South Korea is known for many things and having amazing food is one of them.
Kimchi, Bulgogi, Bimbimbap, these are only a few of the many different dishes the country has to offer.
I love trying new things, especially when it comes to food. So to say I was excited about going on this food journey would be an understatement. However be warned. The Korean kitchen may have a great variety of different foods, they do all have one thing in common: The food is spicy. I don’t think I’ve ever drank as much water as I did when I stayed in Seoul. Not that I’m complaining because like I said before, I love trying new things and Korean food was definitely worth the pain.
We were staying in Myeong-dong and for those who do not know, Myeong-dong is known for its amazing shopping-street and many food-trucks. And when I say “Many food-trucks” I really mean a LOT of them. I’ve been to many places in my life, I’ve seen a lot of food courts, been to many different restaurants, but never have I ever seen a place with that many variety of different food as I’ve seen in the shopping-streets of Myeong-dong. From Oreo churros and fried chicken to Lobster with cheese or kebab. Name it and they’ll have it. The different smells, the lights, the people, just everything about walking through those stalls of deliciousness made me think I somehow ended up in food heaven.
The first time I tried real Korean food in a real Korean restaurant I was shocked.
We met up with Heeyea, a young woman, born and raised in Seoul, who took us to our first ever real Korean restaurant. We walked into a restaurant called Sangsu Tongtong Dweaji. A Korean barbecue restaurant in the middle of Hongdae. The moment we walked in, the restaurant owner gave us the biggest smile. “Eoseo wa!” she said while bowing. With my broken Korean I understood she just welcomed us so we returned the favor by bowing too before being guided to our seats. The restaurant looked adorable. Small tables with each their own grilling plate, chopsticks and water bottles on every table and the dark wooden stools made the look complete. It was so cozy and comfortable, I felt like I was eating at my grandmothers place instead of dining in the middle of the busiest neighborhoods in Seoul.
“What would you guys like to eat?” Heeyea asked. Signing for the restaurant clerk to come over and take our orders. “What do you recommend?” We asked back, not really knowing what was common or what was on the menu anyway. “Samgyeopsal (grilled pork belly)” she said excitedly. “You definitely have to try Samgyeopsal”. So as she was ordering our food, we sat there patiently waiting before we could finally feast. The minute the waitress walked away Heeyea suddenly seemed to remember something. “Oh I forgot!” she grabbed her purse and took out a plastic bag with what looked like sushi. “This is fish Kimbap. I brought it for you.” “Wait…What?” I was so confused. Here’s the thing. In Korea, it’s normal to bring food from another restaurant or food-stand or whatever with you to any other restaurant. They don’t mind you eating other people’s stuff while they prepare their own for you. It’s a common thing to do. So when I told Heeyea that’s not normal for us in Holland she laughed. “We don’t really care honestly; it’s something that happens quite often”. As I was munching on my Kimbap (which was delicious by the way) the waitress returned with all kinds of small dishes and of course the main dish: Samgyeopsal.
After we had our dinner I was so full, I could not wait to sleep. Highly convinced that my night’s rest was going to be amazing. That was until Heeyea looked at us and asked. “So…Where do you guys want to eat next?” Here I go, being confused again. “What do you mean where to next? We just ate?”
I literally ate my body’s weight and now she wanted to go to another restaurant to continue eating? She must be kidding right?
This is another thing I learned about the Korean food culture. When we go out to eat, we usually pick one restaurant. We get all fancy and ready for that one night out that usually consists of an evening enjoying our food in one place, before we end the evening at the movies, the club or heading home. In Korea you go to at least two restaurants. They do not spend hours upon hours in one place. They’ll go to different places depending on what they want to eat. So if you’re feeling like barbecue, fried chicken and ending up with fish, that’s what you do. Their evening is filled with different foods from different places and that is something I really enjoyed. When Heeyea once again explained how normal it was for them to go from restaurant to restaurant, we explained to her that it wasn’t a common thing to do in Holland. The night ended after another dinner, this time being seafood, before we parted ways and returned back home to Myeong-dong.