Seoul Food 6-9-2006

Basics of this up-and-coming foodie mecca

By: Mark Edward Harris

There is no better place for an introduction to traditional Korean cuisine, architecture and folklore than at Seoul’s Korea House, a restaurant and theater housed in a traditional wooden structure. Guests indulge in an almost endless dinner sampling what seems to be every type of kimchi ever invented and then adjourn to the intimate theater for a beautiful Korean folk dance and opera performance.

Individuals and groups can join daytime classes in the art of making kimchi, starting with Tongbaechu Kimchi, the classic kimchi made with Chinese cabbage and served at almost every Korean meal. The most common preparation for this dish begins with sliced cabbage which is salted, set aside for several hours, then rinsed and bathed in spices, onion, radish and fish sauce.

It’s believed that kimchi was born in Korea around the 7th century as a salted and preserved vegetable. The name kimchi itself is thought to derive from shimchae (salting of vegetables). Because of the Korean Peninsula’s cold winters, vegetable cultivation was practically impossible, which led to the development of pickling as a storage method.

At the Korea House and most Korean restaurants, all dishes are served at the same time. Traditionally, the number of side dishes varied from three for the lower classes to 12 for royal families. At the Korea House, we were treated like royalty.

For those who haven’t had their fill of kimchi after a night at the Korea House or by the kimchi served at every Korean meal as well as every hotel breakfast buffet, the 2006 Gwangju Kimchi Festival will be held Nov. 16-20.

In addition to kimchi, other traditional Korean foods include gui, broiled/barbecued meat dishes, like bulgogi and galbi; bap, a rice dish often made with barley, beans, chestnuts or millet; or jjigae, a spicy stew made from fermented soybean paste served in a heated stone bowl. Namul combines vegetables or wild greens mixed with spices, while jeon is made from mushrooms, pumpkin, dried fish and oysters dipped in flour and egg and fried in oil. If you’re offered a sundae, be aware, there’s no ice cream in the Korean version. It’s a sausage stuffed with vegetables, potatoes and noodles.

After a night of tradition at the venerable Korea House, 21st-century Seoul offers epicureans and trendsetters plenty of world-class options. For classic Korean cuisine served in a stylish environment, Petit Seasons and Grill H are on the top of the list for steak and Korean barbecue. An English directory of restaurants and bars is available in most hotels. “Bars 29+1 Seoul” lists 30 cool eateries and drinkeries ranging from Park, billed as an Asian cuisine lounge, to Marrakech, for a North African atmosphere, and Xian, a hip French-Asian restaurant and tapas lounge. For an incredible view from an incredible restaurant, Schoenbrunn on the 35th floor of the Lotte Hotel in the heart of Seoul is a guaranteed night to remember.

Traditional or trendy, Seoul offers some of the best, and at times spiciest, food and drink on the planet.


Kimchi Festival

Korea House

Korean National Tourism

Korea Tourism Organization
Los Angeles office
323-634-0280, ext. 224

Lotte Hotel Seoul
Schoenbrunn Continental Restaurant Reservations