So after our lovely jaunts to Hong Kong and Nanjing, the Hubs and I headed to our last stop of our Christmas holiday: my hometown of Seoul! I was so excited to be back and also, to be eating everything I’ve been missing.
In London, there are lots of Korean restaurants. In fact, a small town called New Malden in Surrey is called Koreatown by some people, there are so many Korean restaurants on the high street. So it’s not difficult to get what you want there. In contrast, one of the drawbacks of living in Kuala Belait is that the nearest Korean restaurant is over an hour away so you can imagine how desperate I was for my fix!
One of the major differences between Korean restaurants outside of Korea and those within are that those outside tend to be “general” restaurants ie they serve a wide range of dishes and so you don’t have to go to different restaurants to eat different food. In Korea, the restaurants tend to be a lot more specialised, a lot of the restaurants that my family go to specialise in only a handful of dishes and some only have one item on their menu.
So here are some of the highlights of my food journey 🙂
One of the first places we stopped by to eat was my favourite sul-lung-tang place. This is a soup made by boiling beef and bones for a loooong time to create a deep flavour. It is served with a bowl of rice which you usually put inside the soup to eat altogether. It is delicious, particularly with some good kimchi.
2. Bulgogi jeon-gol
Bulgogi is marinated beef in a sweet soy sauce. It can come with a wide range of “wetness”. In restaurants outside Korea, it usually comes in a grill dish, sizzling, with a little bit of sauce.
This place I go to all the time in Seoul does bulgogi jeon-gol. “Jeon-gol” means stew and so it has a lot more sauce.
Usually at these sorts of places, the meat comes uncooked and is placed at the grill on your table so you can watch it cook and adjust it to your taste. Once you finish all the meat, you can order fried rice. Then a server comes to your table with the rice and various veg and fries the rice right in front of you. The ingredients can include kimchi, leafy green veg, beansprouts, mushrooms etc
3. Korean BBQ
During my time at home, I went for a classic Korean BBQ. This restaurant is absolutely awesome as it is a butcher / restaurant. So the aesthetics are not anything to write home about, but the taste of their beef is phenomenal and the prices are very good too. The beef doesn’t need anything, no salt or pepper, marinade or anything it’s that good. If you want some seasoning, it comes with a salt, pepper and sesame oil sauce on the side that you can dip into.
My dad is a keen griller and he usually shoos away the servers and does the cooking himself. He’s very particular about how he does it but I have to admit, it is absolutely delicious when he says they are ready. I stuffed my face at this restaurant…
To understand what Hanjungsik means, I have to break down each syllable. “Han” means Korea, “jung” means formal and “sik” means meal. So Hanjungsik refers to a traditional Korean meal. Usually, each table will have a few vegetable dishes, some pickles, soup, stew and some meat or fish dishes. At the end of the meal comes some sort of dessert, in the form of drinks, confectioneries, or fruit.
Hanjungsik is very popular in Korea as traditional food tends to be very healthy and there is a wide variety of food that comes with each order.
So I went to a restaurant called Chong-mok. This restaurant has resolved a problem that is common with Hanjungsik restaurants, which is that there are sooo many different dishes, the servers either have to carry around huge trays full of food or scurry from the kitchen to the tables multiple times. Chong-mok has come up with a unique solution in that they prepare what I’ll call a “top table” that they lay all their dishes on from the kitchen and then load the whole top table onto a trolley which they roll over. Then they push the top table onto the table at which you are sitting. The height of the trolley and size of the tables match so that it is easy to push on and off. And voila, you have a table full of food!
Pat-bing-su is a summer dessert which isn’t widely available usually in the winter so when I saw a shop selling it, I looked at Hubs and said I gotta have it! Pat-bing-su has lots of shaved ice at the bottom and topped with sweet red beans and usually some milk. You can also add lots of different flavourings and toppings such as nuts or chocolate but we went simple with just some rice cakes on top. Sooo good!
Unlike pat-bing-su, ho-dduk is a quintessential winter snack. I had this one with my mum when we were out and about in a market. Ho-dduk is a pan-fried flatbread with honey inside. When you eat a hot one right off the pan on a cold day, there’s nothing better!
I’ve now made myself really hungry by writing this post so I’m off to have a snack!