Seoul Food: 5 Korean Delicacies That Will Blow Your Mind

There are many things that make Seoul, South Korea an amazing travel destination. It has incredible art museums, amazing historical temples, beautiful mountainous surroundings where you can take a nice hike, and a vibrant culture full of warm, friendly locals. But the thing that really made me fall in love with South Korea was the cuisine. Spicy, sour, salty, and sweet, Seoul food packs incredible flavour–and most of it’s healthy!

Here are 5 dishes that will make you want to stay in Seoul forever:


1. Bibimbap

Bibimbap is the only Korean food that most foreigners have heard of, and with good reason. This one-bowl wonder is bursting with flavor. Cooked in a stone bowl, the dish arrives sizzling with white rice at the bottom, topped with assorted vegetables like sprouts , sesame carrots , garlicky spinach , soy-glazed mushrooms, kimchi, and of course, a fried egg to top it all off. You would be hard pressed to find a more perfect lunch.


2. Kimchi Stew

Kimchi is the most iconic of Korean foods. This spicy fermented cabbage has a very strong flavour and can be divisive, but it’s one of my all time favorites. It’s also incredibly good for you, as most fermented foods are. Kimchi stew comes with a vibrantly red and super savoury broth, powered by sauteed kimchi, and also includes silken tofu, juicy pork, and scallions. You’ll see locals piling on the dried seaweed–a delicious and ultra-nutritious addition. Korean winters can get quite cold, and on a steely grey day, there is really nothing better than a hot bowl of this hot and spicy comfort food.


3. Dak Galbi

This dish is another classic Korean comfort food. Filling, cheap, and super flavourful, it’s a huge hit with students and you can find Dak Galbi shops lining the streets in hip, university areas like Hongdae. As with many Korean restaurants, they cook the dish on the table right in front of you, with a stir fry of chicken, cabbage, and the spicy-sweet Korean pepper paste gojuchang, the secret ingredient to pretty much every Korean food. You can choose to mix this colourful stir-fry with rice of ramen noodles and top it with–no, really–mozzarella cheese. Normally cheese and stir-fry don’t mix, but the ooey-gooey result is really to die for.


4. Korean BBQ

Often imitated, never duplicated, real Korean barbecue is an incredible experience. Much like the dak galbi shops, there’s a grill right in the middle of the table, but this time you get to do the cooking yourself. You choose from the menu which meats you want, and they bring them to you raw, accompanied by about a dozen little side dishes–kimchi, pickled daikon, dried fish, seaweed salad, etc. and lots of incredible sauces. Pair your meal with a bottle of soju (a rice-based liquor that the locals drink like water), and you have the perfect evening of cooking, eating, and drinking with your friends.


5. Japchae

Japchae is a real crowd-pleaser, as it is one of the few traditional Korean dishes that is complete mild and is not accompanied by kimchi, a very love-it or hate-it ingredient that can send some foreigners running for the hills. This simple and light dish is made from cellophane noodles, sauteed veggies and a delicious and slightly sweet soy-based sauce. After a vacation full of fiery foods, this is a great dish to cool down with.


Originally written for the Happy Nomad:  http://www.bambaexperience.com/blog/seoul-food-5-korean-delicacies-will-blow-mind/

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How to Find the Best Street Food Spots

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One of the greatest joys of traveling is discovering the splendor of local street food. Food carts, food trucks, grannies with kitchen tables dragged to the side of the road…this is the stuff culinary dreams are made of. But choosing the wrong street eats can be a grave error, with possible consequences like food poisoning or, worse, bland food. Here are some tips to avoid falling prey to a bunk food cart.


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Locals

The #1 most important thing to consider before settling on a street food stand, or restaurant, or anything for that matter, is taking stock of the clientele and making sure that it is predominantly made up of locals. Not only do locals know what’s good in their area, their presence also ensures that the food is authentic and that you won’t be subjected to inflated tourist prices.


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Clean But Not Too Clean

Obviously, you want to make sure that the place you’re eating isn’t flagrantly violating a plethora of health violations. But if a place is too clean, too shiny, too new, this just isn’t going to be a true street food experience. Real, authentic street food requires a little grit and just a whisper of a salmonella risk.


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Aroma

If you can’t smell it from down the block, don’t buy it. The street food scale of excellence is based on greasiness, tastiness, and powerful flavor. You want that pad thai or al pastor taco or whatever it may be to be hearkening to you from down the street.


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Popular

Not only do there need to be locals eating at your street food spot, there need to be a lot of them. Nothing is sadder, or a worse omen, than an empty street food stand. The more crowded, the better. Even if you have to wait a moment or rub elbows with some locals while you eat, you know it’s going to be worth it. Street food is the one travel occasion in which it’s always a good idea to go with the crowd.


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Location

If your street food locale is located a little too close to a trash heap, or livestock, or swirling dust, or a busy highway, maybe pass it up for a spot that’s a bit more protected from the elements. As we said, a little grit is great, but exhaust, gravel, and dumpster flies a little less so.

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Originally published over at the Happy Nomad:

http://www.bambaexperience.com/blog/find-best-street-food-spots/

The 8 Best Things I Ate in a Year of Travel

I love absolutely everything about travel. I love getting lost, sleeping in strange places, maneuvering language barriers, meeting and learning from locals, and finding yourself in situations that you never, ever could have predicted. But most of all, I love to eat.

In the full year that I traveled after graduation, traversing the world and 20 different countries, there are eight dishes I will never forget.


1. Tuna Sashimi in Micronesia

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A colorful fresh fish market I passed every day on Pohnpei

The island of Pohnpei in Micronesia doesn’t have a lot of things, but what it does have is 30,000 people, mangroves, rain, more rain, and a whole lot of fresh tuna. Most of the food on the island is imported and unappetising, but the local sashimi is an incredible exception. Fresh out of the ocean, served in a heap ten times the size of anything at your local sushi place, and accompanied by the island’s own sweet kalamansi limes and soy sauce, this simple dish is hard to beat.


2. Chamorro Food in Guam

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As good as the sashimi was in Micronesia, the rest of their food mainly consists of spam, instant ramen, and Kool-Aid. So when i arrived in Guam and my couchsurfing host brought me to a local barbecue joint with traditional Chamorro food, I nearly cried from joy. The spices, the flavors, the un-shipped, un-canned, never-frozen ingredients! Be still my heart! The spiced dirty rice, pork ribs, fried chicken, unidentifiable and ridiculously tasty side dishes, and potato salad did not last long, but they are forever revered and  immortalized in my memory, in my heart, and in my facebook photos.


3. Dak Galbi in Seoul

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Korean food is not for everyone. Everything is spicy, sour, pickled, fermented, fishy, or just generally strongly flavored, and accompanied by kimchi, the divisive Korean staple. Kimchi is spicy cabbage that has been fermented for weeks or months, and it’s one of my favorite things on earth. Almost everything I ate in Korea was a revelation (with the possible exception of live octopus) but one dish in particular stood out. Dak galbi, like many Korean dishes, is cooked on the table in front of you, with ramen noodles, spicy chili paste, veggies, chicken, and, wait for it…mozzarella cheese. Sound weird? It is weird, but it’s also so freakin’ good I went back to the same restaurant for it three times in one week.


4. Spicy Dan Dan Noodles in Hong Kong

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To the western palate, Cantonese dishes can be…challenging. But walking into a Hong Kong restaurant with a sign that simply read “Traditional Chinese Noodle,” I was immediately hit with the eye-watering impact of spicy pork broth, and I knew I had come to the right place. After this experience I could not get enough dan-dan noodles. Many shops offer these super-spicy noodle soups, with ground pork and fiery red broth, and every single one of them made my heart sing.


5. Pho Somewhere Between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh

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During a month-long road trip from Hanoi to Saigon, I ate at many, many nameless street carts along the way. Unreasonably cheap, healthy, and flavorful, Vietnamese dishes are the ultimate broke backpacker fare. As I found myself eating pho three meals a day, I also found that I never, ever grew tired of it. Waking up to a steaming bowl of noodle soup aromatic with fresh basil and a good dose of chili sauce is the only way to wake up, as far as I’m concerned.


6. Lamb Brain Masala in Jaipur

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An Indian Muslim, an Israeli Jew, and a Gringa walk into a garage…

I met an Israeli backpacker in India who had met a tuk tuk driver who knew a guy who claimed to make the world’s best lamb brain masala. This was not an invitation I could turn down. The tuk tuk driver and his friend picked us up and drove us deep into the muslim quarter of Jaipur, stopping to pick up some chapati (flatbread) and drinks before pulling up at a garage with an old man and a giant vat of bubbling stew on the street in front of it. We sat on newspaper around a carpet in the garage as the man served us. The brains had been steamed in their skulls, and we were given rocks to crack the craniums and bowls of masala to dip into. Adventurous eater or not, the smell of the masala alone was undeniably next-level incredible. And as we scooped out our meat, dipped, and licked our fingers, the perfect level of spice, the smoothness of the flavor, and the richness of the meat rendered us speechless until not a speck of food was left.


7. Sabich and Everything Else in Tel Aviv

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Tel Aviv’s Miznon, aka the site of my cauliflower awakening

I met a lot of Israelis on the road before I ever got to the middle east (especially in India, where some towns are like little Tel Avivs due to the sheer number of Israeli tourists) and they all told me about how life-changing Israeli dishes are. Israelis are very proud of everything Israeli, however, so I took it with a grain of salt. But holy פָּרָה were they right! I’ve highlighted sabich here, because this roasted eggplant, egg, and pickle in a pita truly did open my mind to a new veggie dimension, but honestly almost everything in Israel tastes straight out of the holy land. Fresh warm hummus, eaten in meal-size portions and scooped with pita and whole onions, shakshuka breakfasts with eggs and feta baked in magical tomato sauce, and a truly otherworldly experience with a menu item called “deep satisfaction into your face” at a bizarre and beautiful restaurant called Miznon…everything is delicious, everything is healthy, and nothing will ever be the same.


8. Thanksgiving Dinner in Colorado

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In my yearlong adventure I had eaten so many things, good, bad, and ugly, and I had challenged and delighted my tastebuds in more than 20 countries. But there’s no place like home. Back in unglamorous and suburban Aurora, Colorado my grandfather’s Bloody Marys, my mother’s rutabaga, my aunt’s cranberry sauce, and my father’s salt-brined turkey were the best homecoming and truly the greatest meal a travel foodie could ever ask for.


Originally published over at the Happy Nomad:

http://www.bambaexperience.com/blog/the-8-best-dishes-i-ate-in-a-year-of-travel/

Traditional Chinese Noodle

Maybe it’s the manic romanticism of travel, the wonderful lunatics you meet in transit, or the fantastically absurd situations that comprise the traveler’s skewed sense of normalcy, but since leaving home I find myself falling in love all over the place. With people, with places, with food and customs and cultures. Everywhere I go I never want to leave.

Everywhere, but especially Korea. I never would have expected to feel so at home in a country where one in five women has had some sort of facial cosmetic surgery, but I fell in love with Seoul in an instant. The people, so vibrant and touchy and honest and quick-to-laugh, and the food, so plentiful and spicy and flavorful and central to social life, and the soju, so $1.20 a bottle…Korea had me at annyeong.

Hong Kong, with all the neon and noodles of Seoul, feels shockingly distant from Korea. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes Hong Kong–Kowloon in particular–so distinct, but it feels otherworldly and vaguely retro-futuristic to me, like I’m living on the set of Blade Runner. Hong Kong island feels like any other megametropolis, all metal and glass and business suits, but Kowloon has an amazing grit to it unlike anything I’ve experienced, like the dust of the debaucherous labyrinth of Kowloon Walled City, demolished in the ’80s, settled over the entire area and never blew away, sweat and drama and just a hint of malice clinging to each slab of concrete and neon bulb, wedged in the grout between each brick.

Travelers have told me again and again that the best part of Hong Kong is the food. And I’ve searched high and low for the perfect hole in the wall with the most tantalizing aromas, but just this morning I was telling my friend in the States (what a world we live in! The existence of Skype still boggles the mind) that so far I hadn’t found anything special. In fact, so far I hadn’t even found anything good. But then, this afternoon, it happened. I stepped into a storefront identical to the millions of other lunch spots in bustling Mongkok, drawn in by a decidedly worn-down, urine-yellow sign that read “Traditional Chinese Noodle” in faded green letters. So I sat down at a small table with three strangers (that’s just the way it works in a place with the fourth highest population density in the world,) pointed to a photo that looked exactly like all the others on the Chinese menu, and waited for my noodles. And my God, what noodles. There were three things I could identify: rice noodles, pork, and bean sprouts, and then there were a lot more things that could have been anything, animal, vegetable, or mineral, floating in a vibrantly red, spicy broth. As I ate, the hot noodles burned my mouth and the hot pepper burned my sinuses, my nose running like s tap, but there was no time for taking care of such corporal, earthly things. There were only noodles, and my soul, singing.

I think I’m beginning to love Hong Kong.

Smothered

The plane smells like feet. Or maybe it’s just my row. There’s very little air where I am, smashed between two potbellies. When I found my seat, I assumed that these overweight, sunburned people were a couple, but they haven’t exchanged words for the entire flight. As the flight attendant announces our initial descent into Denver, I feel immense gratitude.
I haven’t been home in four months, the longest I’ve ever been away, and I’m nervous. As a college Freshman, I haven’t yet settled into my life in San Francisco, but I no longer feel a part of things back home. Most of this silent flight has been consumed with anxious thoughts. Will I feel like an outsider? Will my parents feel distant? What has changed since I’ve been gone? I nervously munch my plane pretzels, worsening the parched condition of my sticky mouth. My stomach grumbles, then lurches as we hit ground.
My mother smiles when I exit the terminal and rushes to smother me with her warm arms. We exchange pleasantries for a few minutes before she asks her standard question. “Hungry?”
I am, so we waste no time hopping in the car and driving to 7th and Santa Fe. For those who don’t know Denver, this is holy ground. The rundown trailer parked in the corner lot is even more beautiful than I remember, with cracked yellow walls turning brown and tattered Mexican flag waving proudly on the stoop.
As we step through the warped doorway, I can smell the green chile simmering softly on the back burner. When I inhale deeply, I can already taste the onions and cilantro. We take a seat at the crammed counter. Two chile relleno burritos, please. Yes chile, yes onions. And two cokes.
We watch the women working in the kitchen as we catch up. I tell her about my classes while they fry the peppers. She tells me how busy work is as they lay the tortillas in sizzling oil. I describe my roommate as they pour refried beans onto the rellenos, steaming happily in their tortillas. We laugh about my father’s newest neuroses as they expertly roll the burritos, sealing in the rice, the beans, the cheese, and the peppers. We discuss our plans for the next month as they smother the burritos in chile, bright green from tomatillos, and sprinkle on the chopped onion and Monterey jack.
And then there’s silence as we tear in, releasing a billow of onion-scented steam and the flow of savory juices. I take a bite. The flavor is powerful, dancing a sultry tango on my tongue. My mother continues to quiz me on college life as I chew. I give brief answers in between bites. I’ve never been a patient eater, but I have my own way of savoring. Before long, the entire burrito is gone and the cracked plastic plate has been scraped clean. All that’s left is a few streaks of chile, the warm spice of relleno and beans lingering on my tongue, and the drive home.
I’m feeling sleepy and full as my mom finishes up her the line of questioning and we settle into casual conversation and laughter. As we walk out of El Taco de Mexico, I examine my mom’s face in the sunlight. It looks the same as it always has. Our arms still interlock perfectly. The bright Colorado sun feels good on my pale skin. The crisp air is both refreshing and familiar. My family still makes me laugh. Denver still feels like Home. As we get in the car, I’m happily wondering what we’ll make for dinner.