Last week, my first post on Korea was about a music phenomenon Gangnam Style, a surprise hit on the YouTube, but really when we talk about Korea, what come to our minds? Let’s put aside the North and South divide for the moment, as that is a political issue which needs to be addressed in a different post. My prior knowledge of Korea before my actual visit was limited to, yes, you guessed it, FOOD. Even that, I must admit, was minimal, compared to the more sophisticated and knowledgeable experts on this East Asian culture and its cuisine.
Despite my limited expertise in this area, it does not stop me from wanting to share what I know, with a keen desire to learn more. Being a foodie and gourmet, I have always been interested in discovering new cuisine, having been blessed with a healthy aptitude to try everything under the sun. There you go
Even though China is a country very close to Korea (Read my last post for a little anecdote if you have not done so already), I have never had Korean food all those years living in Asia, nor have I after my twenty-odd years in the UK. My very first taste of Korea was as recent as 2010 when we last visited the USA. After a long day at the Art Show in Highland Park, North of Chicago, where my artist friend Yongqun had showcased her beautiful paintings, among hundreds of other artists, she drove us to a Korean BBQ place some distance away. Just take a look at our faces and you’ll know what a superb treat it was. Thank you, Yongqun
That was a one off but I have been initiated into the delights of Korean food.
Roll the clock forward to 2012. About two months ago, John and I wandered in China town, with an intention to go to our favourite Sichuan restaurant, which we had frequented for years. “I must say that the quality of this place has gone down to the drain, since it started doing HotPot and got rid of the Sichuan chef.” John lamented.
Yes, I agreed with him. “Look, there is a new eatery in town.” I pointed out excitedly. We were walking along Hurst Street and there it was – Topokki (My review on TripAdviser) is the name of the new Korean restaurant and the boss, a lovely, friendly man was from Seoul.
We went in and before we paid the bill that day, we were hooked – we have a new favourite hang-out in Birmingham
“Good news,” John came home one day. “I am going to visit Seoul at the end of October, and you can come.”
“Really?” It sounded almost too good to be true. Last time when he went to India and I pestered him to take me along, he had refused because he was going to work. Perhaps he had relented.
Whatever, my delight was instant and it remained with me all the way, lasting through my trip there and back.
During my week in the capital Seoul, I shared a few meals with John, Matt and David, the Gang in Gangnam. On our first night as well as our last, we were joined by David, our knowledgable Korean expert who is married to a beautiful Korean woman and has visited Seoul numerous times. He took us into a couple of BBQ restaurants, Korea’s speciality, with Kimchi and other delicious side dishes, including sesame leaves, which I had never had before. He also showed us how to drink Korean style, where junior men had to serve the more senior ones. RESPECT!
Check out the picture where Matt was pouring Soju for John (happy to be senior?). I took the picture so as to remind Matt of his position, even back in the UK Korea has something to teach all of us – respect your elders!
When the men folk did their business meetings during the day, visiting some of the top institutions around Seoul and being treated to more fabulous, traditional Korean style dining, I spent my days taking in sights and sounds of this fantastic, mega city – one of the biggest urban sprawls in the world, with 30 million people living and working in and around South Korea’s capital.
Apart from the renowned BBQ, there are many delicious foods on offer. I indulged myself with freshly made Kimchi and abalone porridge each morning in our hotel, trying out Korean snacks, such as Korean style sushi, with spicy Kimchi wrapped inside, or yummy seafood noodles, even street food once or twice to satisfy my curiosity.
If you ever go to Korea, I’d recommend you to travel with Korean Air – the flight attendants are beautiful and helpful in equal measure. They serve great food – have you heard of a typical Korean dish Bibimbap? You should try it and you will have a chance during your flight – it’s rice mixed with different meat or vegetables and it’s delicious! They normally serve it hot in restaurants, but on the airplane you have a cold version, much better than any other plane-food offered elsewhere. You can even order hot porridge for breakfast!
I have to say that one week was too short for me to discover fully the range and variety of Korean cuisine, and on top of that, without a Korean guide on hand to give me tips, I was just a little lost in this massive city, new and exciting though it was.
This post is just a very brief introduction to what little I know of Korean Cuisine. For my local friends, you’re welcome to join us in Topokki anytime (I have already taken a few friends there, including Laetitia Murphy). For those of you living in other parts of the world, if interested in a testing your taste buds in hot and spicy Korean food, please visit this website by Kimchi House - a new friend I have made on Facebook, who has many amazing Korean recipes and fabulous pictures to share with you all.
I hope you have enjoyed my blog posts and pictures on Korea so far. Do watch the video which will show you some amazing sights in Seoul, a wonderful, vibrant and modern city.