A trip to South Korea was never on my travel list but when I was invited to attend the International Council of Nurses conference in 2015 the offer was of course to good to turn down. As I considered my packing list, a selection of good traveling gluten free food was, as always, at the top of my list. Despite my good intentions, I had a last minute panic about customs not appreciating my stash and left my food loot back home in Oz. I was not however too concerned and as I imagined the food in Seoul would be mainly fresh vegetables and rice dishes.
I stayed in Songpa-gu, a bustling district in southeastern Seoul and home to over 600,000 residents. One of my favorite experiences of the trip was spending lazy evenings wandering the streets of this district which came alive at night with bustling street markets full of fresh produce stalls and vendors offering cheap pre-cooked meals to eat on the run. Whilst the vendors were super friendly and very keen to offer their delights, I did not try the street food as most of it was battered and fried, so I presumed not a gluten-free eat. I did try some of the local fruit produce, whilst I couldn’t get my head, or taste buds around seongju chamoe (Korean melon) I did purchase bananas, which proved to serve me well for breakfasts and snacks.
My favorite gluten free eats in South Korea
Kimchi – oh kimchi, how I love you!
Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish which is served with almost every meal. Consisting of pickled vegetables and loaded with spices I credit Kimchi to the great gut health I experienced whilst in South Korea. My fellow coeliacs will appreciated the joy of good gut health whilst traveling…..it does make for a much, much more pleasurable journey!
Bibimbap – oh my giddy Aunt – wow! Bibimbap was by far my best South Korean food find. Bibimbap is basically a big bowl of rice, vegetables and meat, though there are many variations on this popular meal. I’ll always remember my first bibimbap experience fondly, I received great instruction from some local diners on how to eat this dish (apparently you’re supposed to mix it all together to eat). I’ve made bibimbap a number of times now for my family and it was enjoyed by all……one of my favorite recipes can be found on My Korean Kitchen website – if you try it let me know what you think!
Buckwheat Pancakes – I’m unsure of the Korean name for this dish but the buckwheat pancake was food was another wow moment for me. These pancakes were unreal. More pizza-like than pancake-ish, this buckwheat based delight was topped with seafood, chillis and spring onions. By chance, we came across this quaint, uber friendly restaurant close by the Chang Deok Gung Palace in Jongno-gu. Unfortunately the name of the restaurant escapes me, I would love to be able to share it with you. We actually made the trek back to Jongno-gu twice more – the food from this restaurant was too good to only eat once!
Whilst I ended up discovering some new food favorites, eating gluten free in South Korea was not always as easy as I had expected. The first issue I came across was the language barrier, which evidently I had failed to consider prior to my departure. I’m not a seasoned traveler though I had however been wise enough to print out a translated page on food that I needed to avoid – this little page proved to be well utilized and saved me on more than one occasion.
If you’ve traveled to South Korea I’d love to know your favorite South Korean dish!