Appetite For the Far East

Assistant Editor Skye Mayring dishes on the cuisine of Korea

By: By Skye Mayring

Appetite For the Far East // (c) Skye Mayring 2009

 Dining in Korea

Typically, I go out for Korean food at least once a week around the TravelAge West offices in West Los Angles. So, you can bet I was looking forward to trying the real thing on my week-long trip tho Seoul and Suwon, Korea.

One of the best meals I had, however, was not typical Korean food at all. Our guide suggested that we have dinner at Chon, a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant in Seoul. When I saw Buddhist monks occupying a corner of the restaurant, I had a feeling I was in for a very special meal. The menu was imaginative and varied: We munched on fried taro and sweet potatoes; sipped on a diminutive cup of chilled pumpkin soup; and nibbled on crepes filled with pickled vegetables and spices. As part of the culture, Koreans enjoy sharing dishes, which is why just about everything we were served that evening came tapas style, adding to the intimate experience.

No trip to Korea is complete without stopping for a Korean barbecue lunch and, in the gorgeous city of Suwon, we ate like kings at the Gabojeong restaurant. Servers brought in what seemed like a never-ending parade of soup, various kimchi dishes, spicy vegetables, sweet potato salad and bite-sized crab — all before bringing the main course, galbi (marinated, thinly sliced ribs). Unlike Korean barbecue restaurants in the U.S., our server prepared the meat for us at our table. We watched on with anticipation as the meat sizzled among chunks of king mushrooms and garlic. Our server demonstrated how to traditionally enjoy galbi (by slathering it with chili sauce and wrapping it in a piece of lettuce) and let us dig right in.

Appetite For the Far East 2 // (c) Skye Mayring 2009

Korea is known for its spicy and flavorful cuisine.

A Suwon local told us that after seeing the Hwasung Fortress at night, we should pay a visit to the Nam Mun market, which was in full swing in the evening. One section of the market, a rather pungent-smelling area, sold live, freshly caught and dried seafood. Its adjacent restaurant was filled to capacity with hungry locals feasting on dishes made from only the freshest ingredients. Nearby was a series of butchers ready to package up everything from ribs to pig heads. The vegetables were plentiful, too. Korea is known for its spicy and flavorful cuisine, so it’s not uncommon to see hundreds of chili peppers spread out on plastic bags or wicker trays along the street side. The other section of the night market was a less visceral experience, where plenty of deals on clothing, purses and knick knacks can be found in a maze of snaking alleyways.

After trying many delectable Korean dishes, it’s going to be hard to go back to dining in L.A. Luckily, I picked up a few spices and sauces at the Nam Mun market in hope that I can recapture the essence of my flavorful trip.