As sweet as honey

Honey or no honey?

This question does not only concern vegans in Korea.
But for vegans, this subject is particularly confusing.

The question of what is honey and what is not, is material for a multi-layered discourse.

To begin with, the Korean term kkul 꿀 basically means honey. 🍯 But not everything that is called ‘kkul‘ actually contains honey. Such is the case for many fruits which are sold as ‘honey apple’ 🍏 (kkul sagwa 꿀사과) or ‘honey strawberries’ 🍓 (kkul ttalgi 꿀딸기). There exist even ‘honey chestnuts’ 🌰 (kkul bam 꿀밤) or ‘honey sweet potatoes’
🍠 (kkul goguma 꿀고구마), which are sweeter than normal! The word is simply added by producers or vendors to emphasize their superior, honey-like taste. In other words, kkul” functions like a quality label.

Korean honey melon (chamoe 참외) with stickers designating them to be as sweet as “honey” (kkul 꿀).

Next is the phenomenon that some Korean food items are equipped with the word ‘honey’ simple because they resemble it. Common examples are filled 🥞pancakes (hotteok 호떡) as well as 🍡rice cakes with syrup filling (kkul tteok 꿀떡). In making these, the combination of (brown) sugar, cinnamon / sesame and heat results in a liquid which is golden in color and sweet – reminiscent of honey. Historically, honey has been a precious ingredient in Korea and accordingly, its name is used to add value to foods, even though they may not actually contain it. This applies also to dishes such as Korean confectionery gangjeong (강정) and yugwa (유과) as well as toppings or dipping sauces, which use traditional rice syrup (jocheong 조청), oligosaccharide syrup (oligodang 올리고당), glucose-fructose syrup (aeksang-gwa dang 액상과당) or corn syrup (mulyeot 물엿) as the sweetening ingredient. Sometimes people (proudly) proclaim that their products contain ‘honey’, but after multiple inquiries or checking the ingredient list, it turns out that merely honey-like substances such as those above have been used in the manufacturing process.** Once again, ‘honey’ is a tag suggesting food quality in Korea.

Apart from this, Korean honey – especially honey from cheaper brands – is accused of not being derived from flowers. This issue is widely known and has been criticized for years, yet it is a common practice among industrial honey producers. Basically, industrially raised honey bees are (partially) fed with a substitute (a kind of sugar syrup) instead of flying about in search of flowers. Accordingly, the honey these bees produce does not originate from the nectar gathered from plants. 🐝🚫🌻 Honey which has been produced in a natural but more strenuous process, is necessarily more expensive. 💲 How do you know what kind of honey is used? Check the ingredient list on the food label! The Korean word for this industrially produced honey is 사양(벌)꿀 (sayang (beol)kkul), while the naturally produced honey is commonly referred to as 천연(벌)꿀 (cheonyeon beolkkul).

Yet, it is difficult to judge the quality of honey based solely on its label or price, as scandals and chemical analyses suggest. Since production methods and the quality of common Korean honey are strongly debatable, even some non-vegans abstain from mass-manufactured honey. *

In processed foods, items are particularly prized when ‘real honey’ is one of their ingredients. Due to the high cost of pure honey, however, oftentimes the final product contains only a small portion of honey. Other sweeteners and aroma are largely in charge of imitating the taste of honey. In particular, confectionery such as dagwa (다과) and yakgwa (약과) as well as sweet Korean teas (e.g. jujube tea 대추차, yuja tea 유자차, ginseng tea 인삼차) are traditionally prepared with honey because of its ascribed health benefits. But nowadays you may find that they contain honey only in low quantities or none at all. In short, regardless of advertising strategies, honey is generally not used in large amounts because it is expensive.

Eventually, the word ‘honeyed’ seems appropriate in describing foods which exhibit characteristics similar to honey. It is often ambiguous, whether it refers to real honey or an alternative. The origin being either animal-labor or processed plant materials is vague for the most part. So how can you tell whether something contains honey? In case checking the label is not an option, asking the cook, staff or vendor directly may be. If this is too difficult because of language barriers, or the resulting answer does not seem trustworthy, avoiding things labeled as ‘honeyed’ entirely appears to be the safest way.

Additional notes:

*) Concerned consumers purchase honey only from trusted (private) sources. Instances of scandals, reports of angry customers etc. are numerous online. Keyword search for “fake honey” (gajja kkul 가짜 꿀) in Korean.

**) Rather than language difficulty, I’m starting to believe that this is due to general lack of knowledge. Similarly, I occasionally encounter people who claim that their products do not contain any sugar. Upon asking why they taste sweet, the response is that they use honey or some kind of syrup. No sugar? Right…

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Nourish body and soul: Bindaeddeok 빈대떡

The weather is rainy. 🌧
It is simply cold outside.🍃
Or maybe you have a hangover from drinking too much…💥

Whatever be the case – if you have a craving for something warm, greasy, nourishing and hearty, then how about bindaeddeok (빈대떡)? 😉

Stacks of bindaeddeok at Gwangjang Market (광장시장)

This traditional Korean food is a pancake almost entirely made from mung beans, of which the most basic variant is originallyvegan! Basically, skinned mung beans are ground into a smooth batter, which is then fried in oil to create thick, savory pancakes. The batter normally does not need additional flour or eggs for stabilizing, so this dish is not only vegan but also gluten free. Nevertheless, the final pancakes are very filling, contain a mass of protein and are quite the indulgence! 🤤

In general, one can distinguish between two varieties: Plain pancakes vs. pancakes with chunky “fillings”. In the first version, the plain batter is used to make smooth, golden-colored pancakes. The latter contains chunks of additional ingredients, such as pieces of vegetables (e.g. bean sprouts, scallops, carrots) but occasionally also 🐟kimchi, 🦐seafood or 🥩meat. Since seafood and meat fillings normally cost extra, it is rather easy to confirm that your serving is ordered the way you prefer it! Needless to say, the flavor of the final dish changes along with the additional ingredients, and so does the texture shift from smooth and slightly grainy towards chunky and moist!

Similar to other Korean savory pancakes, bindaeddeok are served together with a complimentary sauce. When eating bindaeddeok, pieces of the pancake are dipped into the sauce (typically soy sauce with extra spices) and thus seasoned according to one’s personal preference.

Plain bindaeddeok at North Korean restaurant “Neungra Babsang” (능라밥상)

Besides the taste, there exist slight variations also in terms of name and appearance. For instance, an alternative name for bindaeddeok is nokdu jeon (녹두전 绿豆煎 – literally green bean pancake). In North Korea, on the other hand, these pancakes are called nokdu jijim (녹두지짐).

Also, sizes range from as big as plate-filling to smaller, bite-sized pancakes. The North Korean version, in particular, is prepared with a plain batter, which is occasionally topped with 🌶vegetables or a piece of 🐷pork for garnish.

After all, I warmly recommend clarifying prior to ordering what kind of topping or ‘filling’ will be used! You can easily eliminate meat, fish and seafood by asking something like this: “Hoksi gogi, saengseon ina haemul neo-eu-seoyo? 혹시 고기, 생선이나 해물 넣으세요? Are you putting meat, fish or seafood in this?” If the answer is no (“aniyo! 아니요!”), there should be no shocking surprise when food is served. 😉 However, in case you are allergic or follow strict rules, be aware that your food may nevertheless be cooked on the same grill as food that is not vegan, vegetarian, halal or kosher.

Where to find:
There are restaurants which specialize in such pancakes – these are normally identical with pubs serving traditional Korean alcohol (hanguk suljip 한국술집). 🍶🥞 In fact, bindaeddeok is commonly enjoyed in combination with alcohol, especially Korean rice wine (makgeolli 막걸리) and pancakes make a classic couple in Korean food culture.

Besides that, bindaeddeok are also sold outdoors at food stalls (preferably near subway stations or busy streets) or on traditional markets. At such locations, you can either eat one on the spot like typical Korean street food, or you can buy it for take-away. 🥡 In my opinion, however, they taste best, when they are still hot and crispy outside, while the inside is soft and juicy! 🤤

Overall, these pancakes are a rich and indulgent food item that is (at least in Korean minds) emotionally linked with social gatherings. In addition to that, they provide fuel to help you regain your strength, when you feel weak physically. Hence, I list bindaeddeok as one of my personal comfort foods in Korean cuisine. 💚🍴

What is your favorite comfort food? ☕️🌧 Anything other than chocolate?! 🍫
Or do you have a specific craving, when you have a hangover? 🤪

Seasonal treat: Spring greens


🐦Birds are singing.🕊
🌸Flowers are blooming.🌼
🦋Insects are buzzing around.🐝
🌱New leaves are sprouting on plants.🌿

It’s basically screaming in your face:
🌤 SPRING IS HERE!!!! 🌷

How else can you tell?
🤤Fresh spring greens (bom namul 봄나물) are back!!💚

Dishes made from tofu and spring greens (pictured: dol namul, dureup, bangpung namul, dallae)

Traditional Korean food is characterized by turning seasonal and local ingredients into diverse healthy and flavorful dishes. In particular, the abundance of side dishes consisting mainly of 🥦vegetables, 🍄mushrooms and 🌿wild herbs is a wonderful aspect for vegans, vegetarians and vegetable-lovers! 🤤💚🥕 And now, as spring greens are in season, these are used to upgrade dishes with the special flavor of spring.🌱 Accordingly, you will notice how additional fresh greens are currently offered in grocery stores, on traditional markets, and in restaurants.

There exists quite a diversity of edible greens native to the Korean peninsula. Among the common ones, you will find:

  • ssuk (쑥) – the young leaves of Korean mugwort (Artemisia princeps) are harvested before the plant develops tough and stringy leaves. Its aroma is so popular that it is frequently added to rice cakes, bakery and beverages (e.g. tea or ssuk latte 쑥라떼) all year round
  • chwi namul (취나물) – various species from the family Asteraceae, e.g. 참취 (Aster scaber), 곰취 (Ligularia fischeri), 미역취 (Solidago japonica)
  • cham namul (참나물) – Pimpinella brachycarpa
    bangpung namul (방풍나물) – edible leaves of a plant which belongs to the same botanical family as carrot, parsnip and parsley
  • sebal namul (세발나물) – the fine thread-like leaves of this plant are edible raw as well as briefly blanched.
  • dol namul (돌나물 石上菜) – Sedum samentosum
  • dureup (두릅) – newly sprouted leaves of the tree Aralia elata, which are edible after cooking and thus softening the shoot’s stings.
  • dallae (달래) – Allium monanthum is a kind of small spring onion
  • sseumbagwi (씀바귀) – roots from a plant scientifically called Ixeridium dentatum. As the name implies, these roots are quite bitter and are reminiscent of dandelion.

Prices for these greens vary by type, but they are generally quite affordable – often decisively cheaper than common vegetables from Western cuisines such as spinach, lettuce or cabbage! Normally you can buy a package (supermarket) or a ‘shovel full of greens’ (traditional market) for something between 1000 KRW and 3000 KRW.

Side dishes made from sebal namul, sseumbagwi and dol namul

If you wonder how these are eaten, recipes for spring greens are innumerable! In general, most of them can be turned into simple vegetable side dishes by blanching them in lightly salted water and then seasoning them according to personal liking. In addition to that, some can be eaten raw in combination with a flavorful dressing – sebal namul and dol namul for instance. Other ideas are to add them to stews, make savory pancakes or use them as a topping in a bowl of mixed rice (Bibimbab 비빔밥).

During the rest of the year, you may encounter some of these greens in dried form as well. However, the texture, flavor and aroma differ decisively from the taste of the fresh plant. So don’t miss out on this opportunity and enjoy this spring treat as long as fresh greens are available over the next few weeks!

Happy experimenting and exploring the various flavors of these local vegetables! 😊

Jelly in secret: Hidden gelatin

Fact #1:
Gelatin is a gelling agent.

Fact #2:
Gelatin is made from 🐖pork. Or some other kind of animal remains.

Vegans, vegetarians, pescetarians, Muslims, Jews and many more know about fact #2.

But how come many still do not know where gelatin is from?

And how is it that the use of gelatin is so widespread in the food industry?

It has become so common, that it is added to foods you wouldn’t expect to find it in.

Assuming that jello and regular jelly treats are familiar foods made with gelatin, I keep thinking it is not worth mentioning it. But who knows? Personally, I had never thought about gelatin being added to something like marshmallows – until a friend mentioned it and I eventually checked the label. 😰

Ever since, reading labels has been very… interesting… 🤔

In order to share some more facts with you, let me tell you that many yogurts in the US
🇺🇸 contain gelatin as well. This seems very bizarre to me, because in Germany🇩🇪 and other European countries, there is no need for yogurt to have gelatin added to them. It is generally quite easy to find plain yogurt that is 100% milk fermented with various lacto-bacteria. Even when it’s not labeled specifically Greek yogurt, it is creamy enough for you to spoon it up. 🥄

In South Korea🇰🇷, however, the situation is different again. Not only is it difficult to find plain yogurt which has not been sweetened. (Btw, I’m not talking about ‘drinking yogurt’ such as Yakult here.) But similar to my experience in the US, most store-bought yogurts contain gelatin.

🤯
Mind-blowing.
Why? 😱
Why does it need gelatin??? 😵
Big question mark.

So far, I could identify only two brands which neither contain gelatin nor additional sweeteners: Sangha Mokjang‘s Organic Plain Yogurt and Namyang‘s Milk100 Yogurt.

Unfortunately, not every supermarket or convenience store carries these yogurts. On top of that, yogurts are somewhat expensive💲 in Korea – just like many dairy products in general. Because of that, I tend to make yogurt myself.*

Beside yogurt, there are other foods which contain gelatin. I understand that certain dishes, desserts in particular, require a gelling agent for texture. Although there are various gelling agents – also of plant origin -, each gelling agent exhibits certain characteristics and in certain cases, gelatin happens to be the preferred choice.

Regarding my experience in Korea and for reasons unknown to me, the following foods occasionally contain gelatin:

  • yogurt 요구르트
  • pudding 푸딩
  • mousse cakes 무스케이크
  • regular fruit jello? 브띠첼? (need to confirm this one still)

As there may be exceptions, you can always check the label or ask someone. In a café or at a bakery, you could do so for example by asking like this:

Hoksi jelatin deureogadnayo? “혹시 젤라틴 들어갔나요?” Does this contain gelatin, by any chance?

In conclusion, things are not always what they seem. Gelatin and other animal derived ingredients may be invisible and familiar foods tend to be different in other cultures. Thus, I highly recommend learning Korean language in order to avoid misunderstandings. 🗣

*) This just needs a little bit of preparatory time 🕖, planning ahead📝 and keenness to experiment. 🤓 (It will not work if you have a sudden craving for yogurt or are impatient.) Other than that, it’s actually pretty simple and doesn’t require more than fresh milk, a yogurt starter culture and a source of constant warmth, such as a radiator or the traditional Korean floor heating (ondol 온돌).

Vegan jelly with fishy smell: Gonyak 곤약

Vegan sushi (chobab 초밥) made with thin slices of gonyak.

Now, what is this? 😶
You might wonder.

This is a jelly produced from the root of a plant scientifically called Amorphophallus konjac, the Korean name for it is gonyak (곤약).

It smells a bit fishy, the texture is chewy, squeaky, almost rubber-like… maybe close to squid…🦑 But, this is no regular sushi topping! 🍣

It is perhaps more common in Japanese foods, where it is referred to as konnyaku (菎蒻). In Korea, I’ve seen it added to stews or stir-fries, because it can absorb the flavor of the surrounding sauce pretty well. It can also be used as a thickener in desserts or as low-calorie, low-carb replacement for noodles. It’s totally vegan, gluten free and simply fun to eat. 😆 *squeak*

If you are curious to try this ingredient during your cooking adventures, simply look for it in your local supermarket! It is sold in various shapes, ranging from a block of jelly to fine noodles! 🍲

Another fun fact:
In some Asian countries, they produce fruit jellies which are made using gonyak instead of gelatin as a thickener. Simply check the ingredient list on the packaging – if you find the words “곤약” or “gelling agent E425”, it refers to gonyak. 📃 Gelatin on the other hand is labeled as “젤라틴” or “E441”.

Until I learned about gonyak, I was having trouble finding a decent alternative to the common gelatin jelly. I tried numerous jelly variations (using agar-agar, pectin, carageenan, potato starch etc. as gelling agents) but the texture was simply lacking… They were either too soft, too watery or melted too quickly. 😞 Gonyak, though, creates an even more stable jelly-consistency while remaining juicy nevertheless.😋

[Now I wonder what gummiebears made from gonyak would be like! 😏]

Ambassador of K-food: Kimchi 김치

Outside Korea, kimchi is perhaps the best known dish of Korean food and it is gaining popularity in the Western world surfing the wave of #healthfood.

Various types of kimchi sold in a grocery store.

But did you know that in Korea, kimchi is most of the times not vegan or vegetarian?
Among the many ingredients of kimchi, there is usually something called jeot (젓) / jeotgal (젓갈) – fermented 🐟fish sauce or fermented tiny 🦐shrimp, occasionally other kinds of 🦀seafood. Unless you carefully examine kimchi and manage to identify tiny black dots as the eyes of tiny shrimp, this key ingredient remains hidden most of the time. 👀

Beside the distinct savory flavor (#umami #감칠맛), which many Koreans appreciate in their food, jeotgal adds proteins and minerals to the vegetable dish. While its nutritional value certainly contributes to kimchi being labelled as a super food nowadays, this is certainly not the only reason why kimchi is traditionally served with every meal and appreciated for its positive effect on the health of your digestive system.

There are countless varieties of kimchi, differing not only by the vegetable starring as the main feature of this side dish, e.g. cabbage, cucumber and radish. Basically, kimchi can be produced from all kinds of vegetables by salting, then seasoning and lastly fermenting them. Overall, there are numerous methods, types of kimchi as well as ingredients constituting the sauce. On top of that, each family possesses their own recipe for making kimchi. The diversity of kimchi is accordingly sheer endless.

As a rule of thumb:
Regular kimchi contains jeotgal.
There are only a few classic varieties which it is normally not added to: those of the ‘water kimchi’ type (mul kimchi 물김치), in which the vegetables are literally swimming in the pickling brine, as well as the white version of napa cabbage kimchi (baek kimchi 백김치). However, most frequently served as complimentary side dishes are the napa cabbage kimchi (baechu kimchi 배추김치) or kimchi made from cubes of radish (ggakdugi 깍두기). Occasionally, also these are made without jeotgal, or they may contain it in such small amounts, that a sensitive nose can hardly discern its fishy traces.

Two kinds of fish sauce sold in plastic bottles in a supermarket.

Whenever I asked restaurant staff to confirm whether they put jeotgal into their kimchi, the answer was either yes or they didn’t know. I always wondered whether that’s because they are afraid of giving away their secret recipe or because really nobody except for the old lady working in the kitchen who has produced kimchi for the entire family all her life really knows! 🙃

Anyways. If you want to be 100% sure about what you’re eating, bear in mind that kimchi is most likely not vegan.

Bread is not bread

🥖Bread is the staple food of the Western world. It is the most simple meal. Available anywhere and everywhere. Versatile and diverse. Bread can be sweet, savory, whole, sliced, toasted, sandwiched, baked into puddings, mushed into dumplings (#Semmelknödel), the crispy shell of fried chicken or cutlets, the crumbs of Hansel and Gretel’s trail before they get lost in the woods… (I shall stop here.) Yet, bread can be powerful on its own. Good bread does not need any toppings, no butter, jam or other enhancements. It is flavorful, nourishing and a pleasure to eat on its own, while consisting of only a few ingredients:
Flour, water, salt and the right baking method.

Having grown up in 🇩🇪Germany, where breads such as sourdough bread, whole grain bread, rye bread, have a long tradition, I think I can claim that I know what bread is.

But in 🇰🇷Korea, bread (bbang 빵) is not bread. 🥖=/= 🥖

🍞 Bread is no entire meal.
Bread is a snack.
Although they have eaten bready foods, such as pizza or bread, some Koreans insist that they haven’t had any food (bab 밥) during the entire day unless they have eaten rice (bab 밥).* 🤯

Various types of croissants (e.g. green tea croissant and red velvet) at a Korean bakery.

Korean bakery products often
👀look beautiful,
👃smell irresistible and
👅taste addictive.

But I wouldn’t call them “bread”. Maybe 🍰cake fits better. Or 🥐pastry. Because their bakery goods are almost always sweet.🍩 Even the plain toast, pizza breads and garlic bread contain added sugar. 😵

Don’t get me wrong – I am amazed by contemporary Korean baking! Not just is there cake aka “bread” flavored with curious local ingredients such as 🍵green tea (💚matcha), 🍠sweet potato or 🎃sweet pumpkin. Even the average modern bakery offers cakes and pastries which are skillfully crafted and aesthetically pleasing – regular German cakes and pastries appear rough and unrefined by comparison! 🤩 Modern Korean desserts, overall, are colorful, look extravagant and appear mouth-watering to anyone with a sweet tooth. 🤤

Anyways, my point is: “Korean bread” is not bread, it’s more like dessert.

Beside the sweetness, there is another major difference regarding the ingredients of bread: That is, even the plain toast types of bread contain butter, 🥚egg or other 🥛dairy products. So in case you follow a vegan diet, be aware that in most of the cases, bread or other bakery products at a regular bakery or cafe are not vegan. On top of that, I just recently found out that 🐖lard or shortening is oftentimes added to regular bakery (e.g. toast, cookies), as well… 😱

In bakeries, cafes, convenience stores or food stalls, finding a 🥪sandwich or a 🥗salad that doesn’t contain 🐖ham, 🥚mayonnaise, 🍳egg or 🧀cheese will be difficult! Don’t ask me why one of the basic ingredients in every Korean sandwiches seems to be ham… 😵 Unfortunately, asking for custom-made orders is possible only in rare cases, since most of the products are pre-made. 😔 By the way, even low quality 🧀cheeses available in Korea may contain 🐖pig lard, which means that many sandwiches, salads and even 🍕pizzas cannot be considered to be 100% vegan, vegetarian, kosher or halal…

Last but not least, another huge difference between Korean and Western bread culture is the time of bread. 🕗 If you walk into a Korean bakery in the morning hoping to get freshly baked bread for breakfast, chances are that you do not find it. Instead, there will presumably be leftovers from the previous day at a cheaper price, as well as types of fried dough, such as 🍩donuts and croquettes. I understand that preparing and baking bread takes considerable time and, unlike Western countries, many South Korean bakeries schedule their baked goods to be ready by noon or later in the afternoon. 🕜 Just be aware of this as you plan your day. And if you need bread for breakfast, maybe buying it in advance is an idea. 😉

After all, it seems that regular Western-style food is not what you may be used from your home country. Whatever reasons you may have – religious, health-wise, ethical, etc. – if it is important for you to avoid consuming certain things, then I recommend checking the labels (which hopefully exist) of each product individually.

Alternatively, look out for all vegan bakeries or vegan cafes, of which a few exist in Seoul. I will gradually post and share their location with you as I visit them. In the meantime, check out this Instagram page, where reviews will be uploaded first and at regular intervals.

*) I wonder whether people say this as a joke because of the pun, or whether they actually believe in this “logic”… 😶❓

Alcohol and food

Black beer served with cinnamon on the rim alongside cheese pizza inside a Western-style pub.

In Korea, drinking plays an important social role.🍻 When meeting people in the evening, people often enjoy their food alongside alcoholic drinks. Koreans are respectful if you do not drink alcohol – but it will definitely influence the scope of your social activities. (Actually, people will initially expect you to not be fond of drinking at all, since you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.)

In terms with this, anju (안주) are a characteristic trait of Korean culture. This is a category of foods which are specifically made to accompany alcohol. They range from simple peanuts and fried potatoes to more complex dishes such as savory pancakes, raw fish or all kinds of meat barbecues.

There are also classical combinations of specific types of drinks with certain dishes. For example:

  • you will find 🍴Western-style foods such as 🍗fried chicken, 🍟french fries, 🍕pizza or sausages on the menu of bars that serve 🍺beer (maekju 맥주).
  • Grilled 🥩meat or 🐟fish are often paired with Korean 🍶soju (소주).
  • 🥢Traditional food served with 🥛Korean rice wine (makgeolli 막걸리) are savory pancakes, of which many variations (vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, you name it!) exist. Especially on a rainy day, Koreans express a craving for these pancakes.

What can you eat when going out? Be aware that not every bar or Korean pub (suljip 술집) offers a dish that is vegan, vegetarian, halal or kosher. There are a number of options, however, depending on the kind of location you go to. Here are some ideas:

Cheese platter in a Western-style pub
  • 🍺 Western style pubs aka Hof (호프): 🥜peanuts (땅콩), 🥨salted pretzels, 🍿Korean popcorn or other puffed grains (bbeongtwigi 뻥튀기), 🍟fried potatoes (gamja twigim 감자튀김), 🥗salad (샐러드), 🍕pizza (피자), 🧀cheese (치즈)
  • 🍶 Barbecues for beef or pork: 🥚egg stew (gyeran jjim 계란찜), 🍳rolled omelette (gyeran mari 계란말이; sometimes with 🥓ham or sausage), 🍜 mixed buckwheat noodles (bibim naengmyeon 비빔냉면; often served with 🥚egg and 🐄beef broth)
  • 🥛 Korean pubs with traditional food: 🥔potato pancake (gamja jeon 감자전), acorn jelly salad (dotori muk muchim 도토리묵 무침), leek 🥞pancake (pa jeon 파전), chive 🥞pancake (buchu jeon 부추전), mung bean 🥞pancake (bindaeddeok 빈대떡 / nokdujeon 녹두전 绿豆煎), tofu with kimchi (dubu kimchi 두부김치 – kimchi normally contains 🐟fish sauce)
Outdoor food stall with various savory pancakes (buchimgae 부침개 / jeon 전).

Be aware that recipes vary by family and each place will have their own version of the respective dish. You might want to confirm prior to ordering, whether any 🥩meat, 🐟fish or 🐚seafood goes into your serving.

Additionally, especially in the case of eating from an outdoor food stall, dishes may be prepared on the same grill. Just thought I’d mention this in case of allergies or personal preferences. After all, it is up to you to decide whether you eat under these conditions or not. Anyways, hope you enjoy your night out! Cheers! 🍾😊

Sweet or snack: Tteok 떡

They are nutritious and originally vegan:
Korean rice cakes (tteok orddeok 떡)

Traditionally, they were consumed as sweet treats on holidays or special occasions. But nowadays, they are quite abundant in Korea – throughout the year and basically anywhere – in innumerable variations! Although the basic ingredient is normally rice, they come in all kinds of shapes and colors, with fillings, toppings, varying textures, steamed, pounded, fermented etc…

Rice cakes of the “songpyeon” (송편) variety, filled with sesame and sugar.

Korean food is often colorful and so are these rice cakes! 🌈 Ideally, they are dyed naturally by adding flavorful ingredients, such as

❤️red = red rice (honggukmi 홍국미)
🧡yell0w = sweet pumpkin (danhobak 단호박)
💚green with speckles = mugwort (ssuk 쑥)
💜purple = purple sweet potato (jeok goguma 적고구마)
💜purple with speckles = black rice (heungmi 흑미)
💕pink = cactus fruit (baeknyeoncho 백년초)

Fresh yeongyang ddeok (영양떡) left outside to cool down before being cut and wrapped individually.

There exist rice cakes in cuisines of various Asian countries – each exhibiting local characteristics. Regarding Korea, here is a rough overview listing the most common criteria to demonstrate the diversity of tteok / ddeok:

  • Type of main starch: short grain rice (mepssal 멥쌀), glutinous short grain rice (chapssal 찹쌀)
  • Additions to dough: mugwort (ssuk 쑥), red / black whole grain rice (honggukmi 홍국미 / heungmi 흑미), pumpkin, sweet potato
  • Filling: sugar with sesame seeds, red bean paste (pat anggeum 팥앙금), bean paste (kong anggeum 콩앙금); occasionally nuts or dried fruit are added
  • Topping: sesame seeds, nuts, gingko seeds, dried fruit, chestnuts, whole beans
  • Coating: roasted soy bean powder (kong garu 콩가루), mashed beans (kong gomul 콩고물), [honeyed] syrup with sesame seeds, jujube (daechu 대추), coconut or spongecake crumbs (kastera 카스테라)
  • Shape: hand-shaped, ball-shaped, cut into blocks, pressed into molds
  • Method of preparation: pounding steamed rice (➡️dense, chewy texture), sifting rice powder and then steaming it (➡️fluffy, powdery texture), fermenting rice batter and then steaming it (➡️slightly tart flavor, bubbles in dough)
Mugwort tteok filled with red bean paste and covered in roasted soy bean powder
콩고물쑥떡

In general, rice cakes will not taste as sweet as our contemporary Western desserts. Modern versions and especially the ones with (red) bean filling, however, can turn them into rather filling, rich and nutritious sugar bombs. 😋 If the filling or topping of the rice cake contains nuts beside beans, this adds further sources of energy! Curiously enough, there exists a modern kind of tteok that is coated in crumbs of sponge cake – this is an exception to the otherwise vegan food item. Also, there are varieties, which are not sweetened at all. You will find these plain rice cakes in Korean dishes such as tteok-bokki (떡볶이) or in the soup tteokguk (떡국). But more on this later, in a future post.

Where to find:
Normally, rice cakes can be found as a to-go snack packaged into plastic foil basically everywhere – in convenience stores, on markets, on the street, in the subway and of course at “rice cake houses” (tteok jip 떡집/ tteok bang 떡방), where they are produced on location. What’s better than enjoying fresh rice cakes, as long as they are still warm, soft and chewy? 😋

In Seoul, prices for the dessert/snack types of tteok lie between 2000 and 3000 KRW per package, but this varies by regional location, brand and quality of ingredients.

Plain white ddeok which has been roasted and garnished with honey, bean powder and almonds.

Other than this, you may find rice cakes served for dessert in traditional Korean restaurants (the fancier type of restaurant!), in traditional tea houses (jeontong chatjip 전통 찻집) or at tteok cafes, which are nowadays increasing in Seoul. At such locations, rice cakes are occasionally served roasted and garnished with a drizzle of honey, condensed milk or a kind of syrup along with other toppings. You may also see them as the topping in other desserts such as bingsu (빙수), which is a shaved ice dessert.

Apart from this, please note that rice cakes taste best the day they are produced! In case you happen to buy fresh rice cakes in bulk (which is often cheaper, especially at traditional markets), be aware of the following facts:

  • If you leave them at room temperature, they might spoil until the next day.
  • If you put them into the fridge, they will harden and require heat to soften again.
  • If you decide to store them, it’s best to freeze them. Let them thaw slowly at room temperature, when you want to eat them. Just decide when you want to eat them and take them out of the freezer a few hours in advance.
  • If you want to soften hardened rice cakes quickly, you could do so using a microwave (❗️softens unevenly, so tteok needs to be turned frequently) or roasting them on a dry pan (❗️burns and melts suddenly!). Steaming them is another option. [Otherwise, I recommend letting them thaw naturally.]

Snack all over the place: Kimbab 김밥

Kimbab with vegetarian filling: omelette, cream cheese, candied nuts, cucumber, carrot, thistle root (u-eong 우엉), pickled radish.

Everyone knows Japanese 🍣sushi, right?

But did you know about the Korean equivalent Kimbab (김밥)? It’s basically rice (bab 밥) rolled up in a sheet of seaweed (gim 김), quite similar to the Japanese maki sushi. Only it has WAY MORE fillings!!!🤩 💕
Another difference is, that you don’t need to dip the pieces into a sauce, because the fillings are already seasoned. 

In Korea, Kimbab is consumed as a snack, small meal or as a starter. It can be found sold on the streets or in small restaurants (bunsikjeom 분식점). In those restaurants, you can normally choose among various types of fillings – ranging from Kimchi to fried pork cutlet or 🥩beef plus the standard vegetables!

The basic filling usually includes 🥕carrot, 🥬spinach, pickled radish, 🥒cucumber, 🥚egg, 🥓ham (haem 햄), 🐟fishcake (odeng 오뎅) and 🦀crab meat (gematsal 게맛살).
It is easy to customize your Kimbab order, when it is made on location. According to your preferences, you can ask for specific ingredients to be put into your roll of Kimbab. Here are some ideas to for doing so:

🥕 “김밥에 야채만 넣어주세요.” Please put only vegetables into my Kimbab. 🥒
🥚 “김밥에 야채하고 계란만 넣어주세요.” Please put only vegetables and egg into my Kimbab.🍳
🥓 “햄 빼고 김밥 만들어주세요.” Please make my Kimbab without ham. 🐷
🐟 “오뎅이나 게맛살 빼고 김밥 만들어주세요.” Please make my Kimbab without fishcake or crab meat. 🦀

Whether you get it on the street or in a restaurant, Kimbab is easily available to-go, when it is simply wrapped into aluminum foil. It is an abundant, nutritious, basic food just like the sandwich in the Western world. An ideal meal when in a 🚴‍♂rush, 🧗‍♂outdoors or on a ⛱pick-nick! You can eat it with your fingers, in case 🥢chopsticks are not available. There’s no need to carry an extra sauce container. In other words, it is the number one 🥡take-away meal!
In this regard, it has a completely different standing if you think about the fancy way Japanese sushi is served in the Western world!

Vegan Kimbab with tofu, beetroot, radish, perilla leaf (deulggaetnip 들깻잎), thistle root (u-eong 우엉) and brown rice.