It may have been the ads that ran in the New York Times featuring well known Korean personalities along with a headline calling out the name of a traditional Korean dish. Or it could have been when Psy’s addictive song Gangnam Style alerted me to the popularity of K-pop and the district the song refers to on the southern side of Seoul. Or realizing that a capital “K” preceding anything means something Korean worth having a look at. While all that was happening, Seoul food (Korean cuisine) in America went from mostly obscure to joining other popular culinary favorites from faraway lands.
Not too long ago you had to go to a Koreatown in a major metropolitan area to get some good Kimchi or traditional Seoul food. Now you need only visit your local supermarket. And going for a quick “Bibimbap” is no more exotic now than having Sushi. But tasting the delights of a foreign culture on a night out, while delicious, won’t teach you much about how it came to be so delicious. For that you have to go to the source. So off we went to Seoul in search of the best cuisine the country has to offer.
“Seoul food in America went from mostly obscure to joining other popular culinary favorites from faraway lands.”
Geography and Korea’s political events have shaped the national cuisine. Waves of foreign occupation caused tremendous hardship and made South Korea a resilient, determined and hardworking nation. The peninsula is made up of more than 70% mountainous terrain, which did not allow much of a farming tradition to develop, making the choice of ingredients in Korean cooking rather limited. But what was lacking in resources Koreans made up for with technique. Fermentation is the core of Korean cuisine, and so ingrained is it in the Seoul food culture that for many Korean families the passing of the year is marked by harvest, preparation, and preservation of the household food store.