Not that I didn't really like Korean food. Here's a run-down of my favourite things and what it's like to eat out in South Korea.
The Koreans eat pretty much the same stuff for breakfast as they do for other meals, as far as I can work out. I know abalone porridge is supposed to be traditional. However breakfast is one of the few meals where I'm not good at being brave. I like Western-style breakfast - cereal, fruit, eggs, bread, pastries or cake if they're on offer!
At the traditional guesthouses and cheap hotels I stayed at, the options usually consisted of one brand of white sliced bread, one brand of butter and one brand of strawberry jam in those little square packets. No variation, no matter where I went! In Seoul I also got eggs and some sliced apple, in Busan and Gyeongju there was cereal too (there should have been cereal in Daegu but there was no milk).
In PyeongChang we were treated to a magnificent breakfast buffet every morning where you could have any breakfast you fancied - good for lining the stomach before a cold day in the mixed zone!
|Kimchi in Gyeongju|
A lot of Korean dishes come in a hot stone pot and my favourite of these was definitely bibimbap. This is a bowl of rice with a variety of vegetables on top, topped with an egg. I think strictly speaking it's supposed to be a raw egg yolk that cooks as you stir it in, but I also had a version with a fried egg and one with strips of omelette.
|Bibimbap in PyeongChang - I had this same dish at the same place three times|
The next best thing I ate, a few times, was hangover soup (haejang-guk). Again there are variations; the first one I had had a white base and all the others a red base. The general idea is that they come with pork ribs on the bone, plus some vegetables (cabbage) and optionally some ramen. The best version was definitely the one in a little restaurant near the snowboard venue, where two of my colleagues ate pretty much every day, but there was a close second in Busan! It's a wonderfully comforting sort of dish.
|Hangover soup near the Phoenix Snow Park|
Other soup/stew dishes which are common include sundubu jigae, which is a soup made with soft tofu and quite a lot of chilli; and kimchi stew, which is simply a soup made with kimchi!
|Kimchi stew at Gangneung bus station (yes really)|
The Koreans have also adapted dishes from the nations that have occupied or visited them over the years. There's a lot of Japanese-style katsu curry, a lot of fried chicken and pork cutlets, and often an option to get cheese on top. Udon noodles are also popular.
|Sundubu jigae in Gyeongju|
Street food is a big thing in Korea with lots of things on offer, usually fried. I loved the green onion pancake I had in Busan and the grilled prawn skewer which followed it up. Some street food stalls and some shops sell a thing called gimbap, which is a bit like a sushi roll - a variety of ingredients wrapped in rice and seaweed. I got quite a good one from the supermarket in Gyeongju to take walking!
Coffee is a bit of a craze right now in South Korea but I didn't have much good coffee. Espresso is not on the menu at many places, although cappucinos, lattes and Americanos are. The latter tended to come huge and too weak for my taste and coffee generally cost a lot - as much as in London.
The other craze is dessert cafés, which all seemed to serve strawberry frappés, with a selection of patisserie style cake on offer. I kept meaning to go and have some cake and then never got around to it.
Otherwise they don't go in for pudding so much, which was probably good for my sweet tooth although did mean that I ate too many biscuits in PyeongChang. In Busan the street food stalls sold these amazing little doughnut things filled with sugar and nuts and seeds, fried in butter, called hotteok. I had one each day I was there!
Eating solo in Korea
My main challenges when travelling alone in Korea were a) being brave enough to go into a restaurant when half the time I had no idea what they were serving and b) finding places that didn't cater exclusively for groups. I went to one place in Gyeongju recommended by the Lonely Planet, which advertised a meal for 9,000 won, which was about the standard price. However when I asked for a table for one I got a stern refusal. A lot of Korean food is about sharing, whether it be a barbecue or a hotpot, which isn't ideal if you're on your own.
Luckily there were generally enough places to eat solo; I generally aimed for somewhere that looked busy with locals and this was usually a good bet.
I really enjoyed the vast majority of Korean food, but I did find myself missing good British fare - potatoes, and bread, and cheese. I had a baked potato with Cheddar tonight for tea and it was marvellous. But I'm kind of craving a bibimbap too ...