Ask any expat what they would miss most about Korea if they had to leave and they will undoubtedly tell you “the food”.
Korean food is hard to explain. It’s both simple and complex and is almost always surprising. Foreigners new to Korea can be expected to be repulsed and entertained by certain Korean dishes (freshly chopped, still squirming live octopus anyone?). Most expats spend the first several months of their meal times in Korea asking their companions just what they are eating. Eating out in Korea is always an adventure. Galbi (better known as the ubiquitous “Korean BBQ”), samgyupsal (thickly sliced, uncured bacon) and kimbab (Korea’s version of a sushi roll, with ham and egg strips instead of fish) may be some of the most popular dishes among foreigners, but that’s just the tip of Korea’s culinary iceberg. You will be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of restaurants in Seoul.
Koreans generally eat out more often than the average Westerner because it’s actually more economical to eat out than it is to buy groceries. You can have a full meal in Korea and it will never break the bank (unless you have very expensive taste in seafood or beef). The average meal in Korea runs from about $5.00 USD to $10.00 USD… ten dollars usually being a huge meal with a large chunk of meat as well as all-you-can-eat banchan, or side dishes. Koreans love their side dishes, and of course no meal is complete without the national side dish of pickled and seasoned vegetables – kimchi!
Koreans eat kimchi with every meal, and while the other banchan will vary according to season and what’s on hand at the time, there will always, always be kimchi on the table.
While restaurants are plentiful throughout Seoul (both Western style and Korean), you will also be surrounded by excellent open air markets selling everything under the sun and boasting some of the best Korean food available, and your regular, run of the mill supermarkets.
Whether you think Korean food tickles your tastebuds or not, everyone is bound to find their favourite Korean dish. Indeed, Korean food – whether eating or cooking it – is always a culinary adventure.
While one should always use caution while eating street food (if it looks dirty, don’t eat it!), one can always find solace in the fact that Koreans are obsessed with sanitation and cleanliness – especially when it comes to restaurants and food. To get sick from eating in a Korean restaurant is extremely rare – just as rare as getting sick from eating in a restaurant in any developed nation.