Munch the Chills Away
Of all of the dishes mentioned so far, this will be the one that knocks your socks off...
Many visitors to Asia will recognize before their journey starts that they are in for a culinary adventure, even if the Western palate is unprepared for the attack of new flavors that will take place. Because I grew up in a family that liked to experience various international dishes, we thought of ourselves as being ‘tastefully advanced’; thus, my mother would often experiment with new and exotic spices to see how far we could push our untrained mouths into the depths of HOT FOOD.
Arriving in Korea, I was ecstatic to see a mass of red colored foods that could only mean one thing: Red chili, or in Korean, Gochu. Red chili was not introduced to Korea until the late 1500s through invasions from Japan, but it has now become a staple part of the Korean diet and it is very hard to find dishes without this key ingredient. With my background, I was quite confident I could match the locals when it came to consuming these famous spicy dishes.
Yet this confidence that I had built up over the years – convincing myself that I was indestructible against the forces of the Red chili – was in vain. Upon your trip to Korea, you may also discover the pain that I went through, along with short bursts of pleasure! Below are just a few of the first spicy dishes I was introduced to; I dare you to try some for yourselves!
Stir-fried Small Octopus
Translated in Korean as Nakji Bokkum, this is a very popular spicy dish that is consumed nationwide. After the tentacles are cut into bit-sized portions, the miniature species of octopus is pan stir-fried using Red chili pepper paste and pepper flakes, green onions, carrots, sesame oil and some additional green peppers. As you can imagine, this culminates with a steaming hot stir-fry and mouth-numbing sauce, also served with rice.
For a taste of authentic Nakji Bokkum at a great price, go to:
Lee Kang Soon Sil Bi Jib
Jong-gak Station, Line 1, Exit 1
Take the 3rd right and you will see Lee Kang Soon on your right-hand side.
Spicy Braised Beef Short Beef Ribs
I was highly impressed with this succulent, tender meat that literally ‘fell off the bone’ and I could sense that there was a considerable amount of preparation taken into fusing the ingredients together. The beef ribs are marinated in a unique sauce comprising of sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, dried dates, onions, garlic, ginger and a generous helping of the aforementioned red chili flakes (adding ‘fire’ to an otherwise mild dish). This is by far one of the finest meals I have had in Korea and although I was pushed to the limit of my pain threshold, I was left craving for more once the heavy breathing had stopped!
Stop by at: Jip Shin Maeun Kal-bi Jjim
Hyehwa Station, Line No.4, Exit No.4
Come out of the exit and keep walking down the Family Mart lane. You will see the CGV Movie Theater on your left: it is just past CGV on the right.
Spicy Chicken Feet
Or as the locals say, “Burn your butt of chicken feet”! This dish is quite literally chicken feet cooked in a fiercely hot sauce, consisting of the traditional red chili paste and pepper flakes, soya sauce, garlic, ginger, sugar, black pepper and of course, more sliced red chili peppers! Of all of the dishes mentioned so far, this will be the one that knocks your socks off. The blended flavors of the various ingredients used will initially put a large smile on your face; then, as the heat kicks in, you will be saying “This isn’t too bad at all”, quickly followed by “MORE WATER PLEASE!”.
Be sure to get in early to avoid large lines at:
Hansin Chicken Feet
Sinnonhyeon Station, Line No.9, Exit 3
Take your second right and you will see a large red ‘Hansin’ sign ahead of you on the left hand side.
Rice Cake in Hot Sauce
As the title suggests, the main ingredients for this dish are long strips of rice cake surrounded by a very spicy sauce, made with (as you have come to expect) the trusted red chili pepper! The rice cakes are blended together with carrots, fish cakes, cabbage and even sausages, complimenting each other in a surprisingly pleasant way. What’s more, there are variants of this meal that also include noodles and boiled eggs. Ddukbokki (using the Korean name) will be sure to leave you happily sated as you fish for the last pieces of rice cake that are drenched in this fire breathing sauce.
Directions to Sindang Ddukbokki Town:
Sindang Station, Lines 6 and 2, Exit 7
Walk out of Exit 7 and take your second right. You will immediately see a whole row of Ddukbokki restaurants on your left hand side.
I arrived in South Korea ready for the chili-eating challenge and I can honestly say that, although I was defeated, I consider this a never-ending battle that will be pursued and enjoyed. For those of you with a thirst for culinary adventure in Korea, this is a great way to start your journey.