How I went 27 years of my life without eating (or really even knowing anything about) Korean food is beyond me. I blame my parents for only ever ordering Chinese take-out, and not broadening my Asian food palate!
Korean Cuisine has hands down become my absolute favorite cooking of any place I have visited.
It beats homemade pasta in Italy.
It beats fresh ceviche from Panama.
It beats my Grandma’s Meatball’s. Seriously.
That is how much I love Korean Food.
I want to talk about, write about, photograph and savor every single dish I devour here, and could probably write a blog post 10,000 words long about my favorite foods.
I will control myself though.
For now, I will introduce one of my favorite places to eat in Korea:
The Kimbap Restaurant
These restaurants are essentially healthy fast food. Everything is made fresh, quick and cheap. You can walk in hungry and be out the door in 15 minutes totally full, without a dent in your wallet.
These restaurants are everywhere: From my apartment window I can see 5 kimbap restaurants in the city block that I overlook!
Kimbap restaurants specialize in…
wait for it….
- Kim/gim= seaweed
- bap= rice
- kimbap= seaweed & rice rolls
Kimbap is white rice, filled with various vegetables and/or meats, wrapped with seaweed. It is cut up into bite sized slices and often eaten on the go. It is very portable. I have eaten kimbap at the top of a mountain, on the subway, and even running through the airport.
You can get quite a few different things in your kimbap:
My favorite is shrimp (새우 sae-eau), and tuna (참치 cham-chee). Chris loves anchovies (멸치 myeolchi) and kimchi!
A roll of kimbap will set you back 1,500-3,500 won ($1.35-$3.20), shrimp and anchovy being at the higher end, with vegetable and ham at the lower end.
Kimbap is not the only thing you will find in a Kimbap Restaurant. Here are a few more of my favorite dishes:
- jumokbap = rice ball
A ball of sticky rice filled with…stuff. The fillings are usually the same things you can get in your kimbap. So whatever filling you choose is nicely placed in the middle of a ball of rice and the outside is often sprinkled with sesame seeds and seaweed pieces.
I LOVE eating jumokbap. Its like a little present every time you eat! Its even better when you don’t know what you ordered and you dig into your rice ball to a nice surprise! My favorite jumokbap is tuna, and my other favorite thing about jumokbap is that it costs 1,500won ($1.35)!
Bi Bim Bap (비빔밥)
Bi bim bap is simply mixed rice. Warm rice is served with various vegetables, (typically) an egg, sometimes meat, and red pepper paste. It is presented quite aesthetically with the chopped vegetables displayed nicely on top of the rice, with the egg in the center. Then you put the pepper paste in, and mix it all together.
Kimchi Jjigae (김치 찌개)
- kimchi=fermented cabbage/vegetables
- kimchi jjigae=fermented cabbage soup
Sounds nasty, doesn’t it?! Its not!
This soup is spicy, flavorful and always served piping hot. It is made by combining kimchi, beef or pork, tofu, scallions and garlic in a pot with water and/or anchovy stock. Once it is done it is seasoned with red pepper paste and/or bean paste. A hearty bowl of kimchi jjigae will set you back about 5,000won ($4.50).
Many kimbap restaurants serve different kinds of dumplings. These are not the thick dough Chinese dumplings of my childhood. Korean mandu have a very thin dough covering and are filled with either meat (gogi) or kimchi. You can get them boiled (mul-mandu) or fried (goun-mandu). A plate of mandu should cost between 3,000-4,000 Won ($2.70-$3.70).
You don’t need to order a ton of food to fill up on because on top of whatever you order, you will also get banchan (side dishes). The side dishes are usually, soup, tofu, kimchi, and a few small dishes of vegetables. Chris and I order a kimbap roll, jjigae, and dumplings for the two of us and we are satisfied!
Kimbap restaurants are typically run by an ajumma (older woman). Sometimes these ladies are sweet and helpful and bring me extra food, other times they act like I am the biggest nuisance!
At first glance, eating at a kimbap restaurant may be a bit overwhelming. They are typically pretty small, so when you enter it is not easy to stay inconspicuous. There aren’t usually pictures of any food, and I haven’t seen many English menu variations.
Water is self-serve from a water cooler, and chopsticks and spoons are kept hidden in a drawer beneath the table!
If you don’t know what to look for, these restaurants may be daunting for a newbie in Korea! Don’t let that deter you! Order some of my favorite foods, or just do your basic point and be surprised!
If you have been/live in Korea, what is your favorite thing to eat at a kimbap restaurant?