Friday, February 5, 2010

한식: 김밥천국 (Part One)

한식 (hanshik) strictly translated means "Korean food". It's most often used in two ways: 1) to refer to Korean style of eating and 2) to refer to the traditional Korean meal. I'm going to post a series of blogs about my experience with 한식. All Koreans and residents in Korea have different takes on 한식 because it's practiced in various forms all over the peninsula. Feel free, though, to leave questions in the comments. I'll attempt to answer them. I'd also encourage readers to share their own stories about 한식 and food culture pertinent to each post. I'm beginning with Korean comfort food and one of the most famous Korean chains, 김밥천국 (kimbapcheonguk).

I spend a lot of meals at the Kimbapcheonguk near my house. I was scooting around my neighborhood today taking photographs of the places I like to eat. I don't have a kitchen in my 원룸 (one-room). I do have a hot-plate and rice cooker; you'd be surprised how much good food I can cook with these two appliances, but the food is so cheap in 대학동 (Daehakdong) that it's easier and often less expensive to eat out. (I should note that I think I'm a good cook, but Praise's Korean cooking is wonderful. I can't wait to get into a real kitchen and learn some more.)

My neighborhood is known for students, 24hour street-life and food. Not too long ago, maybe ten years ago, it was known for trying to lose its reputation as the slum next to 서울대학교 (Seoul National University). Everything I've heard from my friends who grew up in 신림동 (Sillimdong) and 봉천동 (Bongcheondong) is that both were very poor neighborhoods. This is saying a lot because much of Seoul was poor, remains poor. It's a little difficult to compare the neighborhoods here to urban neighborhoods in the US if only because the population density in Seoul is so much greater. Moreover, Seoul's urban landscape has radically changed in the last 20 years. In March, my future father-in-law is returning to Seoul for the first time in 32 years. I'll be interested to hear how he sees the difference. The traditional Korean neighborhoods in Seoul are mostly gone. I'll discuss and describe this in more detail in future posts. Back then my neighborhood, 대학동 (Daehakdong,) was known as 신림9동 (Sillim-gu-dong). I think it's safe to say the visible display of the recent past is being purposefully designed away.

Kimbapcheonguk. My favorite place. Two can eat well for under manwon, $10. The problem: not all stores are like the others. In Itaewon-2-dong, on what the foreigners call "Veggie Hill," there are two Kimbapcheonguk stores near each other. They both provide less food for more cash than the stores in my neighborhood. In addition, I found the food rather greasy and the side dishes rather spare. In Hongdae, not far from the main entrance to the University and towards Sinchon is a small Kimbapcheonguk. It's usually very dirty (food and napkins on the floor and greasy tables) and full, leaving customers to sit uncomfortably against the wall. It can be smelly and hot. On the other hand, the older women working there are sweethearts and, like a lot of ajumma, will flirt with you if you make attempts to speak a little hangukmal with them. (The attempt goes a long way with folks here, contrary to popular foreigner complaints otherwise.) The two stores in Daehakdong are small but clean and always busy. One makes the best 순두부찌개 (sundubujjigae); the other makes the best 김치찌개 (kimchijjiggae). The one near my flat offers the best banchan (반찬찬).

In the next post I'll discuss more of the menu. But my favorite dishes continue to be sundubu- and kimchi- jjigae. Unlike most Western chains, where menus are designed so customers can expect to eat the same thing each visit no matter where they visit, Kimbabcheonguk restaurant owners and cooks each have a different take on traditional Korean dishes. This permissible variation helps make finding the best Kimbapcheonguk an enjoyable mission. I've learned that every Korean cook has a specialty: that one thing on their menu they love to cook more than the others . That's what you want to eat.

I'm on my way out the door and will talk more about food in future posts. I don't have time right now to describe the dishes above. But here are a few links to help clear up any confusions:
김치찌개 (kimchijjiggae)
순두부찌개 (sundubujjigae)
반찬 (banchan)

Coming Next: More on my favorite places to eat in Daehakdong; more on hanshik and banchan; food and restaurant photos.

This is the Kimbapcheonguk near my flat. The Chinese restaurant above it, Tami Hong, is another place we like to go.

1 comment:

Pree-oz said...