A few foodie observations about Seoul

Bibimbap

Before this trip, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect in Seoul. The trip was actually extremely easy in all aspects. Transportation was wonderful and the city was easy to get around in. I also found it easy to communicate with my limited Korean. I can say “hello” and “thank you,” which are two of the most useful words in any language when you’re a traveler. Even ordering food was easy, as many restaurants had picture menus or seemed to specialize in one thing or another, for instance pork or octopus or dumplings, so even if I couldn’t say what I wanted, I could point it out easily. There were a few things – as there are in every country – that you notice that are done just a little differently than they are back home. These are just a few of the things that I took note of as I made my way through Seoul:

  • Metal chopsticks are the standard in Korea and I found they took some adjusting to! I’m fairly skilled with wooden chopsticks, but you need a slightly different way of positioning the chopsticks in your fingers when they are prone to rolling around like the flat or round (both shapes) metal chopsticks are!
  • The majority of napkins are cocktail-sized. You don’t realize that you’re used to a certain size of napkin until it’s not available!
  • Even though street food is popular, most people don’t eat as they walk. They eat right near the vendor’s stall.
  • There are very few trash cans in Seoul. This might explain the above item.

Korean BBQ Pork being cut

  • Although there were knives in some restaurants, many places cut the food up with scissors and served it with just a fork or chopsticks. This seemed to be more true of bbq places than some other restaurants I ate at. Very effective way to cut food.
  • Speaking of splitting dishes, many foods were conveniently cut up before being served. This waffle was cut in quarters, and a burger I had was cut in half.

Great handmade, fried mandu

  • At several places I ate mandu (dumplings), the dipping sauces were very heavy on the vinegar, where I expected more soy sauce or similarly salty dips.
  • Kimchi is much better in Seoul than it is here, on average. I should note that this did not actually surprise me at all – and I was very glad of it!

4 story Coffee Bean

  • Quite a few coffee shops were at least two stories high, including Starbucks and Coffee Bean. Many were even taller, and all had beautiful seating inside. It’s hard to go back to “normal” coffee shops after that.
  • Donuts were extremely popular, with more than a few Krispy Kremes and Dunkin’ Donuts around the city. Dunkin’ even offered a kimchi donut. Fortunately, it was savory, not sweet.
  • Finally, even though it was pretty easy to order in restaurants, there were still some things that got lost in translation. This sign read “Happy Virus Menu” for instance. Still not sure what to make of that one.

Happy virus Menu

13 comments

  1. It looks like you had a great trip. Thank you sharing!

  2. Is that bibimbop? I lived across the street from a Korean restaurant in Brooklyn and ate it 3x a week. Miss it a lot. Nourishing & yummy. I also remember the Veteran’s Day Parade on 5th Ave in NYC marking the 50th anniversary of the Korean War, and there were tons of Korean men and women in fall-down-to-your-knees STUNNING traditional Korean garments & hats, and playng Korean musical instruments. I was in awe. I now live far from NY, and one of the things I miss the most is the Korean people! Love them! Thanks for this post!

  3. I had heard that the chopsticks were metal because of enemies poisoning the food during the war – and the poison turned black when in contact with the metal. Hm. I wonder if that’s true or a myth?

  4. Happy Virus does not sound pleasing in English literally translated. Virus is contagious and Happy Virus only means “spreading hapiness.” Virus does not mean sickness in that text. As a Korean person living in the states, I laugh at things when I visit Korea, but I wanted to clarify that for you. I enjoy your blog very much! I was surprised to see you in Seoul as my family is planning a trip to Korea in November.

  5. I loved reading your various recaps. I had the opportunity to go to Tokyo a few years ago and though the culture is different I had a similar level of joy noticing the differences in cultures. I definitely LOVED the picture menus though that I found almost everywhere. It made ordering so much easier.

  6. Loved reading your observations! We’ve recently discovered how much we like Korean food – the mandu looks so delicious. I’ve had a vinegary dip with a few dishes now, and I’m getting used to it, although I still like soy sauce or fish sauce better! – Belle

  7. You know what’s funny on the “Happy Virus Menu?” The Korean translates directly to “Tasty Cat Cafe.” So the Korean isn’t much better than the Engrish. ;)

  8. Jean – Thanks for translating the translation! I assumed that it was meant to be something pleasant, but I just thought it was so cute/silly as written that I couldn’t help but take a photo!

  9. C(h)ristine – That’s pretty funny, too!

  10. Actually, that says “Coffee Drinking Cat,” not “Tasty Cat”! 마시는, not 맛있는…

  11. I know, as a foreigner, you must have run into so many broken English used in Korea. I hope you enjoyed your Korea visit. Sometimes, people in Korea come across rude and mean but they mean well, they are just not so affectionate and don’t appear to be friendly, think New Yorkers. But deep inside, they are very warm and kind. I hope you ONLY came back with positive experience from the trip!

  12. a few foodie can be good now

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