshing combination tastes especially good during the hot summer weather.
김밥 | Gimbap
Looks a little like Japanese sushi, but tastes very different. Veggies, possibly some meat and/or cheese and naturally some rice rolled inside seaweed. Gimbap is a typical side dish but I do consider it a good lighter meal on its own.
치킨 | Chicken
Chicken is a popular dish to enjoy with friends. To have "chicken and beer" is a combo that you see pretty much everywhere in Seoul. Some of the dishes are more spicy than others and there are several ways to tune your chicken. Normally the portions are big and meant to be shared.
고기구이 | Korean BBQ
A friend of mine brought me to probably one of the best Korean BBQ places in the city. Not all the bbq places are as fancy as this one, but the principle is the same - you (or depending on the place the waiter) grills meat - beef or pork - that you then eat with different side dishes. Typical thing to do is to dip small pieces of meat to salt and/or to different sauces and wrap it in a piece of lettuce. So delicious! And low carb, haha. ;)
회 | Raw Fish
This must have been one of the most random evenings for quite a while. I have never really tough that raw fish would be something to go with drinking but obviously it is considered a legit dish to enjoy with some soju or rasberry wine. Works surprisingly well! Even at 3am.
As you may notice, many of the typical Korean foods are based on or include meat. It can be pretty challenging to be a strict vegetarian or vegan in here. Anyhow, surprisingly many dishes can be found or ordered also without meat. And since Seoul is a big international city, you will find all kinds of foods and restaurants here - like this fully vegan satay noodle sallad we enjoyed in Itaewon one Sunday. I know - it is kinda easy to get spoiled in this city. ^^
커피 | Coffee Moments
Good coffee is everywhere here. And I mean EVERYWHERE. Approximately every other person you see on the street carries an ice americano 아이스 아메리카노 in their hands. There are very affordable coffee shops but sometimes people pay as much (or more) for their coffee as for their lunch (4000-6000won ~ 3,5 - 5,5€). Which is kinda crazy. But as a coffee addict myself, who am I to blame.
Then, of course, there is always the stuff that you never saw coming. Like this tiny cute dessert we received at a traditional Korean restaurant. I will just leave it here.