While my friend Aaron was here, a lot of his visit revolved around "where should we eat next?" I love food, he loves food, and Korea has some great goddamn food. Clearly there was only one thing we could do, and that was eat. And eat we did.
닭갈비 (Dak Galbi)
The first we didn't actually get around to eating, but it's probably my favorite thing to get whenever I go out. 닭 is chicken; 닭갈비 is "a popular South Korean dish generally made by stir-frying marinated diced chicken in a gochujang (chili pepper paste) based sauce, and sliced cabbage, sweet potato, scallions, onions and tteok (rice cake) together on a hot plate." It's also delicious, especially when you get lots of tteok with it. There's a place near Sherlock Academy that adds cheese, too. Heaven!
부대찌개 (Budae chigae)
Whenever I talk to Koreans in Seoul, without fail they admonish me for living in Uijeongbu but never eating budae chigae. No longer! Chigae is the name for a whole family of stews with gochujang and tofu. There's kimchi chigae, and chumchi chigae, and also budae chigae. "부대" (budae) is an army base or soldier camp. Naturally there are a few of them up here by the 39th, which is why Uijeongbu is particularly infamous for its budae chigae (like cheesesteaks and Philly). The ingredients in budae chigae include your basic chigae, but with the addition of scrapped meat that post-war Koreans would scrape together from the Americans' rations: sausages, SPAM, hot dogs, and so on. Definitely some of the more filling food I've had so far, but also really tasty.
This is usually my dinner on Saturday nights when I go to Seoul. It's pork—the same part of the pig where bacon comes from—that grills right on your table in front of you. "The name can be translated as Three (sam) layered (gyeop) meat (sal), of course hinting at the three layers that are visible in the meat."
With both the samgyupsal and the dak galbi, I might add, a whole bunch grills right at your table, in a hotplate or wherever. You have your own little plate, then there's a plate of greens (usually big lettuce leaves and sesame leaves). If you're getting samgyupsal, there's also some small bowls of different sauces. You pick out bits of the meat, dip them in sauce when appropriate, and then wrap them in the lettuce leaf. Any of the other side dishes served are also fair game.
Straight up galbi is a bit different than dak galbi. It eliminates the extra veggies and rice cakes, consisting mostly of marinated ribs and maybe some onions or garlic thrown on for flavor.
In case you couldn't tell, meat is kind of important here in Korea. Being a vegetarian would be pretty tough—being a vegan would be pretty much impossible. I eat more meat here than I do at home, mostly out of necessity but also because meat done Korean-style just tastes better. Probably too better, I've packed on a few extra pounds since I got here. Oops.
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