Lauren Vs. Food: Learning How to Cook Korean Food


korean cooking class
My cooking teacher for the day

Lauren Vs. Food is my attempt at overcoming my food neophobia by forcing myself to eat new and intimidating foods as I travel around the world. 

When I first arrived in Asia I surprised myself by being unexpectedly adventurous and trying some unfamiliar foods such as rice and noodles (yes, really), and some slightly crazier foods such as duck tongue.

However, when I arrived in China and no longer had my Taiwanese friends translating menus and insisting that I try weird foods, I stopped doing it. I fell back into my old pattern of going to grocery stores to buy familiar Western foods and choosing to eat McDonalds or KFC over eating the weird-looking Chinese food.

My lack of willingness to try new things in China was really starting to get me down.

When I finally departed China, I was filled with a newfound energy and enthusiasm that I hadn’t felt in a while.

I was ready to immerse myself into Korean culinary culture. 

korean islands from the plane

My less than pleasant introduction to Korean food occurred on the flight over to Seoul. When I saw the air stewardesses starting to bring around our meal I stifled a small squeal and pressed my fist to my mouth to stop me from whooping in excitement.

I was about to have my very first taste of Korean food and, being plane food, I was expecting it to be safe, bland and tasteless – the perfect combination for my English tastebuds.

I couldn’t have been any more wrong.

Spying a tube of ketchup and not realising that it was lethally hot sauce, I smothered my chicken in it and took a huge mouthful. My reaction can only be described as being how I would imagine I would react if I were to stick my face into a bowl of sulphuric acid.

I screamed. Well, I attempted to scream but it came out sounding more like a dying turtle gasping its final breath. I became soaked in sweat as I grabbed at my throat and hyperventilated, wondering if I was suffocating or having an allergic reaction. Tears were streaming down my face as I frantically looked around, searching the blank, confused eyes of the Koreans sat next to me, praying that they would take pity on me and provide an antidote. They laughed.

That was the moment when I discovered that Korean food is some of the spiciest in the world. 

Deciding that I hadn’t suffered enough and thinking it would be a good idea to torture myself even more, I decided to learn more about this insanely spicy food, but this time from a professional.

I arranged to have a cooking lesson at O’ngo Culinary School, where I would learn to cook two of the most famous Korean dishes – kimchi and bulgogi.

korean food cooking teacher

I entered the kitchen and immediately felt out of my depth. I was so far away from anything even faintly resembling a comfort zone I doubt I could have found it with a GPS. I sat there awkwardly listening to the excited chatter of the other students as they discussed their favourite Korean dishes and exchanged recipes and cooking techniques.

Gulp. What have I gotten myself into?

I remained silent and nodded along with their conversation and adding in the occasional “yeah” to give the impression that I was just as experienced as they are.

What would they think if they found out I have never eaten an egg before?!

Before they had a chance to realise that the only cooking experience I have is making toast, our teacher entered the room and we made our way to our workstations.

Cooking school equipment

The first dish we were learning how to cook was Kimchi.

The teacher walked us through the steps first, and I was grateful that she assumed we were all beginners and started with the basics – taking care to explain every step and the reasoning behind it.

Cooking demonstation of Korean food

As we returned to our workstations, I was surprised at just how confident I was feeling.

And then my mind went blank and I realised I’d forgotten everything we’d just been told.

I felt like I was back in school trying to discreetly look at what other people were doing so that I could copy them without realising. After standing there staring around the room, the teacher noticed my lack of movement and came over to help me out and remind me what I needed to do first.

She soon realised I was an absolute beginner when I had to ask her which was the garlic and which was the onion. 

After getting over my initial apprehension, I soon got into the swing of things and enjoyed being able to alter the recipes to my own tastes (I obviously used 1% of the chilli powder that was recommended), and this therefore led to my kimchi looking very white – something which greatly amused the other asian students in the class.

I felt surprisingly professional and here is the final result!

white kimchi

I definitely wasn’t expecting it to look so good!

Having found my feet and after realising that cooking wasn’t very intimidating at all, I was excited to start on the bulgogi.

I quickly raced through the recipe, trying to keep up with the other students as I watched their knives turn into a blur of silver with their chopping board spewing splinters and pieces of onion all over the room. I just chopped up my fingers. 

By the end of the morning, I felt like the female Gordon Ramsey, and amazingly the bulgogi turned out to be even more delicious than my kimchi!

Korean bulgogi

For the rest of my time in Seoul I was able to somewhat confidently order in restaurants and know exactly what I would be getting without freaking out that I was going to be handed a plate of dog intestines.

Despite having absolutely zero cooking experience before joining the class, I thoroughly enjoyed my morning and I was surprised how much fun I had learning how to cook. If you’re ever in Seoul and have a spare day to fill, this is a fun and interesting way to pass some time while learning a little about Korean cuisine.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary beginner cooking lesson from O’ngo Culinary School. All opinions expressed are my own. 

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Next Bau Haus: Visiting The Dog Cafe in Seoul

35 Comments

  1. Fidel @IHarTravel
    December 22, 2011
    Reply

    How are earth are you surviving in Thailand? Home of the world’s spiciest food.
    I am a fan of Korean BBQ, not kimchee though. Korean chicken is very spicy. There is one place in Busan popular with Sailors and the chicken there is so spicy that the skin is actually red.

    • Lauren
      December 22, 2011
      Reply

      Hey Fidel,

      I’m not coping very well in Thailand, haha! I do find myself ordering Western food in most places, or sticking to very plain chicken & fried rice.

      My new years resolution is to try more Thai food! :)

      • Fidel @IHarTravel
        December 23, 2011
        Reply

        Spring rolls will be your new best friend!

        • Lauren
          December 24, 2011
          Reply

          I do like spring rolls… :)

  2. Susan
    December 22, 2011
    Reply

    Haha. Great story, Lauren. My best friend is an extremely picky eater, so your comment about never having eaten an egg before made me laugh. I live in Korea and really dig the spicy food!

    • Lauren
      December 22, 2011
      Reply

      I don’t know how you can eat it, it’s insanely spicy! My poor tongue :(

  3. James Cook
    December 22, 2011
    Reply

    I am slowly teaching myself to cook. I try to do two new recipes a week. :)

    • Lauren
      December 22, 2011
      Reply

      That’s awesome, James. If I had a kitchen I’d almost say that I’d try and learn to cook while in Thailand – but I know I’d probably be too lazy!

  4. Natalie
    December 22, 2011
    Reply

    Hey Lauren,

    Your dishes look great, I’d definitely eat them! Glad that you managed to get a slightly better induction to Korean cuisine after your awful plane experience.

    What are you favourite dishes in Korea? I love the food here. Even though I’ve been here for ten months, I’m always finding something new!

    • Lauren
      December 22, 2011
      Reply

      Thanks, Natalie!

      I absolutely fell in love with Korean BBQ while i was there. I also liked samgyeopsal and japchae, but didn’t get to try much else while I was there.

      What are your favourite dishes?

  5. Angie Orth of Angie Away
    December 22, 2011
    Reply

    So gutsy! Of all the things I’ve done this year, I’ve yet to take a cooking class. I’m so intimidated by kitchens! But maybe now I will. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Lauren
      December 24, 2011
      Reply

      Oh, tell me about it! I felt SO out of my depth there, but it ended up being really fun. You should definitely try it! :)

  6. Sherry
    December 22, 2011
    Reply

    Food is the best way to experience a country, I think. You’re such a trooper for trying. For me, I love Korean food – for the strong flavor and the fact that it is spicy.

    • Lauren
      December 24, 2011
      Reply

      And that’s the exact same reasons for why I don’t love it!

  7. Cam
    December 22, 2011
    Reply

    Look at you all pro chef!
    Looks yummy. We love experiencing new foods when traveling to new cultures

    • Lauren
      December 24, 2011
      Reply

      I’ve never attempted much to try new foods, but I’m definitely going to start from now on!

  8. Mina Sameh
    December 22, 2011
    Reply

    Thats funny :D though I appreciate your courage…you should always try those new stuff, otherwise you wouldn’t know if they are good or not

    • Lauren
      December 22, 2011
      Reply

      I know, i know… i’m getting better, but the new foods do intimidate me a little…

  9. jade
    December 23, 2011
    Reply

    Super fun- I would love to take a cooking class like that!

    • Lauren
      December 24, 2011
      Reply

      It was so much fun, Jade, you’d love it!

  10. Stephanie - The Travel Chica
    December 24, 2011
    Reply

    You may be the only person in the world with less cooking experience than me :-)

    • Lauren
      January 3, 2012
      Reply

      Hahahaha, oh I know, I’m terrible :D

  11. cheryl
    December 24, 2011
    Reply

    Awwww! I prob would have done the same thing on the plane. :) Glad you had fun in your first Korean cooking class. I dated a Korean guy for 7 years and I miss having his mom’s home cooked meals.

    • Lauren
      January 3, 2012
      Reply

      How were the meals? Were they insanely spicy?!

  12. Rachelle
    December 24, 2011
    Reply

    That’s awesome! I can empathize with the Thai food I’ve tried and some experiments with the ghost chili pepper.

    Personally, I don’t know how the locals eat this way all the time and still have any tastebuds left.

    Enjoyed your post!

    • Lauren
      January 3, 2012
      Reply

      Wow, ghost chilli?! That’s brave…

      I was wondering the same, you’d think it would burn through their stomach!

  13. Mary @ Green Global Travel
    December 28, 2011
    Reply

    Good for you for being so brave and tackling a cuisine so foreign to you. Your post is very inspiring :)

    • Lauren
      January 3, 2012
      Reply

      Aww, thanks so much, Mary!

  14. Jade - OurOyster.com
    December 29, 2011
    Reply

    I just love doing cooking classes! I try to do them in every (non western) country. You learn so much and they are skills you can keep with you forever. PS you havn’t eaten an egg before? really?

    • Lauren
      January 3, 2012
      Reply

      I know… I ate an egg for the first time a few weeks ago… It tasted like feet! :D

      I really enjoyed the cooking class and am considering doing it in every place I visit now!

  15. Laura
    December 29, 2011
    Reply

    I have never been to cooking classes, but this sounds wonderful.

    • Lauren
      January 3, 2012
      Reply

      It was really enjoyable.

  16. Dayna
    December 30, 2011
    Reply

    Ohhhhh bulgogi! I used to work in a Korean restaurant (in the States), and their food was fantastic (and I’m told very authentic, though having not been to Korea, my opinion doesn’t really count). If you get a chance, go to a Korean BBQ restaurant where you can grill your own meat!

    • Lauren
      January 3, 2012
      Reply

      I did do the Korean BBQ and it was so much fun! I loved cooking my own meat and actually having control over how spicy it was :D

  17. Vicky
    April 5, 2012
    Reply

    Since I absolutely love to cook one of the things I’m most excited for during my travels is taking cooking classes. Would you recommend this one?

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