Upon arriving to Korea, I was frequently told that it was a carnivore’s paradise- not the first thing that you want to hear as a vegetarian. I’d just come from Europe, where I’d had a fairly easy dining experience, and I was a bit disheartened from the get-go. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the spectrum of flavors and choice of dishes since establishing myself here. Although it’s only been two months, I think I’ve gotten a taste of what Korea’s all about. Consensus: it’s not for sensitive or picky taste buds.
Korean Side Dishes: No matter what restaurant you go to in Korea, you’ll be presented with an array of side dishes as an appetizer. Typically, the spread will consist of pickled vegetables and various sauces. Be careful, as many of these sauces contain traces of fish.
Kimchi Jeon: Korean flour-based pancake made with kimchi and onion, served with a side of soy sauce.
Red Kiwi: A fruit that I’m accustomed to in a color that I’ve never seen.
Ggaennip (sesame leaves): A green leaf that looks like a nettle (it’s not a nettle). It doesn’t have much taste, but it’s delicious as a wrap for basically anything.
Hotteok: A traditional Korean street food, these patties are essentially pancakes stuffed with sugar and nuts, then fried on a skillet.
Kimbap and Mandu: Kimbap is the Korean version of sushi. If you like seaweed, rice, and pickled vegetables, it’s the best and cheapest meal you’ve ever had ($1 per roll). Mandu is a Korean dumpling dish. Unfortunately, they typically come with beef or seafood, so make sure to request it without -“Go-gi up-shi ju-seyo, Hae-san-mal ju-seyo”.
Bibimbap: A super traditional Korean dish. Basically, you’re given a rice bowl and you fill it with whatever you want.
Persimmon: a gummy, slimy, messy fruit that I’d never heard of before coming to Korea. It exists elsewhere, but is pretty damn juicy in Korea.
Bungeoppang: A fish shaped waffle stuffed with red bean paste. It’s a typical street food in Korea, with 5 fishies costing you about $1.
Candied Strawberries: self-explanatory. Candied strawberries on a stick. I’ve never seen them on Jeju-do, but they were quite popular in Busan.
Rice Cakes: Called tteok (떡) in Korean, this dish comes in literally hundreds of varieties. It’s the traditional sweet in Korea, eaten to celebrate or just as a snack. They’re made from rice flour, then steamed, and sometimes come with nuts and/or dried fruit inside. They aren’t sweet at all; rather, they “cakes” themselves are pretty bland and quite gummy. However, the additional ingredients, like red bean paste, add some subtle sweet notes. Definitely good for people who don’t care for overly-sweet desserts.