Chinese Food in Korea
America has it's own special brand of Chinese food (who the hell is General Tso, that's what I want to know), Mexican food (Chipotle I'm looking at you), and basically every other interesting ethnic food. Korea is pretty similar, with it's own versions of things such as pizza and hamburgers, but what I want to talk about today is, as the title probably warned you, Chinese food in Korea.
|We ate everything. All...two of us.|
Now, I'm no expert on Chinese food, but I've heard from a few of my Chinese friends that most American "Chinese" food can't be found in China, and the same goes for the staple dishes of the average Chinese restaurant in Korea. Now, I've had some pretty legit Chinese food, and it's amazing, but that will never change my love for the bastardized versions you can find in both America and Korea. Interesting side note: apparently, in Italy, they always serve fried gelato at Chinese restaurants, to the point where many Italians think it's an actual Chinese dessert. The world is crazy, right?
So, what I've found so far in most (if not all) Chinese restaurants in Korea is the same four staple dishes, which can all be seen in the above photo. Starting on the left and moving clockwise they are: 만두 (mandu), 짬뽕 (jjampong), 탕수육 (tangsuyuk), and 자장면 (jajangmyeon). So, what are these delightful dishes?
1. Mandu (pronounced mahndoo)
|Look at that. Just look at it. Drooling yet?|
These are probably the most familiar part of the meal, what you may know as a potsticker. The shape and filling varies from store to store, but they're pretty much always delicious and a great appetizer. They're fried, so the crispy outer shell gives way to a hot, savory inside, usually make up of finely chopped meat, tofu, or sometimes glass noodles and veggies. If I didn't care about healthy eating and maintaining my girlish figure, I could probably eat these every day. There are actually quite a few different types of mandu you can find in Korea, but these are proooobably my favorite. Maybe I'll do a post entirely about mandu in the future, which is totally not just an excuse to eat more mandu. I swear.
2. Jjampong, champong, champpong, spelling Korean words is exciting. (pronounced jahmpohng)
|I can feel the spiciness through the picture.|
One of the main entrees to choose from, jjampong is a very spicy seafood and noodle soup, a close relative of the Japanese ちゃんぽん (champon or chanpon), another soup inspired way back in the day by a Chinese dish. Unfortunately, due to a shellfish allergy, I've only been able to take small tastes of this one, but I can tell you just from that that it's delicious.
Depending on where you go, the ingredients will vary. I've seen clams, mussels, octopus, shrimp, pork, and all manner of vegetable piled in with a spicy broth and long noodles. If you like spicy food, this is a good choice, but if you're worried, I'd pass. I come from a family of hot sauce lovers, and even I've felt a serious burn from taking sips of this broth. Be warned!
3. Jajangmyeon, jjajangmyeon, more exciting Korean spelling. (pronounced jaw-jawng-myuhn)
|Could anything be more perfect?|
Jajangmyeon, or black bean sauce noodles, is probably my favorite of the lot. It's cheap, it's filling, and also pretty easy on the stomach, unlike the raging spiciness of jjampong. There are two main ingredients in this simple dish: jajang, the black bean sauce, and myeon, the noodles. Hence the name. Pretty slick right?
The literal meaning of jajang is "fried sauce", and that's exactly how this dish is made. Black soybean paste, onions, and either beef, pork or chopped seafood is fried together in a pan, then poured hot over the same long noodles you can find in jjampong. Often the dish is garnished with thinly sliced cucumbers, giving a nice crispy counterpoint to the slightly sweet flavor and soft texture of the sauce and noodles. This is one dish I can't recall ever seeing in America, which is really surprising to me, as it seems like it wouldn't be too foreign to a more Western palate. Anyone want to open a restaurant? I'll be your spokesperson.
4. Tangsuyuk (pronounced tahng-soo-yook)
|I'm too hungry to look at this picture right now.|
Tangsuyuk is probably the least healthy thing I've talked about so far, but it's just so delicious I can't bring myself to care. This is probably why I will never be skinny. Tangsuyuk is pretty similar to the American Chinese sweet and sour chicken, though here it can be made with either pork or chicken, or sometimes shrimp, though I think it goes by a different name in that case. Most often, though, it's pork, crispy fried and covered in a sweet sauce. What I especially like is how they don't completely coat the meat in sauce most of the time, so the sweetness and stickiness is not as overwhelming.
If you're an American like me and find yourself missing the familiar taste of cheap American Chinese food, tangsuyuk is a good bet. Just order up a big plate, close your eyes, and pretend you're home.
5. Bonus Round: 반찬 (banchan) or side dishes: pickled radish, raw onions, and black bean paste.
|We didn't eat the scissors.|
A Korean meal is never complete without side dishes, and Chinese food over here is no exception. What's interesting in this case, though, is the consistency of said side dishes from shop to shop. It's always the same three things: pickled radish, raw onions, and black bean paste to dip the onions in. I've never been able to handle raw onions, but the black bean flavor is pretty great on the end of a chopstick. Radishes, though, those are my jam. The texture is not unlike a pickle, with a sweet and sharp taste that really cleanses the palate. I also feel like they can help cool your mouth after the spicy soup, but that might just be my imagination.
As my final point, an interesting note. Since Chinese food here is really cheap, and all the shops deliver, it's more often eaten at home than in restaurants, putting it in the same category as pizza. And when I say cheap, I mean CHEAP. For example, the entire meal that I outlined here, which could easy have fed 3-4 people, cost less than $20, and this was a chain store that was a bit more expensive than the average Chinese place.
To sum it all up, Chinese food in Korea is great. Go eat some.
Coming up next: A seasonal treat- patbingsu!