Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kimbap, Spine Soup, Daelkgobi, Bondegi and Samgyeopsal (aka our adventures with Korean food)

  Outside of Costco pizza, and although there is a McDonald’s within walking distance of our school and apartment, (and it just so happens to be open 24 hours and also delivers!) we have been trying to be adventurous and embrace the local food.  There is lots of it.  On every corner there are little restaurants and shops bustling with couples and families enjoying a bite to eat. 
Kimbap restaurants are quite prevalent, and one right around the corner from the school has been frequented on five or six occasions now.  Each time we go, Ryan tries to pick out something more adventurous and unique than the last time.  Meanwhile, I point to the Korean letters and tell the woman, “gawgee anio” which means, “no meat.”  Then I just hope that whatever arrives for me is filled with squid and not beef.  Squid being something by the way, I never thought I would have hoped for.  The Kimbap place we have been going to also happens to have cheez-eee ram-e-yon (cheese ramen), which is basically the spiciest ramen soup I’ve ever had, with a slice of processed American cheese dropped into it.  In my opinion, not quite worthy of all the hype it had been given, but at least satisfying and worth the 2,500 won (around $2.00) I paid for it.  They also have su-pa-ghetti, which I just can’t bring myself to try.  The picture they have on the wall of the plate looks like canned tomato paste on overcooked spaghetti but we’ll see if I get desperate enough for pasta.
Here I am with a spicy tofu and seafood soup called sundu bujjigae, often eaten after a meal and is served with rice, which you put into the soup once there is room in the bowl.
Spine Soup
Last Friday, to celebrate the two of us and the other new teacher beginning at the school, and also to send off the three teachers we replaced, all the staff from school went to dinner.  Here we are sitting on the floor at a long table, as it is custom do to in many restaurants here.
To start dinner, there was lots of Soju, Korean beer, and side dishes.  Luckily the side dishes here are largely vegetarian which helps.  There are cabbage salads, usually with a 1000 Island or sweet creamy kiwi dressing, radishes or melon soup to cut the inevitable heat of most dishes, dried fish or fish cakes, and always, kimchi. 
Then there was the stew.  Made of pork spine, spices, and vegetables.
The waiters let the meat and broth simmer in a pot atop a burner on the table for awhile and brought out many veggies, some noodles and chiles that we could put in at our discretion.

At the school director’s request, they made me my own vegetarian stew, how sweet!  It was really good too.
After dinner one of the Korean teachers came back with an ice cream cone for everyone!  My kind of dessert.  The night was filled with many new foods and tastes, and lots of Soju.  We later went across the street to a bar and had some more drinks.  We also tried a cold fruit salad with some yogurt.  It was really good.  If only I could figure out how to order that for us when we went out…

Close to Mexican in Korea (daelkgobi)
There seems to a shortage of Mexican food here, or if it does exist, we don’t know where to find it.  There is a place near our apartment claiming to have Mexican food, but the pictures in the window resemble chicken wings with some white rice.  Hmmmm.

Our first week here we went to Seomyeon, a busy area with many restaurants, bars and shops, and were taken to a chicken and rice joint (different from the imitation Mexican place) serving daelkgobi.  Again there were large burners in the middle of the tables, and the waiters brought out steaming pots filled with meat, veggies, rice, and rice patties.  You could even add cheese, which of course, we did!  After trying with no success to order the rice dish with chicken on the side, I said to just forget it and decided I’d eat around the chicken.  We went back a week later and were able to get it just fine with no chicken.  Better late than never right?  We also added extra cheese and it was delicious!  Very spicy but extremely good. 
We (mainly Ryan) also had the opportunity to try another traditional Korean food, Samgyeopsal.  It is thinly sliced meat, comparable to bacon.  There is a grill in the middle of the table where you place the meat and some veggies (even kimchi if you wish to do so).  

There are many dipping sauces and a variety of salads and accompaniments.  Since all I ate the night we went was rice (bap) my share was 1,000 won (less than $1.00).  Ryan owed less than 7,000 (about $6.00) won and he was sufficiently stuffed.  Here is the (almost) finished product.  Once the meat is cooked you wrap it up with lettuce leaves and vegetables.
After hitting a few bars last Saturday, and on our way to another, we noticed a food stand lined with large pots.  The teachers we were out with explained that it was Bondegi, silk  worm larvae.  The silk is spun out the silk worm cocoons, and the bug that’s left inside is served up in a paper cup.
For some reason that I’m still not sure of, Ryan decided to try them out.  I think you will agree this was his most adventurous bout with food yet.  

Since we both love to eat, there will be much more talk of food I’m sure.  Another foreign teacher recommended a Korean restaurant which is completely vegetarian which we hope to try soon!


  1. This was a great post. Lots of really great info about
    "the food of Korea" in general and Busan in particular.
    It's very amusing to imagine the two of you encountering
    all this really weird stuff for the first time. You are taking James Michener's advice alright in not rejecting the food (not that you have much choice...). I'm so glad that some of it is turning out to be really tasty. That picture of Ryan eating silk worms should go viral.

  2. I agree with Dad. You guys are Food Adventure Rock Stars! The Food Channel would be lucky to have you as correspondents.

    My favorite line form this post: "Squid being something by the way, I never thought I would have hoped for."


  3. You are way more "food" adventurous than I am! Even Tommie! I would have just stuck to the rice and vegies. No Squid or Larve for me!