Last month I visited Seoul, South Korea, Here's a look at something I ate from my trip. For more, check out the rest of my Snapshots from South Korea.
"There's a place nearby that serves food like you'd find in a school canteen, but a little more upscale," said Terry Rah, my friend and food guide for the morning. "Do you want to check it out?"
Back in the U.S., I don't think the prospect of eating at a restaurant that served food akin to a school cafeteria's would ever appeal to me. I'm still haunted by the Aramark-made pizza, nachos, and sandwiches from my high school cafeteria. But Korean school food is a different matter, certainly not reminiscent of anything I ate in my school cafeterias growing up.
While walking along a quiet shopping street in Apgujeong lined with boutiques and restaurants, Terry brought us to the appropriately named School Food. The restaurant's menu features simple homey foods you might find in an around schools such as kimbap, noodles, rice cakes (tteokbokki), rice dishes, dumplings, soups, and more—simple dishes known as bunsik.
Terry and I shared two kimbap rolls and a bowl of noodles. I only started eating kimbap a few years ago, but ever since then I've liked it more than Japanese-style sushi. Granted, that's like saying I prefer a burger over a grilled chicken sandwich—they're both sandwiches, but with completely different fillings. One isn't necessarily tastier than the other; it just depends on your personal preference. That's how I think of kimbap versus sushi: they both have similar outer bits of rice and seaweed, but the fillings and seasonings are different.
School Food offers an interesting array of kimbap with fillings including beef teriyaki, bacon and garlic, Spam, and fried shrimp. We tried the squid ink roll made with squid ink-flavored rice and the hot pepper and anchovy roll. Both also contained bits of spicy pickled radish for a hot kick.
Our bowl of ramyun (Korean ramen) came in a spicy broth flavored with jjangachi—dried pickled radish—and was topped with green onions and an egg. Terry explained that jjanggachi is a sort of replacement for kimchi in Korean fast food places that students eat at. I've eaten plenty of Japanese-style ramen since I was little, but Korean ramyun is equally satisfying with the additional appeal of spiciness (if you see spiciness as a plus, which I do).
Even though I didn't grow up eating Korean-style school food, it appeals to me as an adult. According to this article from Asia News Net School Food is planning to expand to the U.S. I'll eat there when it does!
There seem to be multiple locations; the one I went to is labeled with "A."