While even “regular” Korean food may be alien to most visitors, there are a few edibles that deserve special attention.
Baem soju 뱀소주
Not strictly a food, but interesting nonetheless – this is regular soju with a snake (baem) marinating in the bottle, which is said to be extremely healthy, especially for the back muscles. Though many may feel that the bottles would make wonderful souvenirs, particularly with the larger serpents inside, international customs officials aren’t too fond of you taking them.
When it gets cold, stalls selling this local delicacy – silkworm larvae – set up on pavements and riverbanks across the country. You’ll smell them before you see them – the acrid stench of these mites boiled up in a broth is so disgusting that it may well breach international law. The treat is also served as bar snacks in many hofs, bursting in the mouth to release a grimy juice – perfect drinking game material.
So you’ve learnt the word for “chicken” in Korean (dak), spotted it on the menu and ordered a dish. Unfortunately, with this particular meal the suffix means “foot”, and that’s just what you get – dozens of sauced-up chicken feet on a plate, with not an ounce of meat in sight.
Plastic chairs to sit on, tables littered with soju bottles, and a cackling ajumma serving you food that’s still half-alive – these are the delights of the pojangmacha, ramshackle seafood dens that congregate on many a Korean street. They’re usually distinguishable by their orange, tent-like covering; one good area to find them in Seoul is outside exits three to six of Jongno 3-ga subway station. Just watch out for the octopus tentacles – every year, people die of suffocation when their still-wriggling prey makes a last bid for freedom.
Absolutely nothing to do with ice cream, but rather a sausage made with intestinal lining and stuffed with clear noodles – head to the nearest market to try some.