In the previous post I discussed a bit about traditional Korean food. Traditional restaurants can still be found all across Korea, and many of traditional eating habits are still a part of daily life here. However, as is the case in every country, South Korea’s eating habits are influenced by trends and globalization. The younger generation in particular has an affinity for foreign foods and fads that are deemed more stylish than traditional foods at times. I’ve noticed that most Korean students will gladly choose foreign food when eating out over Korean restaurants or the all popular (and amazing) fried chicken.
While you can get a full Korean meal for less than $6, foreign food tends to be between $10-$20. It’s possible to find any foreign food you want in Korea, but for me at least, it doesn’t really satisfy my cravings. I’ve had tacos with bulgogi meat, pizza with powdered sugar on the crust (surprisingly not bad) and a chicken quesadilla with almost no cheese in it. I have had a lot of success in finding good healthy food places where you can get fresh salads and avocado as long as you’re willing to pay for it.
Another fad in Korea is the unusual obsession with baked goods. I was really surprised when I first got here to see so many bakeries. They are everywhere. There’s even chain style bakeries such as Paris Baguette spread throughout the country. People stand in lines for some bakeries that are famous to get their fix of breads, cream cheese buns and croissants. There’s also pop up dessert shops on every street. Subways in Seoul aren’t complete without the smell of freshly baked bread coming from the dessert shops near the exits. Waffles with ice cream in the middle, churros, and sugary juices are other popular choices that clearly cater more toward the younger generations.
I could write a whole post on cafes, but I will try to summarize. There are some distinct differences from western cafes. First, a lot of cafes don’t open until 10 AM. For someone who needs coffee to function, that’s a problem. But they stay open (and busy) until midnight or even 2 AM on the weekends. Coffee is a bit pricier in cafes because you pay for the space essentially. Most cafes have a cool aesthetic where people can take Instagram photos and talk with friends for a few hours with access to free Wi-Fi. So essentially the higher price compensates for the café’s high rent bill. Another difference is that cafes usually only serve desserts. In the states, you can go to a café and usually there’s something small like a sandwich or salad you can order to keep you going through long nights of studying. But here, coffee and cake go together more often than not. Even near universities, I’ve found most local cafes are not meant for studying, while chains like Starbucks and Holly’s are popular spots to sit with your laptop for a few hours. Thankfully, for people like me who desperately need a reasonably-priced caffeine fix early in the morning there are pop up coffee shops like Paik’s Coffee (빽다방 ) which have no seating and are therefore much cheaper and open around 8 AM.
Now, I may sound a bit bitter about the foreign food. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just Korean-ized. I’ve been fooled by foreign food before. You think you’re going to get a delicious pizza to satisfy your needs for cheesy goodness. Instead you bite into corn and potatoes on top of a sweet tomato sauce (the potato is actually pretty good, but my feelings towards the corn are a bit more hostile). Korean food, on the other hand, tastes exactly how it looks. It looks like Korean food, it is Korean food with the characteristic flavors and textures that I’ve come to associate it with. So personally, I prefer the Korean food every time.
With that being said, of all the newer Korean foods, fried chicken is superior (although I’m not entirely sure how long it’s been popular). Korean-fried-chicken is the best fried chicken I have ever tasted in my life. What’s even better is the fact that the chicken can be delivered to your precise location in 20 minutes or less. Unfortunately, most of the delivery systems require some Korean in order to explain exactly where you are, but it can be done (don’t be shy to ask a Korean for help)! Alternatively, if you are sitting at a popular picnic spot the chicken delivery people will come to you and let you order and then they will come back with your chicken. I know it seems a bit suspicious to give your money to a random chicken delivery man, but I promise it’s legitimate.