Seoul Food

I love Korean Food. I actually love most asian food....and most other ethnic food. Okay, let's be real - I just love food. But asian food is probably the type of food I must often have a craving for yet, whenever I try to indulge in takeout, it never tastes as good as it does in my mind...shocking I know! Maybe I should get my baby brother to deliver some - oh, wait, he only delivers to College Station (but if you live there, as I know several of you dear readers do, you should totally order from Joy Luck Chinese - ask for Ben! Wouldn't that freak him out?!)

I'm lucky in that my mom was not only a really good cook, but willing to be adventurous and I learned from her and was too. Then I became a wife and somewhere along the way, cooking became a chore, something I had to do every day, and now with kids, multiple times a day. So I got into a rut repeating my same 20 or so easy healthy recipes. There is nothing wrong with easy health meals but it was also boring and exacerbated the chore part of cooking. Which is sad - I love to cook!

But when I started watching korean dramas, suddenly I wanted to make those foods again. It's very hard to see someone eating one of your favorite foods - one that you haven't had in years - without suddenly really really needing to make it! And I've been making a lot lately. Luckily Craig and Lucy have been pretty good sports. I always have eggs and bread on hand. If it all fails miserable we can always have breakfast for dinner. Nobody will starve. Google, pin and watch youtube videos. Be brave.

I tend to stick to recipes that use pretty familiar ingredients. I am willing to try one or two new things but I hate buying six new spices for a dish only to find out we didn't like it and I'll probably won't ever use. Luckily, there are quite a few really good Korean recipes that use the same base spices/sauces so if you have soy sauce, sesame oil and fresh ginger, you can make a lot of things. Now that I'm getting better, I'd like to start adding some other ingredients into my comfort zone, but baby steps.

But on that note, please start with good ingredients. If a recipe is relying on soy sauce and ginger for almost all of it's flavor and you use soy sauce from the mega bottle of costco and try to subsitute dried ginger for fresh, don't be surprised if it tastes bad. Find a traditional fermented soy sauce - it's much healthier and tastes better and it doesn't have to be expensive. I'd love to be able to use Ohsawa but I can't spend $33 on soy sauce but I like San-J Black Label (which is technically a Tamari soy sauce but don't worry about that, it works) for under $3 from Vitacost. I got mine from a store though and if you look at the label, it's pretty easy to tell the difference. Non traditional types use chemicals to hydrolyze the soy then try to add "flavor" with corn syrup and caramel. Yuck! Aged = good, Corn Syrup = bad.

I've been making a lot but here are a few of the best, or what we call "keepers."


Probably Korean's most famous dish. Served with rice and roast veggies it makes a quick and easy dinner. You could also serve it as a ssam (wrap - see bo ssam below).  I'd say you can't mess it up but I once ate what was called Bulgolgi at a Korean restaurant in Logan, Utah but it was made with ground beef and was just weird. So technically, it is possible to mess this up, but follow my recipe and you won't. Alas, this is not the recipe my mother got from our Ajumma but it's what I have to use since I don't know where to find that and it is pretty darn close.

Flank steak or bulgogi meat - Bulgogi needs a thin cut of meat. If you are lucky enough to have commissary access, you should be able to find bulgogi meat. I didn't try to make this for a while because I didn't know where to find the meat but when I got a half a beef, I realized I could just partially thaw a steak and cut it very thin, against the grain, and proceed from there. I normally use a flank steak but I think a sirloin would be good (probably better!)

1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 bunch of green onions (a lot of recipes call for white onions, minced or pureed but I like
6 cloves garlic, minced or run through a microplane grater (maybe a little less if you aren't a big garlic fan but I wouldn't go less than 4)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 T sugar (I use sucanat)

Note: I didn't include any korean pear (juice or puree) which is pretty traditional and acts as a meat tenderizer. Other recipes say to add kiwi or even coke for the same purpose.  The particular cow that currently resides in our freezer is pretty tender so I don't feel the need to but you can if you're worried about your meat - except don't add coke, way to ruin a perfectly healthy dish! Also, not a lot of bulgogi recipes I see have cayenne but I like it and it is not to spicy for Lucy diluted in the marinade. If you want to leave it out, add a bit of black pepper to compensate.

Combine marinade ingredients and add beef. You can marinade for as little as 30 minutes but I like to make it the night before or that morning, mainly because 30 minutes before we want to eat is the worst possible time for me to be in the kitchen with two cranky kids. But if you don't have cranky kids at 4:30, go for it! To cook, you want a dry hot heat. Technically speaking, bulgogi is a bbq/fire meat so grilling is the traditional way to cook it, I use my cast iron griddle, bumpy side up. Pan frying could work as long as it is hot enough to cook quickly (~5min/side or less), you just don't want it simmering in it's juice in the pan.


Afraid your family may be a little resistant to your meal? Plan on Hoddeok for dessert. It's fried dough with cinammon sugar inside - what's not to love?! But it's also really simple to make. I've heard of using the basic dough/process but a cheese and meat filling to make a fun lunch or light diner and I want to try that next.

This is my favorite vendor food from Korea and the very first thing I tried on the streets of Seoul,  just the smell of this brings back memories. Which is funny because at the time I was making them, I'm pretty sure I would have said I wouldn't have wanted to keep them - the teen years, aren't they grand. I still remember the first time I ever ate it -  I was pretty sure I was going to get food poisoning and die. But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. The only problem with this recipe is that it doesn't include that single pea or piece of corn that you make a conscious effort not to wonder why it is in there because none of the possibilities bode well for sanitation reasons (I wasn't being overly dramatic with my fears of food poisoning) but the heat from the fryer probably killed most of the germs. Making it at home is not nearly as much fun but definitely cleaner and just as tasty.


A noodle stir fry dish packed with veggies. Yum! It's considered a party food supposedly because it's a little more involved to cook but that really makes no sense to me - it's so easy! And I even do it the hard way and cook everything separately like the recipe I linked to above does. I do normally add zucchini too (cook the same way as the rest of the veggies) and use whatever fresh mushrooms we have on hand instead of dried or fancy ones. (I don't like mushrooms but Lucy loves them so she always asks for mine anyway :-)

 This is one of the dishes that does have what you would probably consider a "weird" ingredient. Dangmyeon which also has a million other names. I like the name glass noodles because they are clear, like glass, when you cook them. They are also referred to as sweet potato noodles because they are made of starch which can be from sweet potatoes but every time I've bought them they are made from mung beans and the package says bean threads....confusing much?! But if you look at the picture in the link and write down all the possible names and go to an asian grocery store, you should be able to find them easily enough. And it's really tasty so don't let the noodles stop you.

Bo Ssam 

This recipe is all over the internet thanks to this NY Times article but I like how succinctly this post puts it. I made this for my birthday dinner but I cooked it in the crockpot then finished it in the oven. Really really yummy. I only made the ginger-scallion sauce since I didn't want to bother with finding the ingredients for the other two and it worked out fine. I served it with lettuce, rice and kimchi. It's a keeper which is good since my dad split his half a pig with me and I really had no recipes in my repertoire for pork other than bacon and sadly, my half a pig wasn't all bacon.

Shrimp and Soba 

This isn't technically a korean dish but we love it so I had to include it. I have an advanced copy of healthnutfoodie's cookbook (her friend was one my mother's therapists and got it for us) and it's become one of my favorite cookbooks. And definitely my most used one. I make at least one recipe from this book every week and I've made about half of the recipes in it so far and only one was a dud and . She has a lot of different types of foods and her recipes have given me a lot of confidence in trying new flavors and spices.

Next up: I want to try finding a good bibimbab recipe and maybe a yaki mandu, add some banchan to my repetoire and keep looking for a rice cake recipe we actually like (first one was not a success). Now that I've found out I love Trader Joes kimchi, I don't think I'll worry about trying to make that myself. I get a lot of recipes online but I'm thinking of trying momofuku's cookbook. It's supposed to be more about technique than strict recipes so I think I could benefit a lot from it. My mouth is already watering!


  1. Wow! Sounds like you're having fun cooking. Since I don't like cooking, this post makes me want to put in recommendations to Chef Dad. His favorite memory of Korea involved traveling from one place to another on a train with a wide variety of kimchi and a lot of alcohol, but I'm sure he'd be up for trying non-kimchi recipes.

  2. Mmmm! I miss Korean food so much!