Trying Korean Food

Bao Yang is a student at Mount Mary College and a Classmates Connecting Cultures Blogger corresponding with the Social Work Club at Mount Mary. Bao is currently studying abroad with ISA in Seoul, Korea.

Food says everything about a country. Food can give insight to the local weather. Warm tropical places will have tropical food in their dishes. South Korea is not a tropical place but has a hard winter and a hot and humid summer. In other words, perfect weather for making Korean kimchi. Food encompass the local taste. Most South Koreans really like either really spicy or really sweet things.

As a study abroad student, food is what I spend most of my money on. If trying local Korean food isn’t your thing, then don’t expect to be saving money while you’re here, because western meals are expensive even at American fast food restaurants. Who wants to take a 14 hour flight to South Korea just to eat American food??

Black pig BBQ-- we ate this in Jeju Island
Black pig BBQ– we ate this in Jeju Island

There are a lot of good cheap places in the back gate of Konkuk University. You can find medium price range to expensive restaurants in Star City mall across from Konkuk. In the back gate, I recommend going to Issac’s Toast where sandwiches range from 2,000 won to 4000 won. $1USD is about 1100 won, so that means these dishes would be about $1.75-$3.50USD — pretty cheap!! There’s also a mandu place that my friends and I go to frequently. It’s locally owned by a couple. It’s one of the first restaurant on the right in the alleyway of the back gate. There’s also a good pork bulgogi restaurant in the alley way too. The price range for these two restaurants are 3000 won to 5000 won.

In the Hondae shopping district there are also some great places to eat. Granted they might not be the cheapest but there is more variety in the food. The cheapest food is found in the street vendors selling fruit candy, Hoeddok (like a Korean pancake), fried potatoes and so on. Molly’s Popsicle is also located here, which sells unique flavors such as the wine flavored popsicle.

In the summer time, most cafes and bakery sell papingsu, which is a delicious dessert of ice shaving topped with ice cream and fruit. Papgingsu typically costs about 7000 won, but it is meant to be shared among 2 to 4 friends, so the cost should only be around 3,000 won per person.

Papingsu at the yoger presso located in the backgate of Konkuk
Papingsu at the yoger presso located in the backgate of Konkuk

Of course, there are some things that Korea can’t do well, and that is the junk food category. None of my friends and I like Korean chips. They are too spicy without any flavors, and sometimes it is spicy with a sweet flavor. That throws my taste buds off. I don’t know if it is the high salt content in American junk food, but I don’t like the bland Korean chips.

Korean gum is also a downer. If you want to eat very minty gum like me, or just want a fresh taste in your mouth you won’t get it with Korean gum. It is very weak compare to minty gum in the U.S. So I have to buy American brand gum, if the store has it (which they usually don’t) at a high price.

Korean yogurt is also a little different. This is not a criticism, but for those who like thick yogurt you won’t like Korean yogurt which is more liquidy. But E-mart (a big Korean store like Wal-Mart) does sell American brand yogurt, but they are more expensive.

Last, but not least, the hardest thing that I had to get use to in South Korea is not eating  fresh fruits. South Korea has fruits but they are very expensive. The U.S. has Hawaii, Florida, California and a few other warm places to grow fruits for our nations, but in South Korea most of the fruits are imported. That means you pay 12,000 won for a watermelon. 7000 to 9000 won for oriental melons. The cheapest fruit that I found was bananas but even they were more expensive than in the U.S.

If you are craving American food there are a few shops that import that American brand food in Itaewon (a neighborhood very popular with foreigners). They are more expensive but you do get the same taste from back home.

I hope this blog answer questions for those who are thinking about studying abroad here and worry about what to eat. Remembering trying local food can be a tad intimidating but give it a try, you might find that you love some Korean dishes. I found out that I love mandu and papingsu.

Spicy Rice cakes: Eaten at a traditional Korean market
Spicy Rice cakes: Eaten at a traditional Korean market

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