Bulgogi is a popular Korean dish usually consisting of marinated beef that is thinly sliced and cooked over a grill. It translates to fire (bul) meat (gogi), referring the grilling of the meat over an open flame, however it is common to see this dish being pan-cooked as well. There are different variations of the marinade, but they are all usually slightly sweet, making it especially appealing to those that don’t like spicy food. Soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, onions, pepper, ginger, and sugar are common ingredients for the marinade, and you’ll sometimes find fruits such as crushed pear added for sweetness (my favorite!). When bulgogi is pan-cooked, vegetables like mushrooms, carrots, green onions and bok choy are often added, resulting in more of a soupy dish rather than just the grilled meat. I still haven’t decided which way I prefer bulgogi to be prepared, but I have come to the conclusion that I like to eat pan-cooked bulgogi with rice and grilled bulgogi with lettuce or perilla leaves for wrapping. I can’t wait to get in the kitchen and try my own version!
Mandu guk is a simple, yet very satisfying soup. The literal translation is dumpling soup, a meal typically eaten in the fall and winter. The hearty, non-spicy broth is usually beef based in which the dumplings are boiled, along with green onions, garlic, kelp and sometimes anchovies. This soup often comes garnished with egg and dried seaweed.
Tteok mandu guk, or rice cake and dumpling soup, is traditionally enjoyed by Koreans on Lunar New Year’s Day. This version of soup includes slices of rice cake in addition to the dumplings. The whiteness of the broth symbolizes purity and the tteok, shaped like old currency, represents a prosperous year. Maturity also comes into play since Koreans turn another year older on New Year’s Day rather than their birthday. It is said that you won’t become a year older until you’ve consumed your tteok mandu guk. Maybe I’ll skip the soup this year and be 30 again.
Mandu (Korean dumplings) are not just found in this soup, they are frequently eaten on their own as a snack, appetizer or side dish. More often than not I see them steamed, but they can also be served pan fried or deep fried with a side of soy sauce for dipping. So far I’ve only seen two kinds of mandu—gogi (meat, usually pork) mandu and kimchi mandu. Both kinds usually include minced onions, mung bean sprouts, garlic, ginger, and sometimes glass noodles. I still haven’t decided which one I prefer, but I do think I enjoy them best in soup.
‘Tis the season to bundle up and eat hot soup, so I thought I’d post about another traditional Korean dish that I like particularly like when it’s cold out. Doengjang jjigae is a stew made with fermented soy bean paste, or doenjeang, which is an essential element in Korean cuisine. I think many foreigners are initially turned off by this dish, mostly because doengjang is so pungent. Fermented soy bean paste doesn’t necessarily sound too appetizing, either. However, the hearty flavor of this dish is unlike any other soup or stew I’ve tried, and I love it.
The broth is usually comprised of doenjang, anchovy stock, garlic and Korean red pepper powder or flakes (gochugaru), which creates a perfect blend of spicy saltiness. Onions, zucchini, tofu, mushrooms and potatoes are added to the broth, making a deliciously balanced stew (clams, pork or beef are also sometimes included, depending on the recipe). Doenjang jjigae is often served as a side dish at barbecue restaurants, but lately I’ve been ordering it on it’s own with a bowl of rice for a cheap, healthy and quick dinner. If you ever have the opportunity to try it, I highly recommend doing so.
Bibimbap was one of the first traditional dishes I had after arriving in Korea (I even had an airplane version on the way over, and though it was quite tasty for airplane food, it didn’t compare to the real deal). It basically translates to mixed rice and traditionally consists of warm rice topped with seasoned vegetables, an egg and a modest amount of thinly sliced beef. Bibimbap is famous in the city of Jeonju where it was first found in a cookbook—Siuijeonseo from the 19th century—and is believed to have been a royal dish/snack from the Joseon Dynasty. (I was lucky enough to enjoy a large bowl of traditional Jeonju bibimbap during my EPIK orientation, but unfortunately didn’t get a picture of it.)
Usually, bibimbap is served either cold with a fried egg on top or in a sizzling hot stone pot with a raw egg which cooks when you mix everything together. The latter, called dolsot bibimbap, is my favorite. The stone pot is lightly coated with sesame oil and because it’s so hot, the bottom layer of rice gets slightly crispy. Gochujang (spicy red pepper paste) is typically served right on top in the bowl alongside the vegetables and the egg. Once mixed together thoroughly, you’re in for spoonfuls of deliciousness (yes, Koreans eat bibimbap with a spoon, not chopsticks).
Kimbap, also known as gimbap, is the ultimate picnic food of Korea. It’s cheap, easy to make (or purchase) ahead of time and easily eaten on-the-go. The two main ingredients are dried seaweed (kim or gim) and white rice (bap). Various veggies and meats accompany the rice which is wrapped in sheets of dried seaweed. It looks very similar to sushi, however raw fish is not used in kimbap, and the rice is seasoned with sesame oil and sesame seeds rather than rice vinegar. The most common ingredients in basic kimbap are cucumber, carrot, fried egg, radish, imitation crab and spam (yes, spam is everywhere in Korea). You’ll also see canned tuna (chamchi kimbap), cheese (chijeu kimbap), beef (soegogi kimbap) and of course kimchi as ingredients as well.