I realized after the last post that most of my food commentary here has so far been limited to complaining about things I can't find or describing the odd things which I'm often compelled to eat. So, I'd like to present you with a little list of foods which I hope you will one day come try. An approximate exchange rate is W1000=$1. The foods below are ones which I am likely to
eat on my 30 minute dinner break, not the best of what Korea has to offer.
Staple #1: Kimbap. Literally "seaweed rice," this is a little bit like sushi in shape. The ladies selling it have all the ingredients pre-cut into perfect-length strips. Eggs, fake crab meat, fishcake (made from broken down meat, bones, and scales, maybe???), yellow radish, ham, carrots, zucchini or something, and some other nameless vegetables. W1000. For W2000, you can get some tuna, seasoned ground beef, cheese, or red pepper paste inside.
Staple #2: Kalgugsu. Literally "Knife noodle." Thin, flat noodles in a chicken or vegetable-stock broth, with carrots, squash, and a few potatoes. You can throw in some spicy paste too. After you finish the noodles, you can also dump in rice to eat with the broth. W4000
Staple #3: Dolsotbibimbap. Literally "Stone oven mixed rice". I haven't watched this being made, so I don't know the order exactly. I think, though, they heat a up a thick, stone bowl on the stove, then dump in a little sesame oil and throw a bed of rice on top of that. Then they throw some vegetables on top so that it looks like a wheel-of-fortune board. Lettuce, carrots, bean sprouts, shrooms, and 2 or 3 other mystery veggies. An egg yolk in the middle to make it a bit prettier, and then, most important, the gochujang (red pepper paste), which gives it a little kick. You wait for a while for the rice to get crispy - it winds up tasting a little like popcorn - and then stir it all up. So splendid. W3500-5000
Staple #4: Kimchibokkumbab. Literally "Kimchi friedness rice." You can pretty much imagine this one. Onions, kimchi, some tiny slivers of beef, etc. Not too different from American-Chinese fried rice, except it's totally red and has a slightly sour flavor. W3500
Staple #5: Saeubokkumbap. Literally "Shrimp friedness rice." Fried rice with some shrimp, veggie slivers, etc. Also comes in beef, squid, octopus, and plain varieties. W4000
Staple #6: (MwoMwo)Teop-bap. Literally (blahblah)mixed rice. A basic but crucial dish consistint of plain white rice with some meat, veggies, and sauce. It changes at every restaurant, but usually you can get beef, chicken, or seafood, along with mushrooms, carrots, green onions, and other vegetables. Pretty similar to a stir-fry or something. W3500
Staple #7: Yuk-gaejang. Literally "meat-(unknown)-soup." A spicy soup with a red-pepper broth, filled with some little slivers of beef, some bean sprouts, and some other drippy, leafy vegetables. When you finish eating all the solids, you dump a bowl of rice into the broth and eat it. Maybe the spiciest food I've had in Korea aside from raw peppers and spiced chicken anus. W5000.
Staple #8: Manduguk. Literally "dumpling soup." A chicken or vegetable-based broth with some carrots and green onions, some ricecake (not puffed rice. It sort of has the consistency of hard-boiled egg whites), and either plain or kimchi dumplings, boiled in the broth. As always, if you have broth left at the end, you can dump in some rice. W4000
Staple #9 (summer specialty): Kong-guksu. Literally "Bean noodles." One of my favorite foods in Korea, though actually the taste is fairly bland. Noodles in a broth made of powdered beans and grains, I think. Comes with some ice cubes, a hardboiled egg, and a dish of salt to sprinkle in slowly. Depending on the restaurant, there can also be cucumbers and tomatoes. W4000
Staple #10 (summer speciality): Naengmyeon. Literally "cold noodles." Another nice dish when the temperature and humidity both hit the upper 80s. Some thin noodles (like Italian angel hair) in a slightly sour broth with crushed ice. Comes with some slices of beef, cucumbers, a hardboiled egg, and sometimes pear slices. W4000-5000
There are lots of other foods available, of course, but these are my main ones. I generally avoid meat-based and fried dishes except when eating socially (i.e. except on the weekends), so that's why many foreigners' favorite food, Don-gas (a deep-fried pork cutlet, which comes in plain, cheese, pizza, and kimchi varieties), has no place on my list. I'm pretty sure it's of Japanese origin. Other Korean foods I don't eat too much include ramen (cheap but nutritionally worthless), plain noodles (insufficient), things based around the ricecake (too chewy), and dumplings (only the fried ones taste really good, and the steamed/boiled kind don't form a complete meal).
Next time I'll mention some of the more special meals, the kind of stuff I eat when I go out to restaurants with friends. Maybe I'll also do a post on Korean bar food. Mmmm.