Trying new food in Korea!

Sarah Davidson headshot
Sarah Davidson
September 18, 2023
An image of a meal at a Korean restaurant, including bibimbap and side dishes.

In my few weeks in Korea, I’ve tried a lot of new food. I had gone out for Korean barbecue a couple times while in the US, but I hadn’t really tried “authentic” Korean food or any other Korean dishes beyond what is typically served at American K-BBQ places. So most of the food I’ve had has been very novel. For example, after our trip to the DMZ, we went out to a traditional restaurant in the nearby town of Paju and I had bibimbap for the first time. It was so delicious and a great source of vegetables, which it turns out is kind of hard to find in Korean cuisine. I was also surprised at how many side dishes there were and how quickly I could get full just from the sides (which are called banchan in Korean). These often include kimchi, japchae (glass noodles), kongnamul muchim (soybean sprouts), sigeumchi namul (spinach), and oi muchim (spicy cucumber salad).

I learned that food can be a little more complicated than one might think. You often have to cook the food yourself, and there were many times when I didn’t know where to put something or what to eat with something else. Sometimes, I wasn’t sure whether something was a side dish or if it was supposed to be put in my main meal.

The tastes and palette of Korean food is very different from the US generally. Unlike the US, tofu is not just a meat substitute. It’s a big part of the diet and is often eaten with meat or fish. Also, a lot of the food is very sweet. It’s hard to find any bread here that doesn’t have a lot of sugar in it! Dessert is basically everywhere. The most popular dessert is bingsu, a shaved ice dessert that usually comes with chopped fruits, condensed milk, and syrup. After dinner one night, my friends and I went to a Sulbing, the most popular bingsu company, and got mango bingsu that came with ice cream. Waffles are also a pretty popular dessert in Korea, and we got one at Sulbing that came with banana, whipped cream, and matcha and strawberry ice cream.

In many parts of Seoul, you can get amazing street food for pretty cheap. The most popular street food is tteok-bokki (spicy rice cakes), dakkochi (chicken skewers), and bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes).

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Sarah Davidson

My name is Sarah and I'm a student at Rice University. I'm a double major in history and anthropology, and I love to read and write. My favorite hobbies are walking around cities and trying new coffee shops!

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