In honour of its near-anniversary of an entire trip to South Korea that I surprisingly did not write a blog about, I thought it was finally fitting to write about it.
Here’s the ugly truth and why I avoided blogging it: It was a two-week trip to South Korea with my travel buddy, Andy, and he got sick the first week (from a prior business trip in Manila) and then I got sick almost the entire second week of the trip because of the high season of Yellow Dust in Asia (air pollution). So when you put the two together, you’ll realize that there couldn’t have been many excursions.
So, what did we do? We stayed at our Airbnb for the most of the time – thankfully we had a nice stay with a fantastic view to stare at the entire time.
I know what you’re all thinking. At this point, you’re dying to know what we ended up surviving on. The very reason as to why I decided to finally write a blog about an entire trip spent indoors is because of exactly that.
I wanted to show and tell the world about all the different kinds of takeout foods that Korea offers. Because really, that’s a bulk of what we did/ate, and I only realized now that there shouldn’t be any shame for it.
As a foodie, I think it’s wrong to overlook any type of food. Takeouts/delivery food are often so underrated and believed as shameful because it is often associated with laziness and a type of food that is just tossed into a box as quick as fast food.
They don’t always look as appetizing as they would when they are served at a restaurant, but it does however test your brains.
The presentation of a meal affects taste in every way. If a certain meal comes in a styrofoam takeout box, it obviously wouldn’t have the same effect or enjoyment of eating the meal if it had been served on a nice hot plate. Your mind does much of the tasting. Just as much as your tongue will pick up on most of the sensory cues to transmit to your brain, your sight is a tough judge on the food-tasting panel.
So going back to our trip in May, eating so much takeout really tested our tasting skills. We had to really rid the fact that our food came in terrible plastic containers, and not as warm and fresh as we would’ve liked.
The Culture of Delivered Food in Korea
I have always been intrigued by the fact that Korea’s food delivery system is so advanced and made effortless. McDelivery was a norm in Korea, whereas it was a dream for most back home in Canada. Buildings, lamp posts, apartments, and mailboxes are covered in restaurant delivery menu flyers. They come in the form of paper, as well as business card-sized menus. They are like the pop-up windows we endlessly encounter on our internet browsers. Streets are a constant flow of cars, taxis, and delivery scooters and their tin boxes.
In the beginning of it all, delivery food was most often popular by this one single dish – the black bean noodles (짜장면 – Jja Jang Myun). It has become such a legendary delivery meal that most people believe that the delivered ones taste much better than the ones restaurants offer. In some ways, it’s the equivalent to delivery pizzas in the Western culture.
Today, that delivery menu expanded exponentially. Korea is ever-growing in its technological world and I always felt that it was a few years ahead of everywhere else. Growing up, I’d always be astonished by the technological advances and the various services that Korea offered compared to back home. Online shopping was the norm in Korea before big chain giants came up with their own online shopping options (i.e. Walmart, Best Buy, etc.).
Online grocery shopping was available in Korea much earlier than Canada, because the need was clear. For such a small country, most citizens reside in apartments/condos and many also don’t own cars due to the effortless and ease of transportation options in the city (cheap taxi fares, accessible metro stations, trains, and buses every 5 mins taking you anywhere possible). Online grocery shopping quickly became the norm for families who just didn’t have time in their busy schedule to fit an hour of grocery shopping or even have enough hands to carry a family’s worth of foods all the way back home. The same goes for house furnitures or any big items. There are big departments stores that also offer online shopping and ranges from food to clothing to house furnitures (almost the asian equivalent to Amazon – carrying everything from A to Z).
Today, you can literally order anything you can ever think of – ice cream, smoothie, bowl of hot ramen noodle soup, and even coffee. Combining the country’s technological advances and the delivery system meant that, over the years, they’d come up with better ways to get your food to your door at any time and as fresh as it would from a restaurant.
Did you know that you don’t need an address to order takeout? Interestingly enough, you can easily be sitting by a tree at a park and they’d still deliver food directly to where you are sitting. The drivers go wherever you are. If they can’t find you, they call you to find their way. The options are endless.
South Korea Trip – May 2017 (finally!): Our takeout-only trip
After a long journey halfway across the world, I finally landed at the Incheon airport and had to wait there for about 3-4 hours for my buddy’s plane to land. He was coming from Manila from a business trip and we had planned to meet at the airport.
When we arrived at our empty Airbnb (with no basics such as water, food, and snacks like our last Airbnb), we were ready to call it a night but couldn’t ignore our hungry stomachs. Since we had already been in Korea just short of 6 months prior to this trip, we were already familiar with the delivery system. So we pulled out our phones and started searching through the Korean delivery apps Yogiyo and Foodfly. After a 30-minute long search and with our picky brains, but hungry stomachs, we finally settled on a restaurant we had already been to before.
A place known for its one-of-a-kind metre-long raw beef sushi. Luckily, I stumbled upon this unique place through Instagram back in December on our winter trip. Here’s a tip for all you foodie travellers: Instagram is the best tool to find those hidden places where locals enjoy and sponsored travel sites won’t tell you about. If you’re someone who likes to wander off in an unknown city and try the unique dishes that leave a lasting memory such as this, then Instagram is the way to go – use the right hashtags and you can find yourself a place like this.
When our food was delivered, it wasn’t as prettily presentable as it would’ve been from the restaurant, but we were so hungry that it was nonetheless the perfect thing we needed at midnight after a long, long flight and all the unpacking we did along with it.
Although our Airbnb was equipped with basic kitchen tools and essentials, something just didn’t quite feel right enough to cook. The tiny gas stove with the giant 10-person casserole or frying pan big enough to fit a dozen eggs was off-putting. This Airbnb had the greatest view, a nice living area, nice furniture, but just wasn’t quite perfect.
Breakfasts mostly consisted of either stocking up on pastries and bread, or simply just getting it delivered. If we had such an easy system to get even breakfast delivered to your door – including drinks such as smoothies and coffee, I’d be in heaven.
Belgian waffles, a blueberry muffin, a giant bagel, a coffee, and a type of corndog. The whipped cream for the waffles came in a cold drink cup.
Joe’s Sandwich & Coffee
One morning, we ordered a bunch of sandwiches to eat and save for lunch since we knew we were staying in for much of the day.
Side (funny) story: The downside of the delivery apps in Korea is that they rarely have pictures on their menu for most restaurants. You can only rely on pictures that users upload themselves when they leave a review. As for this place, I stumbled upon a “Hot Bacon Sandwich”. Me, being a bacon lover, obviously chose it over any other sandwiches on the menu. When I read “hot”, I legitimately believed that it’d be a warm sandwich, much like a hot chicken sandwich. But then, it came. Not only did the “hot bacon” actually mean SPICY bacon, but they practically included an entire head of lettuce in a single sandwich! It was, of course, way too much so I had to pick some out but later ate it separately.
Sure, I’ve ordered noodles through either takeout or delivery – Cantonese chow mein, Vietnamese Pho, Thai Express Pad Thai, etc. However, I never could’ve imagined that I would be able to order Naengmyun (Korean cold noodles).
And surprisingly, it was just as good as it would’ve tasted if it had been served directly at a restaurant. The noodles that had been sitting in the broth hadn’t gotten soggy, but still kept its elasticity and firmness. The broth wasn’t just cool, but a nice chill that went down my throat as I drank it holding up my bowl.
With the hot musty weather outside, everyday was a perfect day for cold noodles. So we tried ordering from a different place. This one came with the cold broth in a fancy bag of their own. The presentation for this one was A++ for a delivered meal.
The bowls already had the meats and veggies inside, so all it needed was the broth to be poured from the pouch.
Foodfly, one of the delivery apps, has a special section called Chefly – a premium service that offer gourmet dishes created by famous chefs. They offer healthy and innovative dishes that go beyond the menu at restaurants. The featured meal from Chefly that particular week was a salmon sashimi mixed rice with avocado – basically, a salmon poke bowl.
Our meal included a blurb about the chef and the food. It also included tips on ways to enjoy the meal better.
Have you ever felt a craving for cake late at night, but either the stores/cafés were closed or you just didn’t feel like getting up and driving to a nearby place to pick one up?
Here’s your solution:
If coffee shops offered a delivery option, then of course cake shops, ice cream shops, and pastry shops all came with their benefits too. Although mine wasn’t a craving late at night, it was still a craving midday nonetheless. It was still pure convenience and pure deliciousness (tiramisu!). We also ordered some smoothies from Smoothie King – which were really, really good!
Our cakes came in some fancy paper bag and our smoothies came in a cute cardboard drink carrier.
Other than the few times we were able to make it out to eat a proper meal at a restaurant, we still managed to get by having some decent meals delivered to our door. The convenience of the delivery system in Korea is really key. If you ever find yourself in Korea, just order in. The menu/food options are almost endless. As it is, there are so many restaurants in Korea (jam-packed!) and almost every single one of them offer a delivery service – most of time without a surcharge. Did I mention you can even order ice cream? It comes in a styrofoam container and they keep it in a cold thermal lunch bag until it gets to your door. All in all, I don’t see why you wouldn’t give it a try. The delivery apps (Yogiyo and Foodfly) that I used offered payment by card through the app or at the door. The options were really vast.
*Another side note: This blog took about a week to write because I kept going back and forth with things, but over the week I came across a news article highlighting that Domino’s Pizza will soon deliver to parks (click here to access the story). I thought it was ironic that I had gotten through halfway writing this blog when I read that they are slowly offering the same delivery services closer to my part of the world.
In retrospect, our trip was not necessarily tainted by the fact that we were stuck indoors for much of the time. When my buddy was sick the first week, he caught up with a bunch of work while I still ventured out to stores and even the Lotte World Tower.
To end our May 2017 trip, we visited that tower known to be the tallest in Korea. Let me tell you, … it really was the cherry on top of it all.