South Korean food you must try!
In terms of food; South Korea had me completely out of my comfort zone.
Now just stand in my shoes a moment.
I had arrived to Korea with weapons grade tonsillitis and I had no idea what anything was (my Korean was a little rusty …erhem okay, non-existent) and I soon found out that most food in Korea was super…duper…crazy HOT.
I had little to no knowledge about any of the menu items and my decision making boiled down to me pointing at the menu randomly and saying “Eguh juseyo”
My philosophy was “I get what I’m given and I’m going to eat it!”
Is jumping in the deep end and taking a chance on your food a bad thing?
When you’re traveling that’s what it’s all about. I can say with great confidence that I didn’t have a singular bad meal in South Korea. But…others might not be so lucky. So, for your convenience I’ve written my top list of food you should seek out to try in South Korea. I don’t claim to be an expert but Korean food is not to be overlooked.
Cue grumbling stomach
Naengmyeon (Cold noodles)
If you’re in South Korea during their famously hot summers then you must try Naengmyeon! Wipe the sweat off your brow as your slurp down this unique noodle soup.
The noodles have a glossy, bouncy consistency and are made from starches like potato, buckwheat & arrowroot. They are clear but also come in hues of brown, red and even black!
They are submerged in an icy broth (sometimes chicken) with hints of cucumber and vinegar. The soup toppings vary — ranging from beef, seaweed and boiled eggs.
When I first ate Naengmyeon, I had a lot of difficulty eating the noodles. It seemed like there was no end to them! In Korea, eating noodles without cutting them is good for your longevity but don’t be afraid to ask for a pair of kitchen scissors!
Bibimbap (Korean rice dish)
Bibimbap — it’s one of those words I love hearing and it’s something I LOVE eating.
If you’re ever feeling a little empty inside, not just hungry. I mean like your soul just isn’t fulfilled today. Then go and grab a big ol’ bowl of Bibimbap to reverse those blues.
Bibimbap is probably one of the healthiest dishes you could possibly choose. You have a base of rice, topped with a relay of fresh and pickled vegetables, some salad greens & a fried egg. Look to your side and you’ll find a generous serving of kimchi and pickled radish on the house.
Gimbap & Bulgogi ( Rice dishes)
You can enjoy gimbap and bulgogi as separate meals OR if you have a hole in your leg like me — you can eat them together.
I don’t want to say that gimbap is like Sushi because its not. But for arguments sake, sushi is the closest visual equivalent.
You can find gimbap all over South Korea; at markets, in the convenience stores, vending machines & at local restaurants. It’s a really compact and easy to eat meal. There are many filling options and no two gimbap are the same! Gimbap is conveniently cut into bite sized pieces so they make the perfect travel companion.
Bulgogi literally translates to “fire meat”. It consists of thinly cut strips of beef or pork that is grilled over a flame to achieve a beautiful caramelization. You can have bulgogi over rice as a main meal or as a side dish ( just the meat).
Mandu (Korean dumpling)
Dumplings: it doesn’t matter who makes them, they’re always going to be good.
Get your mitts around a kimchi mandu at the local market.
You can find these deliciously hot parcels everywhere. They’re the perfect hunger killer on a cold day.
Pajeon (Korean fried pancake)
Savoury pancakes are serious business in South Korea. You will see stall after stall of women flipping huge disks in shallow baths of oil. Despite this, the pancakes themselves aren’t too oily or heavy.
The contents of the pancake can range from green vegetables, beef, kimchi and sometimes seafood. It’s an easy item to eat on the go or pull up a stool at the local market for a quick feed.
huraideu-chikin (Korean fried chicken)
Korean fried chicken needs no introduction. It is quite possibly the fried chicken to end all fried chicken debates. I’m talking crunchy outer coating, soft succulent chicken on the inside. It’s never oily and it has never left me feeling heavy or sluggish.
You can have it plain or you can have it dressed in sticky soy sauce. I highly recommend the latter. Korean fried chicken is a staple at any bar or pub in Korea. You can even get fried chicken on the beach in Busan!
THE LOCAL MARKET
The local market is an awesome way to experience the full breadth of Korean cooking. There are many sit down stalls in Korea where you can sample some of the finest seafood, chow down on some crunchy Korean fried chicken or lick the world’s biggest ice-cream (32cm tall)!
DAKGALBI (spicy stir-fried chicken with cheese)
This dish is not for the faint of heart. The first time I tried dakgalbi my mouth was on FIRE but I couldn’t stop eating!
At your table there will be a round hot plate; its here the origins of dakgalbi begin. Throw some spicy chicken thigh and some greens on the hot plate and lets get sizzling. To lessen the blow of the spiciness you can order a river of cheese to flow around the edges of the grill.
Dakgalbi grew quickly to be one of my absolute favourite meals in South Korea. It’s a dish best shared amongst friends so don’t go in ordering this one just for yourself. Or do! I don’t control your life choices. If your crew is still hungry after this epic feed order a bowl of rice and chuck that on the seasoned pan. The rice will pick up the delicious flavours on the grill.
Dakhanmari (Boiled chicken soup)
Chicken soup for the travellers soul. There’s not much to say about this dish other than it warms the heart. Come in out of the cold and have yourself a whole chicken soup. This is another meal to share with friends so grab a few hungry people together to sip on this flavoursome broth.
Gogi-gui ( Korean BBQ )
This wouldn’t be a Korean food guide without Korean BBQ. Again, grab a few friends for this one because there is no end in sight for when all the side dishes come out. If you’re not familiar with the cooking method don’t worry. Most servers will automatically start grilling the meat and vegetables for you.
Grab a few bottles of soju and dig in! This isn’t a quick meal so get comfortable…and maybe loosen your belt!
Tteokbokki (rice cake noodles)
Tteokbokki is a very popular dish in Korea with many variations. You can have tteokbokki softened & lathered in a spicy sauce, grilled on the BBQ (pictured below) or floating in soup broth. Tteokbokki is a popular meal because it is quick and easy. You can find it in most convenient stores and restaurants.