Amongst all the dishes mentioned up until now, this particular one will undoubtedly leave you astounded...
Many explorers of Asia are well aware, even before embarking on their journey, that they are about to embark on a gastronomic escapade. However, the Western palate often finds itself unprepared for the onslaught of new flavors that lies ahead. Growing up in a family that reveled in sampling various international cuisines, we considered ourselves to be connoisseurs of taste. As a result, my mother would frequently experiment with novel and exotic spices, pushing our untrained palates into the depths of fiery cuisine.
Upon arriving in Korea, a wave of excitement washed over me as I observed a plethora of crimson-colored foods. And there was only one possibility: red chili, or as the Koreans say, Gochu. It wasn't until the late 1500s during the Japanese invasions that red chili made its way to Korea. However, it has now become an indispensable part of the Korean diet, making it nearly impossible to find dishes void of this key ingredient. Armed with my culinary background, I foolishly believed I could match the locals in consuming these renowned spicy dishes.
Yet, the confidence I had built over the years—convincing myself of my invincibility against the powers of red chili—proved to be in vain. During your own trip to Korea, you may also experience the pain I endured, albeit accompanied by fleeting moments of pleasure! Below are just a few of the initial spicy dishes to which I was introduced. I dare you to try them for yourselves!
Stir-fried Small Octopus
Known as Nakji Bokkum in Korean, this immensely popular spicy dish is relished throughout the country. The tentacles of the diminutive octopus species are cut into bite-sized pieces and pan stir-fried with red chili pepper paste, pepper flakes, green onions, carrots, sesame oil, and a sprinkle of green peppers. The result is a steaming hot stir-fry with a delightfully mouth-numbing sauce, best enjoyed alongside rice.
To savor an authentic taste of Nakji Bokkum at an incredible value, venture to:
Lee Kang Soon Sil Bi Jib
Jong-gak Station, Line 1, Exit 1
Take the third right, and you will find Lee Kang Soon on your right-hand side.
Spicy Braised Beef Short Ribs
Impressed would be an understatement for the succulent, tender meat that effortlessly detached from the bone. It was evident that meticulous preparation had gone into melding the ingredients together. The beef ribs were marinated in a unique sauce comprising sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, dried dates, onions, garlic, ginger, and a generous helping of the aforementioned red chili flakes—adding a fiery twist to an otherwise mild dish. This was, by far, one of the most sublime meals I have had in Korea. Although it tested the limits of my pain threshold, once the heavy breathing subsided, I found myself yearning for more!
Make a stop at: Jip Shin Maeun Kal-bi Jjim
Hyehwa Station, Line No.4, Exit No.4
Exit the station and continue down the Family Mart lane. Just past CGV on the right, you will spot a large red 'Hansin' sign.
Spicy Chicken Feet
Locally known as "Burn your butt off chicken feet," this dish comprises chicken feet submerged in a fiercely hot sauce made from the traditional red chili paste, pepper flakes, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sugar, black pepper, and of course, additional sliced red chili peppers! Out of all the dishes mentioned thus far, this one will surely leave you astounded. The amalgamation of flavors from the various ingredients will initially bring a wide smile to your face. But as the heat intensifies, you will quickly exclaim, "This isn't too bad at all," soon followed by, "MORE WATER PLEASE!"
To avoid long queues, be sure to arrive early at:
Hansin Chicken Feet
Sinnonhyeon Station, Line No.9, Exit 3
Take the second right, and you will find a prominent red 'Hansin' sign on your left-hand side.
Rice Cake in Hot Sauce
As the name suggests, this dish primarily features long strips of rice cake enveloped in a fiery sauce made, as expected, with the trusted red chili pepper! The rice cakes harmoniously blend with carrots, fish cakes, cabbage, and even sausages, resulting in a surprisingly delightful combination of flavors. Furthermore, some variations of this meal include noodles and boiled eggs. Known as Ddukbokki in Korean, it is certain to leave you contented as you search for the last remnants of rice cake drenched in this tongue-tingling sauce.
Directions to Sindang Ddukbokki Town:
Sindang Station, Lines 6 and 2, Exit 7
Exit from Gate 7, turn right, and you will be greeted by a row of Ddukbokki restaurants on your left-hand side.
I arrived in South Korea ready to take on the chili-eating challenge. And although I must admit defeat, I consider this an eternal battle to be pursued and relished. For those craving a culinary adventure in Korea, this is an extraordinary way to embark on your journey.