Friday, February 27, 2015

Knowing Korea via the food

Food. This is an adventure in itself, I think, particularly when visiting new places. I have to admit that during our trip, I didn't go as far as listing down must-try restaurants... I'd rather trust Matty's restaurant choices because he has very good taste. And I've been proven correct again and again throughout our adventure week. :)

Our food trip began at the Incheon International Airport. After a long tour of the different restaurants, we ended up in one that served pizza. This is becoming a tradition between us, it seems: land in a new city and the first place we go to has pizza. To shake things up a bit, I opted for a pine nuts and mushroom udon. It was just delicious! Perfect to warm my tummy since I know we'd face the cold real soon.


When we arrived in Hoenggye, there weren't many options for dinner because of the lateness of the hour. We settled for hot drinks and pretzels at the cafe near our hotel. Those were also good though I was wishing we'd eat a proper dinner. Tired travellers couldn't be picky about limited restaurant choices though. Yeah, we've been travelling around 16 hours already by the time we settled into the cafe.

Breakfast the next day was still unconventional. We picked up Korean dimsum at a convenience store while we waited and then got acquainted with our tour guide, Junn. Yummy, the fried pork and the steamed pork dumplings were. These were my energy sources for my first snowboarding day! 

Lunch was cheesecake and chocolate milk for me at Twosome Place, which, according to my cousin, is a famous restaurant chain in Korea (as usual, I'm not aware of these things; what a prepared traveller, right?). Delicious carbo-loading mode on, definitely. But I'd like to try more traditional Korean food next time.

Dinner was very interesting. We passed by a cozy restaurant when we got lost looking for our hotel right after snowboarding. In the evening, we decided to eat there... traditional Korean food in a traditional setting: we were sitting on the floor. 

The first thing I noticed was the abundance of the side dishes. In the Philippines, Korean restaurants do serve kimchi, vegetables, pickled stuff, and fish. In the restaurant we ate at, we had a lot of those! It would be a mistake to eat too much of the side dishes because there won't be space in the tummy anymore for the entrees. 

Next day, we also had an interesting time, food-wise. Breakfast was all about pastries (again) at a coffee shop in Tower Plaza. For lunch, I upped on the spice when we ate at a Chinese restaurant in Dragon Plaza. The highlight of the day, once again, was dinner. Matty's nose led us to another cozy establishment... but with seats this time. The thing is, the restaurant's special was pork. But not just any pork. It was black pig from Jeju Island. Apparently, it is a special breed of pig; otherwise, the chef wouldn't have remarked about it. It was delicious! As instructed by the chef, we placed pork slices onto a lettuce leaf and another leafy vegetable, followed by mushrooms, soybean paste, and raw garlic. 

And then there's our go-to breakfast place in Hoenggye. It's called Paris Baguette. It reminds me a lot of BreadTalk because one must get a paper-lined tray and tongs before picking the bread and/or pastries from the tables. One does not use his or her bare hands to grab sandwiches! It was in Paris Baguette where we bumped into a couple, also having breakfast, who remarked that there was yellow dust blowing into the Korean peninsula from the Mongolian desert. So that's why my throat got itchy the night before! There were lots of particulates in the air! Anyway, what I loved about the restaurant is the warm but lively vibe and the delicious breakfast food... and macarons. If we were not in any danger of going over our baggage weight limit, I would have bought a lot of food from here. Alas, my bag was already 21kg, with a 20-kg limit.

Let it be known that Matty knows how to cook. On the day I injured my hand, Jay brought us to this restaurant where we had to buy fresh beef and vegetables and then cook the ingredients on a grill embedded on our table. I had only one hand free so Matty took charge, initially, with cooking the tenderloin slices. At some point, a waitress must have seen that we needed help so she took it upon herself to take over the cooking and the snipping (yes, the cooked meat was cut with scissors!). This restaurant we went to was our most expensive dinner to date (maybe because we chose the tenderloin and we had ice cream after?).  

So far, we've been to Italy, Jeju Island, France, and mainland Korea. Why not add to the diversity of the Korean dining experience, right? On our last night in Korea, we opted to eat Japanese food. Now this has got to be the most private restaurant we've eaten at... we couldn't see the other diners because we were all surrounded by curtains! No, we didn't cook our meal for ourselves, for a change; and no, there's no stove on the table top. The pork dish I chose was absolutely yummy!

Throughout our Korea week, we were at times at a loss over what we're going to eat because the menus in many of the restaurants we dined at were written in Korean and came without English subtitles translations. Servers often didn't speak in English and the best we could do was pick a dish at random in the menus that have English names on them. For example, I ended up with sauteed chicken gizzard even though I was totally pointing at something else on the menu. Sometimes, there wouldn't even be a menu; the chef would just tell us what's the evening's special or we'd go get raw ingredients from one side of the store and get them cooked somehow at the dining table. However, there was one restaurant where we had a good laugh because the menu got us lost in translation...

My jaw dropped when I saw our food options that late evening... we could get not just any pike, but 'The Pike'; we could eat 'stolen bases'; we could consume 'agg rolls' and 'whole octopuses', if we liked. But one thing I had no plan on ordering was 'chicke poop home'. I wonder what part of the chicken anatomy was being referred to as the chicken's poop's home. 

Yep, our Korean food trip was full of surprises and laughter. We've gotten a sense of what the cuisine is like in real life... And we both agree: the Korean food we've eaten outside Korea pales in comparison with what the food really is like in Korea.