1. Attend a hoesik.

Ever eaten so much that your lungs can't fully expand? #banchan #sogood

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Hoesik literally translates to “dinner with co-workers.” If you live and work in Korea, chances are you’ve had no choice but to attend one. There’s no better way to immerse yourself into Korean food-and-drink culture than having locals guide you through the course of a four-hour-long dinner. You’ll feast on loads of banchan, Korean tapas ranging from fiery kimchi to fresh bean sprouts, soy sauce-simmered dobu (tofu) and savory pajeon (green onion pancake). You’ll learn the art of grilling the juiciest samgyeopsal (Korean barbecue) and find there’s no limit to soju shots if an elder insists you take seven of them. Each hoesik is different depending on the workplace, so soju may be substituted for soda and after-dinner entertainment can be as tame as a latte at a café or as wild as an obligatory all-nighter at the nearest norebang. Two things are certain: your legs will fall asleep over and over again from sitting on the floor and you’ll eat something you’ve never seen before.

2. Try sannakji (live octopus).

There’s a classic scene from the Korean movie Oldboy where the lead character rips into the head of an octopus while its tentacles reach, throbbing and slimy, across his face and around his nose before he finishes the dish. This is a great tutorial on how not to eat your first octopus because it could be your last — its arms can suction to your throat and choke you to death. That said, the dish is a Korean delicacy and, if you can stomach it, worth trying when you visit. For a safer, less violent version, try sliced sannakji instead. The bite-sized pieces are more conventional to consume even though they continue to squirm when you attempt to pick them up. The writhing tentacles cling tight to the dish, your chopsticks, and, later, your tongue. Chew immediately if you don’t wish to experience wriggling, sticky appendages rolling around in your mouth.

3. Sample cheap street eats with drunken strangers late night under a pojangmacha.

POCHA #pojangmacha #korea #life #booze

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Pojangmachas or “covered wagons” are the original food truck. The bright orange or yellow-tented carts function as restaurants, usually with simple menus of traditional street food like sundae (blood sausage), ddeokbokki (tangy rice cakes) and odeng (fish cakes), all of which can be washed down with a glass of soju, makgeolli (rice wine) or maegju (beer). Each pojangmacha has a table and chairs for comfort and a tarp over top to protect patrons from rain or cold. Entering a pojangmacha as a foreigner is daunting at first, especially if you don’t speak Korean, but all you have to do is point to the dish you want to try. Oh, and there aren’t bathrooms inside the tents; that toilet paper hanging from the ceiling is meant to be your napkin.

4. Learn to make your own kimchi.

Eating a crisp, spicy bite of kimchi is like tasting a piece of Korea’s history. The red chili pepper coated fermented vegetables (usually cabbage, radish, or cucumber) date back to the 7th century, and today it’s almost impossible to have a meal without the popular side dish. To gain deeper knowledge about the traditional cuisine, visit Museum Kimchikan (originally Kimchi Field Museum), in Seoul where you can sample a selection of almost 200 varieties of kimchi. The museum also offers cooking classes and an array of exhibits including ‘A Reinterpretation of the Culture of Kimchi,’ ‘Birth and Evolution of Kimchi’ and the curious ‘Sound of Kimchi’s Flavor’.

5. Feast on desserts in quirky cafés.

Coffee shops in Korea aren’t for studying as much as they are for socializing and entertainment. Peruse any street and you’re sure to stumble upon a fancy theme from the trendy dog-and-cat variety to dress-up shops. Regardless of the café décor, the dessert menu is bound to be stunning. Some café themes are the desserts, like Monster Cupcakes in Seoul while others specialize in selling a mix of treats. For an authentic Korean confection with a chilled, sugary punch, try bingsu, a combo of shaved ice, condensed milk, ice cream, rice cakes and sweet red beans. Sulbing is a creamier bingsu that uses frozen milk chips instead of shaved ice. Or opt for the melting mounds of ice cream, fresh fruit, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce folded into a warm, thick waffle.

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