Bae bulleo! (배 불러!)July 4, 2007
“My belly is full!” In fact, my belly is ALWAYS full here. Korea is a not a place for timid or small eaters. Korean cuisine has bold flavors and the meals are huge, cheap, and oh-so-delicious. Sure, there is fried everything and grilled fatty pork to be found on almost every corner, but for the most part, food here is extremely healthy, with any given meal providing a diversity of leafy greens, vegetables, spices, grains, and tofu. They say that the more color you can put in your diet, the healthier it will be. Behold the culinary rainbow:
[this beautiful picture was stolen from our friend Elaine‘s blog]
As you can see from the photos, Korean meals generally consist of a main dish (often tofu/meat/fish-based) accompanied by a large variety of smaller side dishes called ban chan (반찬). There are a countless number of ban chan in Korea and one of the most enjoyable experiences of any meal is anticipating which kinds you’ll be served, and then of course, sampling them all. Some form of kim chee is always present, but other favorites include acorn jelly (도토리묵), green onion pancakes, fried tofu, simmered lotus root, and egg custard but to name a very paltry few. At restaurants, the best part is that these side dishes are bottomless. Even in the cheapest of places you’ll be served at least three (they are almost always served in odd numbers since even numbers are seen as bad luck), and as soon as you empty one dish, it will be refilled as many times as you ask (or even if you don’t), for no extra charge.
One of the things I appreciate most about Korean eating culture is that it is so communal. Traditionally, each diner will have only a bowl of rice to himself. The main and side dishes are there to be shared by all, with everyone reaching across the table to take a spoonful of soup or a chopstick’s-worth of ban chan. It makes for a very cozy dining experience.
All this, and for dirt cheap. Matty and I almost never pay more than $5 each for a full Korean meal. There are two main downsides to this, however. First of all, it’s way too easy to eat like pigs here, especially when hosts take it as their personal mission to make sure guests can barely lift themselves off of the floor after eating. Secondly, it makes going out (especially for Korean) in the US seem so incredibly expensive – $10 for bibimbap? $15 for a single Zingerman’s sandwich, are you unsane?? Oh well, we’ll just have to fatten up this last month with cheap Korean goodness in preparation for the long Wisconsin winter to come.