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Why South Korea is a food heaven of Asia

Harya Danniswara

Japanese and Korean food are the two most common cuisine being served in Indonesia (excluding Chinese food), so it’s pretty safe to say that I have been accustomed to both. I came back from Japan this February, thinking that I have found the country with the best cuisine in the world. But when I came back from South Korea last month, I’m glad to say that Korean food has exceeded 500% way above the expectation I had. I’m not saying that it is now the best cuisine I’ve found, but it was definitely the number one highlight of my trip.

For me, what made it special was how strong the character of each Korean food I’ve tried. They may not be too variable and unique, but it knows how to be strong without being too weird. Korean barbeque, Dalkgalbi, Bibimbap, you name it. From the flood of good choices, here I picked three best ones I’ve tried during my 8-day trip to South Korea that you definitely have to include in your itinerary:

Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market

Fresh raw seafood in Noryangjin
Fresh raw seafood in Noryangjin

I consider myself lucky to meet a Korean friend of mine just three months before my South Korea trip, because she was the one who took us to this local fresh seafood market called Noryangjin! And do believe me when I say that this is (super) local, because we almost couldn’t see any foreigners in this place. Filled with sellers with very little English fluency, this place is popular for setting price based on how gullible you are – and that is why foreigners often got ripped off and ended up paying a whole lot more than what locals pay.

First we entered the building and took the escalator down. One story below, you will see a huge indoor open area with probably hundreds of seller, with all of them showcasing their collection of alive fish and sea creatures for you to choose. The idea is to pick the ones that you like, negotiate on the price, and then the seller will kill, cut, and serve them fresh and raw for you. Therefore, haggling is surely a main weapon here – and this is where foreigners usually fall. My friend got us a lot of seafood with a very decent price. But most importantly, very decent taste! Everything is super fresh (tentacles still moving, etc) that it tasted smooth and odor-free. Definitely was the highlight of my day!

Find more info on the restaurant here.

Yoogane Dalkgalbi Hongdae 1-ho

Tasting Dalkgalbi in Hongdae
Tasting Dalkgalbi in Hongdae

Again, culinary experience in South Korea is not complete if one hasn’t at least tried the most popular dishes internationally. One of them is Dalkgalbi. You can pretty much find Dalkgalbi easily in renowned parts of Seoul, but our choice landed to Yoogane Dalkgalbi in Hongdae. Finding this place wasn’t really a well-planned decision we made – we came here simply because we happened to be in Hongdae and hungry. We initiatively did fast research on what to try while we’re here, and this place came shooting up the list. Plus, we hadn’t eaten Dalkgalbi in that moment of the trip.

So basically all you need to do to enjoy Dalkgalbi is by sitting back and relax while the server cooks your dish right there on your table. Order some side dishes to complete the experience, and whether you’re on a carbs diet or not, I strongly recommend you to order some noodles and ask them to cook it together with the main dish. I guess when it comes to Dalkgalbi, I have two main parameters to assess its quality: the seafood and the sauce. For Yoogane, I would give a perfect rating for the sauce, and a decent one for the quality of its squid.

Find more info on the restaurant here.

Yukjeon Sikdang 4th in Gangnam

Korean BBQ at Yukjeong Sikdang 4th
Korean BBQ at Yukjeong Sikdang 4th

Last but not least, Korean barbeque! This dish is probably the most internationally famous (at least in Indonesia), simply because it’s the type which can be enjoyable to a lot range of taste preferences. The downside is, it’s hard to choose the best one to try, because there are a lot of them! Especially in Seoul! However, I couldn’t emphasize more on how important a local’s recommendation for me, and that is why our choice went to Yukjeong Sikdang 4th in Gangnam.

As what the name called it, meat quality is the single most important thing to assess from a Korean barbeque restaurant. Yukjeon Sikdang 4th has a whole positive reputation for that, and I couldn’t agree more. Juicy and soft – that’s how I would describe the heavenly meat I tasted when I was dining there. Another honorable mention is how friendly and fast the staffs were, making it a truly remarkable dinner experience.

Find more info on the restaurant here.

Out of the many pleasures of travelling to a new country, one can possibly feel much closer to understanding the culture by going through an authentic culinary experience. Food has always been one of the strongest cultural statement a country can represent. For me, food is a perfect memory proxy, that every time I remember the experience, I would also remember the whole feeling of being in the country – and reliving the times I had there. Make sure you have that before you leave the trip.

Harya Danniswara

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