You all know that I love Korean food but let me tell you a secret. There are a few items that I found downright odd when I first moved to Korea. Most of which I tried over the three years I lived there, some I liked and some I hated. In my effort to introduce Korean food (and culture) to the world (or at least Canada), here’s my top 7 most unusual Korean food items or dishes (in no particular order). Why 7 (and not 5 or 10)? I like the number 7 🙂 Welcome to the different foods that either intrigued me or made me extremely hesitant to try them.
(Sorry there are no pictures, still trying to recover/upload all my pictures after my computer crashed.)
1. Beondaegi (번데기) – Silkworm Larvae
This is by far my least favourite Korean food of everything I’ve ate – and yes, I did try it. Well, I tried one piece and had to psych myself up for that. Beondaegi is a popular Korean street food and snack, especially among Korean guys, and is available just about everywhere. Beondaegi are steamed or boiled silkworm larvae which are then seasoned and eaten as a snack (often when drinking). Unfortunately it smells hideous and tastes even worse. But that being said, you should definitely try it 🙂
2. Dakbal (닭발) – Chicken Feet
Yep, chicken feet! I ordered this once by mistake and ended up with a new food rule – don’t eat anything above the neck (this comes from being taught how to suck the brains out of giant prawns) or below the ankles. But I have several friends – Koreans and non-Koreans who love dakbal – especially when drinking beer. To be honest, it tastes fine as it’s usually coated in a yummy spicy sauce, but it’s quite chewy. My problem is with the appearance of dakbal – to me, it looks like little babies’ hands and that just creeps me out.
3. Sannakji (산낙지) – Live Octopus
I love seafood and was generally in heaven in Korea because there is so much different variety and it’s all so fresh. Sannakji was at the top of my list to try because I liked cooked octopus and hey, it makes a great story – especially as there is a bit of danger involved. When you go to a restaurant that serves sannakji you get to select the octopus, it’s quickly taken to the kitchen to be prepared and chopped up. When it arrives at your table the pieces are literally still moving and they continue to for quite a while. When my sannakji arrived at my table – I squealed like a girl (okay, I did it quietly, just a little yip but I did make a noise) and backed away from the table. The ajumma (older lady) scolded me and I reached inside for some courage against my wiggling food and picked up my chopsticks. The danger I mentioned comes from the fact that the suction cups on the octopus still work so you need to dip each piece in sesame oil and chew REALLY, REALLY well. Every year there are reported deaths from eating sannakji. The taste is very similar to cooked octopus but it’s way chewier and just a little freaky to look at.
4. Bosintang (보신탕) – Dog Stew
This is the one food on this list that I haven’t tried. I attempted to do so a few times as there was a good restaurant in my neighbourhood in Seoul that served it. But I just couldn’t do it. I grew up with several dogs as pets and even though I know it’s a specific breed that’s breed as food… I just couldn’t shake the image that I would be eating dog. Apparently, it’s good for men’s virility.
5. Gopchang (곱창) – Barbecued Intestines
I had this for my first Christmas dinner in Korea. A group of friends and I went to a restaurant that was recommended to us and asked the ajumma (older lady) serving us for their best BBQ. We ended up with gopchang. It was yummy, if a little oily/fatty. But a few of my friends wouldn’t eat it which meant more for us more adventurous types. It’s particularly good when cooked until crispy. I definitely recommend trying it.
6. Sundae (순대) – Boiled Intestine Sausage
Sundae in Korea is way different from in Canada – there’s no ice cream! But it turned out to be one of my favourite Korean street foods. And it goes really well with tteokbokki (떡볶이) which are rice cakes in a spicy sauce with cabbage and fish cakes. Together they make a filling and fairly healthy snack or meal. The most common type of sundae is made of pig’s intestines stuffed with noodles, barley, and pork blood, although rice and other ingredients are often used. There are several different variations depending on which part of Korea you are in. I ate it regularly and Koreans would often comment about how surprised they were that I liked it (apparently many non-Koreans don’t). What can I say, it’s yummy (and cheap). Give it a try!
7. Dotorimuk (도토리묵) – Acorn Jelly
Yep, it’s jelly made of acorns. It’s a fairly common side dish in many Korean restaurants and is quite healthy, if a little bland. It’s also a great food to practice your chopstick skills on as it’s a little slippery and hard to pick up with them (I still have problems sometimes and I’m good with chopsticks). Apparently acorns are poisonous unless the tannins are removed, who knew, but by the time they are prepared into jelly, it’s all good to eat. Decent taste if often a little bland, nice counterpoint to the mainly spicy side dishes.
What about you? Which Korean food did you find unusual? Which ones on my list have you tried?
P.S. I’m not the first to write about unusual Korean food, Google “unusual Korean food” if you want to see other writers & bloggers’ lists.