Korean foods for the adventurous
This e-mail comes from Etienne. He’s a guy from France who is asking me a pretty interesting question about Korean food.
Dear Seoul Searcher,
Is there any kind of strange Korean food that you can recommend to me? I’ve asked many Koreans to tell me about Korean food but they always take me to eat barbecue and bibbimbap. I am adventurous, and I want to eat some food that is different. I can handle kimchi with no problem even though my Korean friends tell me that it has a taste too strong for foreigners. I want to know if there is some kind of food that most non-Koreans don’t like that I can try.
This is actually a great question that I’ll be happy to answer. I’ll also be giving my own opinions on each food I list here. In actuality, most of the foods I can think of that people say that foreigners probably wouldn’t like are either really spicy or made of fish. I’ve found that these usually aren’t so bad. I guess there’s this notion that non-Koreans must eat hamburgers and fries all the time or something. Anyway, I’ll give you my top 5 for adventurous foods, and you can try them at your own risk. I also have to make it quite clear that I can eat practically anything, so if I don’t like it, that means it’s really BAAAAAD!
1. Cheonguk Jang.
What it is: A soup made from fermented soy beans.
Why people think foreigners don’t like it: It has a very strong smell that some would describe as “rotten”
Seoul Searcher’s opinion: I love it, particularly when it is made well, and there is lots of rice on hand. I hated it at first, but after living in Japan and getting acclimated to natto (fermented soybeans eaten as a side dish), I came to like cheonguk jang.
It helps if it is spicy or salty, but if it is your first time eating it, well, good luck.
I really like it..
What it is: No, it’s not a chocolate double fudge sundae, it’s blood sausage and internal organs.
Why people think foreigners don’t like it: It’s blood and guts, literally!
Seoul Searcher’s opinion: Well, it’s not overly delicious, but it isn’t really all that bad either. It’s basically a sausage made of blood and other discarded parts of a cow. Sometimes you can also get blood cake, which is a block of congealed blood in soup, but mostly it comes in sausage form. When you add salt to it and eat it it’s not so bad, but I don’t really have cravings for sundae really. It’s like, a food I’ll eat, but I won’t go out of my way to get it.
What it is: Silk Worm Pupae
Why people think foreigners don’t like it: It made of bugs, and it looks like bugs.
Here, just watch this video. Here you can see two non Koreans eating it, and clearly they don’t like it. (Warning, profanity)
Seoul Searcher’s opinion: Well, I don’t really hate it, but like sundae, I’m not going to go out of my way to go eat it. It doesn’t taste horrible. Since the worms are dead, I feel less bad about eating them than I would if they were alive. I can’t really see why the guy in the video can’t even hold it in his mouth for more than three seconds.
It’s really not that bad.
What it is: Grilled pig intestines.
Why people think foreigners don’t like it: Because they aren’t aware that other societies actually do make use of intestines, even western ones. I actually haven’t met a single person that doesn’t like it though.
Seoul Searcher’s opinion: It’s actually really good! I’ve also eaten chitterlings, popular in the American South. Gopchang is usually eaten in a manner similar to samgyupsal and bulgogi, that is, you sit around an open flame with your friends, and cook it up, dip it in several sauces, wrap it in vegetables, and eat it while drinking alcohol.
What it is: Fermented raw stingray
Why people think foreigners don’t like it: It’s raw, it’s not a traditional fish, and … it has a strong taste.
Seoul Searcher’s opinion: Let me tell you a story. Once, during a wedding, I went up to the buffet and noticed that there was what appeared to be raw fish. Since I love raw fish, I took a lot. When I went back to the table to feast on it, I put one piece in my mouth and immediately felt as if something was wrong. Really wrong. How can I describe it? Open a bottle of windex and take a sip. That’s pretty much what it tasted like to me.
Now, I respect that there are people who like it, but I do not, and I don’t think I ever will. The fermenting process makes it such that the rotten flesh tastes like ammonia. Ammonia can be found in urine and cleaning products, so our bodies have developed a gag reflex to it, because we are not meant to eat ammonia.
There are plenty of Koreans who don’t like it, so if you want to really impress people and show off, eat it and like eating it. Good luck to you.