Eating: Korea (a.k.a. Seoul Food)

When we first arrived in South Korea, I posted a picture similar to the one below on Facebook, using the following caption:

  • Food in Asia: 17,285,531 points
  • Food in South America: 10 points
Korean BBQ grill house in Mapo district, Seoul, South Korea

My all-time favourite BBQ meal in Korea (Mapo district, Seoul, South Korea)

It’s no secret that Jason and I were both very excited for the food in Asia.  I alluded to it previously, but there is simply no contest between the food we had over the last 3 months in South America and the food we’ve savoured in just the first two weeks in Asia.

Perhaps we’re a little biased (Korean food being the food Jason grew up on and it being one of my favourite cuisines), but we really did give South American food a fair chance to win us over.  Before we left on our travels, I had read a lot about South American food being less than stellar; but, since I pretty much love all food (e.g.. Ethiopian, Indian, Lebanese, Russian, Persian, Vietnamese, Greek, etc), I was really looking forward to proving all the critics wrong by falling in love with South American food.

Sure, there were a few ‘stand-outs’ – like food in Peru (specifically Lima and Arequipa) and Argentina (specifically Buenos Aires) –  but more often than not, South American food was a little boring (at best) or inedible (at worst).  I’m not kidding about it being inedible.  We had our worse restaurant experience of our lives at a restaurant near Iguazu Falls. When our respective dishes arrived at the table, we both took one bite, gingerly spat it out, and concluded that we couldn’t eat anymore of it.  We even told our server how bad the food was, but all he did was shrug, hand us our bill, and clear away our full plates.  It was a sad day.

While 1 out of 10 meals in South America were good, almost every single meal we’ve had in Asia so far has been excellent.

Spicy pork & ssam (Jeju Island, South Korea)

Spicy pork & ssam (Jeju Island, South Korea)

Okay, enough hatin’ on South American food.  Let’s proceed with lovin’ Korean food.

Korean BBQ

The first picture I posted above was taken at this amazing BBQ joint that Dave found after his meticulous research on where and what to eat in Seoul.  Located in the Mapo district, which has been referred to as barbeque heaven by other travel bloggers, it’s one of dozens upon dozens of grill houses in that area.  But it’s THE one to go to if you only go to just one.  (Note: there’s a picture of a cannon on the restaurant’s orange sign).

Korean BBQ grill house in Mapo district, Seoul, South Korea

Delicious porky, fatty, scrambled egg mixture with grilled pork. Without a doubt, my all-time favourite BBQ meal in Korea

This restaurant specializes in barbequing a specific cut of pork from around the diaphragm – lean and super flavourful.  A lot of the surrounding restaurants also offer this cut of pork, but this restaurant takes it to another (delicious) level.  On the domed grills that are used by a lot of BBQ restaurants, there’s a gutter around the edges that is normally just used to catch the rendered pork fat from the grilled meat.  This restaurant, however, pours scrambled eggs and places kimchi into these gutters, and once the rendered fat starts dripping in and the mixture cooks up, you scrape out delightful little spoonfuls of porky, fluffy, fatty, egg-y goodness.

It’s obvious that Koreans love their grilled meat.  We had several different types of barbeque while in Korea – one of the other notable barbeque meals was of a Jeju Island specialty: black pig.

BBQ black big (Jeju Island, South Korea)

BBQ black big (Jeju Island, South Korea)

Topokki (rice cake snack)

Topokki is a very popular Korean snack that is typically found at street vendors.  It’s usually made of soft rice cake, fish cake, spring onion, and gochujang – a savoury and fermented, red chili and soy-based Korean condiment.  I’ve only ever had the simple version of topokki back in Canada, so imagine my surprise when I saw this fully-loaded version:

Seafood topokki (Topokki Alley, Seoul, South Korea)

Amazing seafood toppoki (before shot)

Along with the typical ingredients, boiled egg, seafood, ramen noodles, dumplings, sausages, cabbage, carrots, onions, and mushrooms also joined the party.  It looked so different that, at first, we thought the server had brought us the wrong dish and almost sent it back.  But after a few minutes of stewing over the stove on the table, it reduced down to something more famliar-looking but a million times more delicious than any topokki dish I had ever had.  I still dream about it and regret not making a repeat visit.

Seafood topokki (Topokki Alley, Seoul, South Korea)

Amazing seafood topokki (after shot)

Daeji Bulgogi & Ssam (Spicy Pork & Lettuce wrap)

Ssam (literally translates to ‘wrapped’) is used to describe many Korean dishes where a leafy vegetable (e.g. lettuce, perilla leaf, napa cabbage) is used to wrap a piece of meat (e.g. pork belly, marinated beef).  Korean meat dishes are already awesome in itself, but wrap it in a fresh, crunchy leaf of lettuce, and it takes on a whole new level of yum.  I can’t even count the number of meals we had in Korea that included ssam, but the meal pictured below was one of my favourites.  We had it in Jeju Island and it was spicy, porky perfection.  My personal favourite ssam combination (in order from bottom layer to top): lettuce leaf, parilla leaf, rice, gochujang, kimchi, marinated fiddleheads, marinated squid, a slice of shitake mushroom, and a piece of spicy pork.

Spicy pork & ssam (Jeju Island, South Korea)

Spicy pork & ssam (Jeju Island, South Korea).  Check out all the amazing banchan dishes

I think all the little dishes of banchan (which literally translates to mean ‘side dish’ in English) made all the difference…which brings me to my next food topic.

Banchan (small side dishes)

Banchan (Seoul, South Korea)

Delicious banchan

One of my favourite things about Korean meals are the little plates of banchan (side dishes) that are served with every meal.  It adds so many different types of flavours and textures to a relatively simple meal.  Typically, only one dish is the star (e.g. spicy pork) but when you add on 10 different types of banchan, then you have a full blown feast.  Sometimes, I can have just banchan with a bowl of rice and be totally satisfied.

Banchan (Jeju Island, South Korea)

Seafood banchan on Jeju Island

Some of my favourite banchan dishes include:

  • kimchi (especially the cabbage, radish and cucumber kind)
  • miyeok muchim (marinated seaweed)
  • yeongeun jorim (marinated lotus flower root)
  • kongnamul (bean sprouts in sesame oil)
  • gosari (marinated fiddleheads)
  • shitake mushrooms
  • ojingeo (marinated squid)
  • dobu (marinated tofu)
  • takuan (sweet pickled yellow radish)
  • chapchae (glass noodles)
  • myeolchijeot (salted anchovies)

Seafood

Cooked octopus (Jeju Island, South Korea)

Interesting seafood on Jeju Island

The seafood in Korea is also amazing – especially at Jeju Island.  It’s also not for the faint of heart.  One interesting (and initially scary) seafood experience involved live abalone.

Aside from live clams in Greece, I had never eaten anything that still moved.  Also, clams in Greece were much easier to eat than abalone – they’re small so you can just quickly pop them in your mouth and gulp them down.  Abalone are pretty big and tough in texture – so you have to chew pretty thoroughly.

Live abalone (Jeju Island, South Korea)

Live abalone on Jeju Island (For the live-action version, click the video link above.

What’s more, the live abalone were very lively so it’s pretty difficult to psych yourself up enough to eat something that might grab onto your tongue and hang on for dear life.  After some back and forth, I popped one in my mouth.  Let’s just say it’s not my favourite raw seafood.  It’s chewy, a little crunchy, and kind of tough.  I’d much rather have them cooked.

We had more raw seafood (although nothing else moved) on Jeju Island.

Korean sashimi (Jeju Island, South Korea)

Korean sashimi (Jeju Island, South Korea)

Korean sashimi (Jeju Island, South Korea)

Korean sashimi (Jeju Island, South Korea).  Unfortunately, not as good as Japanese sashimi.

Korean sashimi is very fresh since it’s still swimming in tanks when we arrive at the restaurant; but not as good as Japanese sashimi.  I’ve watched a food show once explaining how Japanese sushi and sashimi are aged, which allows it to achieve its full, rich flavour and a softer texture.  Korean sashimi was a bit too fresh, so it was a bit chewy and not very flavourful.  That’s probably why it’s served with gochujang – the savoury and fermented, red chili and soy-based Korean condiment that’s commonly used in many Korean dishes.

Another great way to serve seafood in Korean dish is a seafood jjigae (or stew).  It starts off like this and is quite photogenic 😉

Seafood jjigae (Seoul, South Korea)

Seafood jjigae (before shot)

After it reaches a boil and simmers for a few minutes, it combines into a tasty, spicy, super flavourful soup or stew.  It’s served with a bowl of rice (you can pour it over the rice or dip spoonfuls of rice into your bowl of stew) and is personally one of my favourite Korean seafood dishes.

Seafood jjigae (Seoul, South Korea)

Seafood jjigae (after shot)

This is another version we had on Jeju Island.  This one was crammed full of seafood – crayfish, crab, shrimp, fish, octopus, squid, mussels, clams – basically the whole ocean.

Seafood jjigae (Jeju Island, South Korea)

Seafood jjigae on Jeju Island

The fish dish below is a slightly different version.  The flavour is a lot more concentrated and it’s more of a sauce than stew.

Spicy fish & sauce (Jeju Island, South Korea)

Spicy fish & sauce on Jeju Island

Noodles

Noodles are probably my all-time favourite food – especially noodle soup.  Korea has so many different types of noodle dishes, it’s hard to narrow down just a few.

Jajangmyeon (Noodles with Black Bean sauce) is an old favourite of Jason’s.  It originated from China and is made from thick white wheat flour noodles (the best ones are handmade) and covered in a thick sauce that is made from a salty black soybean paste, diced pork and vegetables.  It’s a simple dish but oh-so-delicious!

Jajangmyeon (Seoul, South Korea)

Jajangmyeon in Seoul. It only cost CDN$2!!

Naengmyeon (Cold noodles in soup) is not very photogenic, but is a delicious, cool treat during the hot, steamy summers in Seoul.  Long, thin chewy noodles are served in a chilled, tangy broth with julienned cucumbers, slices of korean pear, and a boiled egg.  Optional condiments include spicy mustard and vinegar.

Naengmyeon (Suburbs of Seoul, South Korea)

Naengmyeon in the outskirts of Seoul

Bibim guksu (Cold mixed noodles)

It was REALLY hot in Korea, even during the autumn months, so we really enjoyed the cold dishes.  Another one of my favourites was the Bibim guksu (cold mixed noodles) we had on Jeju Island.  Thin wheat flour noodles are covered in a strong, spicy sauce made with red chili powder, gochujang, garlic, vinegar, and sugar – and sometimes a dash of sesame oil.

Bibim guksu (Jeju Island, South Korea)

Bibim guksu on Jeju Island

The best part is mixing it.  The restaurant supplied a plastic glove and Jason’s mom just dove right in – mixing up the sauce, noodles, and sliced vegetables by hand.  So so SO good!

Bibim guksu (Jeju Island, South Korea)

Mixing bibim guksu by hand 🙂

Kimbap (Seaweed rice roll)

Last but not least, the humble kimbap (seaweed rice roll).  I would describe it as the Korean sushi, although raw fish is not typically used as an ingredient.   Instead, various cooked meats, sweet egg or fish is used along with various cooked, fresh or picked vegetables.  It’s a personal favourite of mine and Jason makes an excellent version.

Kimbap (Seoul, South Korea)

The perfect snack – kimbap!

We’ve had kimbap many times in Canada but I really learned to appreciate the simple and delicious snack in Korea.  It’s perfect for those moments in between meals, when you need sometime to hold you over.  It’s also a pretty mobile dish, when wrapped up in foil like a burrito, so you can eat it while on the go (or getting your hair permed).  Versatile, simple, travel-sized, and tasty – the perfect snack.

Did I miss a favourite Korean dish of yours?  Leave a comment below or feel free to elaborate on any of the dishes I mentioned above.  I love chatting about food 🙂

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Eating: Argentina

Before Jason and I arrived in Argentina, I emailed my colleague (who is Argentinian) to pick his brain on what to eat. He sent back an amazing list of what to eat and we pretty much followed it word for word. Actually it was so descriptive, I’m going to let him help me write about the awesome food in Buenos Aires (his words in italicized blue font).

Eat meat. It really is so different. Everything cooked on a parrilla. Here are some things to try:

Bife de lomo or bife de chorizo (cuts of steak, they don’t have t-bone etc)

Even though I’m not the biggest fan of meat, I really enjoyed the parilla restaurants in Buenos Aires. Parillas (Spanish for ‘grill’) basically serve grilled meat and animal parts. Our first visit to a parilla was to Las Cholas in the Las Canitas neighbourhood. It was probably our favourite parilla. They didn’t give us a choice as to how we wanted the steaks prepared (they prepared the steaks well-done), but it was still so delicious! It’s served with a side of Chimichurri sauce (a sauce of herbs, garlic, and vinegar) – which is perfect for the steaks. Never turn down Chimichurri sauce if you’re offered some.

Las Cholas, a delicious parilla in Buenos Aires

Las Cholas, a delicious parilla in Buenos Aires

Bife de Lomo

Jason got the Bife de Lomo – delicious cut of steak

Bife do Chorizo

I ordered the Bife de Chorizo. I won – it was so tasty, fatty, and delicious

We had parilla again a few weeks later at a restaurant called La Cabrera. They had an awesome happy hour deal where between 7-8pm, everything in the restaurant is 40% off. No one in Buenos Aires has dinner earlier than 8pm (with the exception of tourists), so it was a clever way for the restaurant to generate some additional business and a great deal for tourists. We had met a fun couple from California in Patagonia and we decided to meet up again in Buenos Aires for dinner and drinks. Christina and Scott had both just finished writing the Bar and were travelling for 7 weeks before starting their careers in law.

Dinner with Scott and Christina at La Cabrera

Dinner with Scott and Christina at La Cabrera

Ribeye steak (cooked medium) at La Cabrera

Jason and I ordered the ribeye steak. They even let us choose how wanted it prepared (medium).

Morcilla (blood sausage), mollejas (glands) and chinchullines (intestines) are all delicious

We had parilla again at our hotel in Puerto Iguaza, La Cantera. It’s a quiet hotel in the middle of the jungle in the city by Iguazu Falls. We met this interesting Dutch couple (Yoost and Guusha) who was travelling for four weeks before they moved from Holland to Ontario for work. We had a great time with them over dinner. The restaurant actually had to kick us out because we wouldn’t leave.

Dinner at our hotel restaurant (La Cantera)

Dinner with our new Dutch friends, Yoost and Guusha

We tried the blood sausage, glands, and intestines. Very interesting flavours – I liked the blood sausage and glands. The intestines were a little too weird for me. Guusha wouldn’t even touch the animal parts. Yoost was brave enough to try them out. He, too, thought the intestines were a bit weird.

DSC02281 (800x533)

Our giant meat platter

I liked the blood sausage so much that I tried it again when we were back in Buenos Aires.

Blood Sausage (Morcilla) at La Cabrera

Blood Sausage (Morcilla) at La Cabrera

The trick to eating the animal part is to not think about it too much. The more you think about the fact that the sausage is made out of blood or that you’re eating the throat glands of the cow, the more you psych yourself out. I have to admit though, my first thought after I ate the intestines was ‘I wonder if the cow ate something sandy before it became our dinner?

Choripan – sausage on a bun, street food…so good

This was divine. They weren’t as easy to find as street meat is in Toronto, but when we had our first one, we both let out a sigh of delight. Choripans are grilled sausages, covered in the magical Chimichurri sauce, and served on toasted buns. I think I’ll have to write to the city councillors in Toronto to petition for the replacement of all Toronto street meat with Choripan.

Choripan - street meat in Buenos Aires

Choripan – street meat in Buenos Aires

Choripan - street meat in Buenos Aires

You can see the delicious Chimichurri sauce in this picture.

Milanesas – my favourite of all, it’s like a schnitzel but tastes way better. I eat these for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

These are so good. I can see why it’s my colleague’s favourite. I, too, ate these for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No joke…I’ll show you:

Milanesas - like a schnitzel but better

Milanesas – like a schnitzel but better. I had these ones for breakfast – twice.

Milanesas - like schnitzel but better

I had this one for lunch one day.

Milanesas - like schnitzel but better

And this one I had for dinner.

Eat sweets. Again, so different and so good

You have to go eat ice cream from Freddo’s, you will be amazed that you have never eaten ice cream that good before.

Freddo's ice cream in Buenos Aires

Freddo’s ice cream

I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve had Freddo’s ice cream by now. It probably is the best ice cream we’ve ever had. Each time we had it, we ordered the 1/4 kilo serving. And each time, we wished we’d ordered the 1/2 kilo after we inhaled the 1/4 kilo in about 5 seconds flat.

Freddo's ice cream in Buenos Aires

This is a 1/4 kilo of heaven Dulce de Leche and Chocolate with Almonds ice cream.

Alfajores – the best ones hands down are Havanna. They have little stores you can find that sell these.

Yup, the best ones ARE Havanna. We stopped at a Havanna cafe in La Boca and ordered four alfajores. Don’t let the size of these little sweets fool you – they are very filling. We only finished two.

Havanna cafe in the El Caminito area

Havanna cafe

Dulce de leche – it’s everywhere and perfect

Along with the Havanna alfajores, we ordered coffee with dulce de leche. It really is perfect. Coming to Argentina, I didn’t have much of a sweet tooth but I am leaving this country with one (or five).

Havanna cafe in the El Caminito area

Alfajores and Dulce de Leche coffee. I think I got a cavity just from looking back at this picture.

Facturas – pastries but better. The ones filled with dulce de leche are my faves. Anything filled with dulce de leche is my fave.

My newly developed sweet tooth craved facturas all the time. They come in all different sizes and shapes and they’re all good.

Facturas in Buenos Aires

Facturas – delicious delicious Argentine pastries

In addition to the list my colleague provided, we also got a lot of recommendations from locals to eat lots of Argentine pizza and empanadas.

Argentines are very proud of their pizza. The immigration from Naples and Genoa at the end of the 19th century brought this food over, but since then Argentines have made it their own. There are two main types: Pizza a la piedre (on a stone oven) is similar to Neopolitan pizza. It has a crispy thin crust. Or the traditional pizza molde which has a spongey, chewy thick crust.

Senior Telmo pizza place in San Telmo (Buenos Aires)

Senior Telmo in Buenos Aires

For really good pizza a la piedre, we went to a popular little joint in San Telmo, called (what a surprise!) Senor Telmo.

Senor Telmo in Buenos Aires

Packed with locals – exactly how I like my restaurants

We arrived literally 2 minutes before the dinner rush (9:30pm). All the groups behind us had to wait over an hour for a table. We were seated within 10 minutes.

Senor Telmo in Buenos Aires

Arugula & Jamon Crudo and Pancetta & Mushrooms

We asked the server for two recommendations and we went with both: arugula & jamon crudo, and pancetta & mushrooms. They were delicious but I’ve been spoiled by the really good Neopolitan pizza joints in Toronto so I wasn’t that blown away.

For the traditional Argentine pizza molde, we were advised to go to El Palacio de la Pizza (The Palace of Pizza…I know, it’s cheesy! Get it? Cheesy, Pizza? haha). I typically like to enjoy my pizza with a cold beer, but Argentines love to enjoy it with wine. So we split a bottle of red.

El Palacio de la Pizza in Buenos Aires

El Palacio de la Pizza

We were also advised to order the provolone pizza. Thick, chewy, and smothered in infinite layers of provolone and mozzerrella. It was deliciously artery-clogging. We ordered a medium pizza and both of us couldn’t finish our second pieces.

Provolone pizza from El Palacio de le Pizza (Buenos Aires)

Provolone pizza. The medium size comes with 4 slices. Two people will likely only be able to finish 3.

It kind of reminded me of Chicago’s deep-dish pizza.

Provolone pizza from El Palacio de la Pizza

Side view of our pizza.

We stayed in the Montserrat neighbouhood for a couple of days, and our host (Ruy) recommended we go to a local pizza joint (closest intersection is Salta & Venezuela) for their empanadas. He described them as little cheesy pockets of pastry perfection. I ordered the Roquefort (which I highly recommend) and Jason ordered the ham & cheese.

Empanadas in Buenos Aires

Empanadas: little cheesy pockets of pastry perfection

Ruy wasn’t kidding – they were perfect. We’ve had dozens upon dozens of empanadas since that first one and none have measured up.

So there we have it: a rundown of all the delicious foods one must try in Argentina. Special shout-out to my Argentine colleague for his advice and letting me use his wise words in this blog post.

Eating: Nazca Street Food

I would never have guessed that Nazca would be such a good street food destination. Jason and I were reminiscing about our honeymoon in Vietnam and how the street food there was so delicious.  We missed being able to walk down a street, stop at a stall to gawk at what the locals were eating, and then order whatever they were having. Colombia and northern Peru didn’t have much of a street food scene – which happens to be our favourite way to sample local food.

However, when the sun dipped below the horizon in Nazca, street food vendors started coming out of nowhere and setting up shop along the main streets (much to our surprise and delight!).

The first vendor we saw setting up at twilight was a woman who was grilling mystery meat.  We ordered a skewer and was surprised by how delicious it was.  Super tender and tasty! Yum!

Nazca Street Food

Grilled mystery meat in Nazca

We followed our noses down the street (FYI, all the street vendors were within a 2-block radius of each other), and discovered a guy grilling more mystery meat.  This time, the street vendor was serving miscellaneous grilled chicken parts (i.e. liver, feet, hearts, etc).  It was really tasty, but Jason wasn’t too fond of the crunchiness of the cartilage. I thought it was delicious though.

Grilled chicken everything (Nazca, Peru)

Grilled chicken everything (feet, cartilege, heart, kidneys)

My favourite street food find was a Chicken Noodle Soup (Caldo de Gallina).  Her stall was packed with people. so we knew that was a good sign.  She served the huge bowls of noodle, chicken, and hard-boiled egg in a delicious herbed broth, along with a bowl of maize kernels, and homemade hot sauce.  At this point in our travels, I was really craving noodle soup like crazy (noodle soup being one of my favourite meals).  And this really hit the spot.  Really reminded me of Vietnamese street food actually.  Steamy, delicious goodness.

Caldo de Gallina - Nazca, Peru

Caldo de Gallina – Chicken noodle soup

Our last street food stop was a woman who had set up a deep-fryer on the street.  She was deep-frying rings of dough into the lightest, fluffy, homemade doughnuts.  She included a packet of honey, which you drizzled over top of the crispy delights.  She was even cool enough to pose for my picture 🙂

Homemade donut (Nazca, Peru)

The woman made the most addictive donuts right on the street. Fluffy, light, and crispy on the outside.


The amazing street food experience in Nazca definitely upped the overall appeal of this sunbaked little town.