The appeal of traditional, local foods is often used by cultural exporters as an introductory stepping stone that entices outsiders into further exploration a new culture, and Hallyu undeniably takes full advantage of this hook. In fact, the success of the historical sageuk Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the Palace) in China can be largely attributed to the universal appeal of food, although that is not to discount the overall great scripting and acting in the series as well.
Outside of the drama realm (how many variations of the midnight street vendor soju-and-street-eats scene have we seen by now?), consumers of K-pop unavoidably also encounter foods — or talk of foods — in nearly every variety show in the form of cooking competitions, prizes and wistful mentions.
As it would be interesting to see which foods exactly appeal the most to international fans looking in, the question that we posed for our writers this week is: Of the many foods you have come across in the Hallyu-verse, which ones — time after time — make your mouth water the most?
Bethany: OMG. FAVORITE ROUNDTABLE YET.
1. Dukbokki (but only when eaten with a hot guy!)
4. Ramyun (even the instant kind!)
5. Does soju count? (but only when consumed with a hot guy around, of course, so I can have a nice piggyback ride home!)
Gaya: I really want to try all that Korean fast food, especially fried chicken. I see idols spruiking all this chicken, and I will tell you, it works; I’ll have whatever Super Junior is having, thanks.
But looking at real food, I’ve always loved Bibimbap — the idea of chucking food into a bowl and mixing it up never fails to appeal to me. Kimbap is also a favourite, as is that drama staple: ramyun. I recently heardabout the wonders of adding plastic cheese to one’s instant ramyun, and I’ve been dying to try it out for a while now. Actually, I think there’s some ramyun in the house…
My number one favourite thing about Korean cuisine, though, isn’t the food: it’s the chopsticks. The metal chopsticks remind me of medical instruments at times, but I find them so interesting and fascinating, especially how they’re used with spoons. It’s something uniquely Korean.
Salima: I once marathoned the drama My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, and as those who’ve watched it can remember, the lead female character was in love with meat (or as she called it, cow). Every single episode featured a scene with mouth watering kogi sizzling on the fire. Whenever I watched that drama my stomach would start growling like crazy. No lie, there were a couple of occasions where I paused the drama, ran out to go buy some Korean beef, and finished the drama with the beef in my mouth. Worth it.
Nabeela: THIS IS GENIUS, especially since I had some good ol’ fashioned Korean food last night!
I absolutely love rice cakes so my favorites are for sure dukbokki and bulgogi. Once my older sister, who’s married to a half korean guy and self taught her genius Korean cuisine, made bulgogi for me and I ate it for dinner, breakfast, and lunch (in that order). I also love me some galbi and kkakdugi (like kimchi but its fermented radish).
And I know its not really Korean food, but I love melon bars. Literally, hands down the most genius thing done to an ice cream bar.
First on my list has to be samgyupsal. Though I’ve been warned that I could put on serious calories after consuming it, I ate the same dish at every single Korean grill shop we went to during our stay in Korea (Kim can attest to that).
Other than that, I also like Ddukbokki, but I haven’t tasted any good ones in Singapore that could beat those that are sold on the streets of Korea.
And Cheese ramyun is just PURE HEAVEN. The cheese just melts in your mouth when you put it in… Wish I could eat it again.
Subi: Things that make my mouth water and things that don’t:
1. Korean BBQ (Kalbi, Bulgogi — the whole 9 nine yards). In the universe that is Korean cuisine, this is without a doubt the highlight. Korean cuisine, like most Asian cuisines, tends to be lighter in terms of servings for meat but when it’s there, it’s simple and yet oh so, unbelievably, mindblowingly — the best orgasm I’ve ever had good. Who knew that the simple combination of soy sauce, garlic, and sugar could give rise to one of the most delicious things on the planet?
2. Chocopie. This may be blasphemous but I can’t stand chocopie. It’s like Hostess cakes had an affair with rhino poo and gave birth to the baby that North Koreans smuggle in by the boatload called chocopie. Ew. Gross. Can’t even talk about it.
3. Yakgwa. Sweets, in general, kill me. I just can never get enough. And yakgwa is definitely a particular delight. Honey, sesame oil, and wheat flour! NOMNOMNOMNOM. I once went through an entire package from H-Mart in 3 days. Go me.
4. Budaejjigae. A certain staff member who I shall not name (but, by all means, attempt to figure out who it is) orders Budaejjigae occultishly. And it drives me crazy. Korean cuisine doesn’t shy away from heavy seasonings and if that’s your thing, then budaejjigae doesn’t disappoint. But if it’s not, then you need to stay away. Far away. Or your nose might fall off.
5. Ramyeon. Some peeps are big fans and it’s not that it’s not yummy or that it tastes awful, it’s just I would never go to a Korean restaurant (or any restauraunt, for that matter) and eat it. There’s nothing special about Ramen (regardless of what you put in it). It was originally a Japanese dish but since Asia opened itself up to the rest of the world, it’s become standard fare everywhere(ish).
Amy: LOL Subi. *I* am the staff member that orders budaejjigae “occultishly” but I need to defend myself here. Subi talks about this like I am a walking pot of budaejjigae but this is just simply not true. Subi only ever sees me order this when I hang out with her (and I haven’t even done this the last couple of times I’ve seen her!! So many lies!) but I hang out with her so little that this is not a good representation of my Korean food-eating habits. Darn you, Subashiny.
But here are some of my favorites. I’m a HUGE soup noodle person so my preferences skew that way: galbi tang, seolleong tang, and ddok galbi tang. Yum. Of the more flavorful (read: spicy) things, I like soondubu, kimchijjigae, and of course, budaejjigae.
Nom nom nom.
Fannie: Samgyupsal always gets to me — as soon as I hear the meat sizzling, my mouth starts watering and my nose tries to tell me that the aroma of cooking meat is in the air, even though all I’m doing is sitting at a computer staring at a screen.
I also am deathly envious of the fresh seafood (especially the shellfish!) that our lovely K-entertainers get to eat on shows — especially those shot at locations such as Haeundae Beach, Anmyeon-do, and Jeju-do.
I’m with Subi on the Chocopie. I don’t hate them but I don’t find them particularly mind-blowingly awesome either, which I feel like they should be for all the hype that they’re given. Seconded with Nabeela on the Melon bars — those are super addictive. Although if we’re going to veer into the ice cream territory, those fish-shaped red-bean Samanco ice creams (a spin-off of Japanese taiyaki) are my guilty pleasure.
Also, cheese ramen sounds kind of gross, my mind can’t quite wrap itself around the concept… speaking of gross, you know what Korean food grosses me out the most? Gaebul. It’s a type of marine worm, often eaten wriggling and raw, that may or may not bear a resemblance to a certain human body part that half of our species happen to have…
Johnelle: My first K-pop induced Korean food cravings would have to be sangyupsal and lettuce wraps after watching HwangBo and Kim Hyun-joong eating ‘sangchu’ on their We Got Married honeymoon in Jeju. I’ve even had samgyupsal lettuce wrap parties with my family and at work for lunch–and everyone loved it. Going to get Korean BBQ is still one of my fave restaurant outings to this day with all that delectable meat and the tons of little dishes of banchan… mmmm!. Then I started craving jjajangmyeon after seeing the cool way HwangBo ate it on their Everland date–she did this twisty thing with her hand and chopsticks that made it look so delicious. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any really good place to get jjajangmyeon in Hawaii–the ones that I’ve tasted weren’t really crave worthy.
The next food would have to be ramyun. Specifically ramyun eaten out of the lid of one of those gold pots with stainless steel chopsticks and long spoon a la Boys Over Flowers. So good, yet so hot. Although not ramyun per se, I’ve found that Hoo Roo Rook noodles is awesome too–no MSG, less sodium, and the noodles are not previously fried. And any Korean hot noodles taste better when eaten in a gold pot, just saying.
Ddukbokki… you can not even imagine how much I wanted to try this after seeing people eat it in so many K-dramas. Most of the ‘real’ Korean restaurants here are a fair distance away from where I live and the Korean markets were closer, so I decided I would make my own. Found recipes online and hit my local Korean market to get all my ingredients–and the result was not bad. Luckily, the market started selling prepared ddukbokki so that saved me a lot of effort. I also finally ate ddukbokki at some Korean restaurants and often order it when I’m not eating BBQ.
Korean cookies, ice cream, and drinks. It’s such an adventure when perusing your local Korean market! My favorite chips are Nong Shim’s Potato Flavored snacks–they’re so addicting. I’m not a big choco pie fan either, but I love Orion’s Strawberry Sando cookies and Wheat Meal Natural Biscuits, Ace crackers, and Lotte Kancho cookies and Waffles. So far I haven’t met a Korean Ice cream bar or popsicle that I didn’t like. My faves being Melona bars, Yoo Jae-suk’s favorite Jaws bars, and that one popsicle with the polar bear on the wrapper. My Korean drink addiction would be the peach flavored 2% and the Jeju Mandarin Orange Juice.
My last Korean food craving isn’t technically ‘Korean;’ it’s a Hawaiian dish that got created by local Korean plate lunch places that is kind of an off-shoot of some kind of ‘jun,’ or pancake–we call it Meat Jun. It’s these thin strips of beef marinated in some bulgogi or kal bi sauce and then jun-ed (egg battered and fried). It’s soooo good. If you come to Hawaii, you can find it at any local Korean plate lunch place and even some of the more ‘traditional’ restaurants have begun serving it due to its popularity and the fact that most locals don’t realize it’s not a ‘traditional’ Korean dish and keep asking for it.
Dana: SPOILER: I’m totally in Korea right now. No, really, I am! Which means that all of the aforementioned foodstuffs have been regularly consumed by me. I just had bibimbap like, two hours ago. You jelly? Well, I guess you should be, but then again, my friends and I are almost constantly consumed with thoughts of foods that we miss from back home in the States…
But back to the question. My top pick is actually not a food, but a condiment: ssamjang, or a mix of fermented bean paste and spicy red pepper paste. It’s mostly used when you eat grilled meat (including samgyupsal) but I put it on basically everything. One time I put it on plain rice and just ate it like that, because I’m really weird.
Second on the list would have to be hoddeok — a bready, pancakey concoction that is fried and filled with cinnamon, sugar, and sesame. I have a do-it-yourself hoddeok kit sitting on my pantry. Patience, Iago, patience. Though what I’m going to do when me and my one friend have made 15 hoddeok remains to be seen; we can’t possibly eat all of them (or can we?).
I’m also a sucker for kimbap, mostly because it’s so quick, easy, and usually tasty (unless the restaurant cheaps out and fills it with mostly rice). I’m a big fan of kimchi and cheese kimbap these days.
And Fannie, cheese ramen is actually super delicious — I used to make it all the time when I was younger, way before I even knew that it was a thing in Korea.
Also, fun fact for Subi: ramen actually originated in China! Or so I was told once…by Wikipedia.