Traveling is all about new experiences, also when it comes to food.
So obviously, when the Korean Air hostess prompted us for our dinner choices, we went for one of the signature Korean dishes: the bibimbap, literally meaning “mixed rice”. Concerned, she warned us to not put too much of the chili pepper paste as it may turn quite spicy. Worried, she handed us a step by step manual so that we could fix it ourselves: a bowl of vegetables and beef that we topped with steaming white rice, chili pepper paste and sesame oil, before stirring thoroughly. Our bibimbap turned out to be quite good. The next meal in the plane was less enjoyable but quite an experience. Instead of going for the traditional croissant we chose the Korean porridge. Rice-based and liquid as it was, it came with seasoned strong onions as a side and a self-contained “rice friends”. Our knowledge of the Korean language being non-existent, the pictures let us assume they were dry vegetables but instead it made the porridge taste like fish. This for breakfast made us envy the Korean guy next to us enjoying his croissant!
Landing in Seoul we felt very confident in our ability to handle spicy food, and we set off to find a kimchi, a dish consisting of fermented veggies. It can come in lots of different ways: as a cold soup, made with love and dedication by people in the countryside to steaming stews. So when we were asked if we like our kimchi stew and bulgogi with rice cake (grilled marinated beef with cannelloni-type rice having the consistency of very chewy calamaries) spicy in a traditional restaurant our natural answer was “yes”.
When the food came in we realised that both dishes would serve two people so we had a challenge. However, the real challenge started after the first few bites. The food was so spicy that it would actually hurt the whole inside of your mouth. A few Korean guys had a blast as they saw our eyes getting more watery with every bite and the sweat starting to show on our foreheads. Even though one knows it is the wrong move I started the irreversible mistake: drinking a sip of water to cool down my burning mouth. I needed the water after every bite now. Then trying the green pepper, I broke down in sweat and I needed to prevent myself from pushing away the table to run outside into the street to smash my face into a bucket of ice cream at the dairy store around the corner! Instead I drank more water and kept it in my mouth as it would hurt so much after swallowing it. Brave as we are, we almost finished our dishes (but the green peppers!!) and I couldn’t wait to get that ice-cream!
The closest ice cream parlour turned out to be very famous for their “rose” ice creams. I had the hardest time appreciating the delicate craft of slowly shaping the scoops as flower petals as I only wanted to feel the soothing ice in my still burning mouth as soon as possible!
Although it remains a painful and memorable experience, the food was actually delicious. It was very refreshing to discover completely new flavours and we are really looking forward to tasting more of the world…