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Whenever someone asks me how I enjoyed living in South Korea, I will inevitably start talking about the food.

e.g.: “Oh you lived in Korea?! Did you get homesick? What was it like??”

        ” Nah, Skype’s pretty great and the food was amazing!

No matter what the question is, food is always the answer. Why?

  • The consistent balance of flavour: salty, slightly sweet, and reliably spicy.
  • The value: meals are cheap, filling, and come with enough side dishes to leave you questioning how much you actually ordered.
  • The diversity: if, like me, you come from a city without a large Korean population, your knowledge of Korean cuisine may be limited. There is so much to it. So much diversity in cooking techniques, regional variation in flavours (not everything is salty/sweet/spicy), and multiple influences on the way food is shared and prepared.

Ok, enough preamble. Here’s Part One of the Korean food series: Korean Meats.

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All of the meals below are prepared at your table over built-in grills, and depending on where you go, the server may or may not cook it for you. (If you’re in a touristy area or if you just look really helpless, they will probably do it for you.) Here are some of my favourites:

Samgyeopsal (삼겹살): grilled pork belly

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What is it and how do I eat It?

When the pork’s ready, place a piece of meat on a lettuce or sesame leaf. Add whatever else appeals from the grill (this could be garlic, kimchi, mushrooms, bean sprouts, etc.), and maybe a bit of rice. Top with a dollop of deliciously salty bean paste (doenjang – 됀장), roll it up fajita-style, and enjoy in one glorious bite!

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(This photo and the one below on the left taken by my brother, David)

How do I get it in my belly? The challenging thing about recommending Seoul food is that many restaurants close and change locations frequently. It’s best to ask a local to recommend a good spot for samgyeopsal.

Dakgalbi (닭갈비): marinated, stir-fried chicken

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What is it and how do I eat It? 

This amazing dish consists of spicy chicken marinated in a sauce made with red pepper paste (gochujang – 고추장), cooked on a hot pan. Traditional dakgalbi is usually made with cabbage, scallions, soft rice cakes (tteok – 떡), and sometimes sweet potato and other ingredients. You can generally choose what you want to add to a basic order. For a junkier, extremely tasty version of this dish, you can add rice and lots of cheese. And cheese-filled tteok. Maybe even some ramen noodles. (*Drooling.*)

Eat it in a lettuce leaf, or on its own.

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How do I get it in my belly? A reliable chain to try either style of this dish is Yoogane. You can find them all over the city. Again, also ask a local for their recommendations. Small, family-owned businesses will definitely make a fantastic dakgalbi!

Yeoltan bulgogi (열탄불고기): thinly sliced, marinated, grilled pork

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What is it and how do I eat It?

This one is really thinly sliced, and covered with a good ol’ red sauce marinade. Enjoy it in the same way that you would eat samgyeopsal. I recommend trying it in a sesame leaf! If you order rice, it will come with a delectable soy bean paste and vegetable soup/stew (doenjang jjigae –된장찌개).

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How do I get it in my belly? 새마을식당 “Sae ma eul” Restaurant. There are lots of branches around the city.

Galmaegisal (갈매기살): pork skirt (had to look that one up, but basically it’s another porktastic cut of meat!)

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What is it and how do I eat It?

If you go to the chain below to try this dish, it will come with a literal table-full of side dishes (banchan – 반찬), in this case: salads, cheesy corn, and soft tofu with cooked kimchi. They also pour an egg mixture into a ring around the grill, which makes a sort of “egg crust” or mini omelette that cooks while the meat does!

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Galmaegisal doesn’t come in lettuce leaves. Simply dip it in the sauces in front of you, maybe top it with garlic and a dab of soy bean paste (I usually construct it in the dipping sauce dish), and enjoy!

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How do I get it in my belly? Mapo Galmaegi

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잘 먹겠습니다!

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