Sunday, May 1, 2011

How to Get Food in Korea, Part 1

Food is everywhere in Korea. You are going to want to try some. Here's how.

Different Kinds of Food

We have spotted several varieties of food shops in Jeonju.

Basic Korean Restaurant - The size of the average Korean restaurant ranges from small to downright hole-in-the-wall. Our favorite falls in the hole-in-the-wall category, seats about eight people, and is much beloved for its speedy service, fantastic food, and resident adorable baby. At the average Korean restaurant, even if you can't read the menu, you can safely order: gimbap, the Korean version of sushi; bibimbap, a rice and vegetable dish that's as tasty as its name is fun to say; and kimchi jigae, a fabulous soup that contains kimchi, a little pork for seasoning, and a lot of chili paste. Prices will range from 4,000 won to 8,000 won per person, so the basic Korean restaurant is dead cheap.

Kimchi jigae. It is the bomb.

Traditional Restaurant - This is easy to spot. If you look through the window and the tables are about a foot off of the ground and everyone is sitting on the floor, it's a traditional-style restaurant. Some restaurants use a mixture of Western- and Korean-style seating - in this case, the traditional seating will almost always be on an elevated wooden platform. Before entering a traditional seating area (or the whole restaurant if it's all traditional-style), take off your shoes. If you're not accustomed to sitting on the floor, be sure to change position often, otherwise your leg will probably fall asleep (mine always does). Serves the same food at the same prices as the Basic Korean Restaurant, but you can also get a more elaborate meal of bulgogi.

Bulgogi is frequently crazy big. It is often cooked on a burner set in the table, and the wait staff will come by and stir it for you periodically until it's done. While you wait, you can munch on the five to twenty-five side dishes (I am not exaggerating) that come with it. Most are kimchi-esque things, but occassionally you will get something a bit more challenging like dried bay shrimp (crunchy) or pickled eggs and onions (oddly sweet). Once the main dish is done, you scoop it into lettuce leaves and add condiments. This is a serious meal - set aside an hour or more, and wear lose pants.

Fried Things Shop - Also known as "Things-On-a-Stick Shop." This sort of shop will always have either pictures of fried things in the window, or the actual fried things. Our personal Fried Things Shop offers squid-on-a-stick, chicken-on-a-stick, noodles wrapped in seaweed and fried, rice cakes in red sauce, fried hard-boiled egg, various other unidentifiable fried things, and my favorite, double-breaded corn dog. On a stick, of course. Most of these shops also serve non-fried things and have a few tables in the back for those who want to sit and eat, but don't mistake it for a basic Korean restaurant, as they will look at you like a crazy person if you walk into a Fried Things Shop and ask for bulgogi. Most things cost about 1,000 or 2,000 won, so if you're long on hunger and short on won, this is the place to go. Over the long haul, though, your cardiologist might disagree.

Snack Shop/Coffee Shop - Similar to the Fried Things Shop, but offers fewer fried things and more sandwiches, desserts, and coffee.

Full-Service Coffee Shop - Just like in the West, except that here they probably serve patbingsu, an incredible confection of ice cream, red beans, fruits, cornflakes, rice cake, and ice that should be introduced in the U.S. immediately. Some will also serve dan-pat-chuk, a warm, sweet, red bean soup that is perfect for slightly cold days. Or slightly hot days. Whenever, really. Coffee shops can be pretty expensive, so it's best to limit visits.

Rice Cakes Shop - My personal favorite! Easily identifiable by the outside table covered in packages of rice cakes. If you've ever had mochi, you have some idea of what a Korean rice cake is like. If not, then the picture to the left should give you some idea.
Fillings range from red bean to cinnamon sugar to weird savory things that Linus and I generally don't care for. Since I have post-meal rice cake cravings every day, we go to this kind of shop a lot. A package of eight or ten big rice cakes or a gazillion little ones costs about 2,000 won.

Bakery - Bakeries are hot in Jeonju at the moment. We have a bakery in our neighborhood, and there's a chain bakery called Paris Baguette on our route to work, so we've had plenty of opportunities to do a little taste-testing. All the breads are really fresh and good, but it's the desserts that will blow your mind. Also, the variations on what I like to call "hot dog bread" - that is, bread in which hot dogs or sausage are incorporated in some way - can get pretty interesting. Prices in these range from less than 1,000 won to about as high as you want to go.

Street Food - Basically Fried Things Shops on wheels, these stands offer about the same fare as the FTS, but possibly at slightly higher prices.

Pizza and Chicken Shops - These are specialty shops. The chicken shops are expensive - about 12,000 to 16,000 won a bucket - but the pizza shops are quite reasonable. The pizza here is pretty different from home and probably tastier. I sure wouldn't trade my Korean sweet potato pizza for some Little Ceaser's (at least, not yet).

Fancy Restaurants - We haven't been to many of these, but we know they exist because our director bought us lunch at one. Prices are high, but the food is unique and excellent, so if you've got money to burn they're worth a visit.

Western Chains - They exist, but why would you go?

Despite all this fabulous food at low prices, Linus is losing weight. I am not, because I inhale rice cakes like oxygen. But I can still fit into wee Korean sizes, as I will demonstrate in the next post!


  1. This post needs more pictures of delicious foods! Now I really want to go to the Korean area of Aurora and get me some yummy Korean food. :(((

  2. More food pics are on the way! :)

  3. Yeah, you totally need more pics. If you want to assimilate more, you really need to include multiple photos of food in every other post at least.

  4. We have a ton of food photos on our new phone. We uploaded them to the phone company's website, where they helpfully offer 100MB of storage so that you can retrieve your photos on your computer. Unfortunately, the website to manage that storage is not translatable, so I have no idea how to log into our account. We will get it figured out with our handler this week.