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Travel Photos: Bibimbap and Banchan in Korea

November 13, 2011

Ojing-eo Bokum (Spicy Squid Stir-fry) and side dishes, Seoul

I have a talent for getting preemptively nostalgic. This is my last week in Japan (collecting dissertation data) before I return to California, and I’ve already surrendered to sentimentality, partly because I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be able to come back here again. I always seem to start missing places even before I leave them. But I also miss California (and cooking! Haven’t done much of that here…) so it’ll be nice to get back home, too.

Dolsot Bibimbap (in a stone bowl that nicely browns the rice).

I’m getting ahead of myself, though… first, back to Korea. My last travel post was an attempt at explaining my love for the wonderful world of street food in Seoul. This time I wanted to step inside and share some photos of the kind of Korean food that can be sampled in homes and restaurants.

       

Starting with banchan, the side dishes that grace the table along with almost every Korean meal. These side dishes range from the indispensable kimchi to pickled squid or radish, and often among them is one of my favorites: bean sprouts seasoned with garlic, sesame oil, and sometimes chili. I have seen more than 25 banchan jigsawed onto every last inch of a table’s surface area, although usually there are only somewhere between three and six of the little dishes.

My point is, sometimes the banchan alone can make your evening at a restaurant.

     

But of course, that’s rarely the only reason to dine out in Korea, even if it may be a significant one…

         

This visit, a friend brought me to a restaurant with a kind of choose-your-own bibimbap: we were each served a bowl of rice with a fried egg on top, but all of the other typical toppings (spinach, carrots, bean sprouts, mushrooms, radish, seaweed, etc.), were arranged on a central platter for us to select from. (An excellent bibimbap dinner party idea!) Instead of the usual honey-chili paste sauce, we spiced up the bibimbap with a fermented soy bean sauce, before stirring it all up to enjoy.

The bibimbap restaurant’s impressively-packaged take-out version.

Another memorable meal was this Doenjang jjigae (a fermented soy bean paste stew with shrimp, tofu, mushrooms, zucchini, and onions), which we ordered alongside the Ojing-eo Bokum pictured at the top, and which also came with some amazing side dishes.

   

We did a pretty good job for just two people:

Another delicious meal at my friend’s house consisted of tofu and salad with sesame/soy sauce dressing, rice with kim (seaweed), and several kinds of kimchi, including pickled cabbage and kkakdugi, pickled radish.

I also had time to wander around Seoul a bit and grab several lunches on my own. Even though I’ve been making this at home now, too, I was especially looking forward to eating Naengmyon!

Cold chewy noodles in an icy and tangy fermented broth: just as good as I remembered it.

      

Naengmyon ranks right up there for me, along with my two other Korean favorites: Haemul Sundubu (spicy tofu soup with seafood), and Rabokki (tteokbokki rice cakes and fish cakes served with ramen noodles and a hard-boiled egg).

                                

And while we’re on the subject of Foods That Are Red, let me introduce you to another Korean dish that might not be everyone’s cup of tea (but I think tentacles are tasty…).

      

Jjukkumi, or small octopus stir-fried in chili sauce, shown here with bean sprouts and kketnip, sesame leaves!

      

(Here, an oddly-contented octopus sells jjukkumi, while nearby a restaurant serves up one of the most popular dinners in Korea: fried chicken and beer.)

I also want to mention one of my favorite things to drink when I’m in Seoul: Oksusu-cha (roasted corn tea), which is comparable to Pori-cha (roasted barley tea) in its nutty flavor and dark brown color but absolute lack of caffeine.

The bottle pictured here actually says Oksusu suyeom-cha (Corn silk tea), but I think that’s mostly to make it sound fancier: you can make a similar tea at home by pouring hot water over dried roasted corn kernels and letting them steep for a few minutes.

Oh and this might seem more Japanese than Korean, but delicious (and highly sweetened) green tea lattes, or matcha lattes, seem to be everywhere in Seoul right now!

Green tea latte + kindle :)

Since I arrived in Seoul just as summer was giving way to fall, I was treated to more persimmons than I could count.

And for those of you who just puckered your lips in disgust, I’m not talking about the long oval astringent kind that makes your mouth feel completely devoid of moisture the moment it touches your lips. I’m talking about the sweet, juicy kind of persimmons that are round and tomato-shaped, and that ripen so quickly, you’re much better off eating them with a spoon (minus the peel).

      

This isn’t even a complete list of all of the things I love to eat in Korea. Too bad I only had five days this time… But I think I made the most of it.

Brownies at a cafe in Cheongdam-dong, Seoul

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