Friday, July 17, 2009

A Taste of Seoul: Dishes I Have Never Tried in the U.S.

You know how annoying it is to layover at an airport in a country/city you really want to visit and never visited before? I'm glad to say that I visited Seoul Summer 2007 and won't be kicking myself for only passing through to get to Shenyang, China next week. This will be my first time on Korean Air so naturally I looked up their in-flight service to see what kind of meals I should expect. I was uber happy to see that they serve beef or salmon bibimbap for economy class! Yippee!

Let's back track to Summer 2007. I did not eat any Korean dishes that I've had in the states. I regret that because I can't make a comparison. Perhaps Korean BBQ, bulgogi, galbi all taste better in Korea! I would've really missed out, then! On the other hand, I was able to explore dishes that I wouldn't have otherwise tasted elsewhere.

While exploring the Dongdaemun market, we stopped for a snack at a little mom's and pop's. We couldn't read the menu, and there were no picture aids. The ladies just pointed at what one of the customers was eating, and we nodded in agreement.

One of the ladies promptly went out the front of the restaurant to grind some cornmeal, while the other started coating various veggies and meats in a cornmeal batter.
This wasn't the yummiest dish, but it wasn't bad. We learned to perfect each bite of the fried pieces of leek pancakes, seafood pancakes, Korean sausages, and shrimp with a piece of kimchee. I think kimchee can make almost anything taste good. I've had Korean seafood pancakes before but not in an assortment like this.

Perhaps we should have tried this seafood pancake stall instead, which is more like what I've had in the U.S.

Kwang-Jang Market Seafood Pancake Stall

I made reservations at Korea House for a Korean royal court cuisine dinner. Mum got a glimpse of royal court cuisine from watching a popular Korean soap opera, Dae Jang Geum about a Joseon dynasty court cook turned physician.

Korea House

When we arrived at our table, it was already set with the first course of build-your-own chilled crepes and an array of banchan.
chilled build-your-own-crepe tray, snacks, and banchan

The crepes were refreshing and delicious. The filling choices included rice noodles, beef, a kind of pickled root vegetable, carrots, cucumbers, egg, and a kind of sauce.
Build-Your-Own Chilled Crepes
The courses came in what felt like an endless stream. However, the portions were tiny. We ordered 2 different court dinners for 3 people to share, but each dish was only portioned for 2 bites.
salmon sashimi and raw shellfish
I want to say that everything was delicious, but a lot of the dishes were not up to par with the price and the courtly cuisine they claim to serve. The chilled shrimp was limp and not very fresh, while the shrimp potato salad was dry and bland. I love Korean potato salad when it's served as a banchan in the Korean restaurants in the U.S., and I thought it's a dish that all Korean restaurants excel at. Apparently, I'm wrong in my stereotype.

Chilled Prawn with shellfish; Shrimp and Potato Salad

BBQ Beef; Mushrooms grilled on pine needles

Leek Pancake and Egg Pancake

Root Vegetable Salad; Chilled Pumpkin Soup

Oxtail Stew; Grilled Eel

Hot Pot Soup

Rice and Clear Soup to be combined to eat as porridge

Dessert-sticky rice cake, popped rice, and watermelon
I thought the Korean royal court dinner was definitely worth the overall experience but not worth repeating because of the price-quality disparity.

We went back to plebian food the day after the royal dinner, and it doesn't get more plebian than amusement park outdoor food stalls! The Korean Folk Village isn't exactly an amusement park, but it's an outdoors living museum. The food court was a bit confusing. You have to purchase meal tickets and give the food vendors the corresponding number of tickets for each food item. This was a hassle because you have to research what you want to get, stand in line to purchase tickets, then get back into the different lines at the different vendors to assemble your meal.

I bought chilled noodle soup, which came with kimchee and BBQ pork kabab. This made a simple and scrumptious lunch.

Korean Folk Village Chilled Noodle Soup, Pork Skewer, and Kimchee
I neglected to research restaurants in Seoul and so we blindly stumbled upon a mediocre hot pot restaurant one night. One look at their selection of banchan, and I knew this meal wasn't going to impress. We can get better banchan at restaurant in the U.S.! C'mon! Pickled Garlic?
The seafood hotpot was nothing special. It consisted of chunks of tofu, spinach, which by the way is a terrible combination because you can develop kidney stones from it, octopus, shrimp, and fish.
Seafood Hot Pot: the cooking stage and the cooked stage

We explored the Shinsegae department store food court for our last supper in Seoul, and we were pleasantly surprised by how delicious their baozi is! The Korean baozi tastes even better than the Chinese baozi I've had! Dad agrees, and he's from a mianshi (flour-based of Northern Chinese cuisine)-eating family.
Shinsegae Department Store Baozi

Hopefully I'll have time at the Incheon airport next Friday for a quick Korean meal before jumping on the plane again to China!

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