After living in Korea for two years we’ve narrowed down our list of the best Korean foods you must try when visiting Korea!
Isn’t food the best excuse to travel? No? Just us? If you find yourself in Korea here is the ultimate list of Korean food you must try while there!
The best Korean foods in no particular order….
Bibimbap is one of the most popular Korean foods, having made it’s way across the world.
It’s rice a and vegetable dish served inside a searing hot clay pot. The dish arrives layered, and it’s your privilege to mix the rice, vegetables, and egg all together to cook it through. You can add a chili paste, make it crusty by pushing the mix to the bowl edges, or any number of other tricks to personalize your meal.
The beauty of Bibimbap is that it satisfies all tastes. It’s really just rice, so if you aren’t comfortable trying more unique Korean foods Bibimbap can be your standby order!
2. Sundae Blood Sausage
A favorite for Koreans, this dish is fun to tell others you’ve tried but may not end up being your favorite.
Blood Sausage, known as Sundae in Korea, is animal intestine filled with minced meat, glass noodles, and blood. You can find them at food stalls and restaurants around Korea, stacked in a dark sausage pyramid.
Yes, it sounds kind of awful to eat cow intestine filled with blood, but seriously- just give it a try! Lots of people love it. It’s definitely one of the most iconic Korean foods!
3. Kimchi jjigae
Kimchi Jjigae is delicious and one of the best Korean foods to try in Korea!
Jjigae is the Korean word for soup, so kimchi jjigae is a soup made with kimchi.
The soup is a spicy, light broth with pieces of kimchi, firm tofu chunks, and strips of pork. It’s really delicious! I don’t personally like tofu or the pork strips, but they add a great flavor to the broth so I just push those pieces aside.
Alternately, you can order Kimchi Jjigae’s cousin: Doenjang Jjigae! This soup has a similar broth to kimchi jjigae, but in place of kimchi pieces there are other vegetables and it’s not as spicy. It’s made from a bean paste, so it’s full of flavor!
Kimchi jjigae is served in a hot clay bowl so just give it plenty of time to cool down!
4. Korean BBQ
Definitely the most popular Korean food on this list is Korean BBQ. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, and maybe even eaten it before! There are some great Korean BBQ places around the world, but it’s a whole other experience eating Korean BBQ in Korea!
Korean BBQ places are preeeeeeeeeeeeeetty much everywhere. If there’s no sign that says “Korean BBQ” in English above a restaurant just look for vertical banners with photos of raw meat plates.
The restaurant will be packed with tables. Each table has a fire pit in the center, where an employee will help you start cooking bits of meat. As the meat cooks you’ll get a set of Korean side dishes, called banchan, which elevate the cooked meat.
You’ll get a plate of lettuce leaves, raw garlic cloves, chili peppers, kimchi, rice, and sauces. Traditionally you’ll make a lettuce wrap by adding meat, rice, kimchi, garlic, and sauce, but you can also just dip the meat into the sauce and eat it separately.
I can’t explain why this meal is so amazing. It sounds simple, right? But seriously, there’s no better meal (in my book) than dipping freshly cooked bits of meat in a salt sauce while crouched around a steaming table shoulder-to-shoulder with red-faced drinking Koreans.
Odeng is fish cake. Seriously.
It’s a hot dog-like fish blend that’s remolded into a thin strip. The fish strip is usually skewered and kept warm in a light fish broth. It’s one of the most common street foods and available in subway station, corner food vendors, and at restaurants.
One odeng skewer costs around $1, so it’s a filling, flavorful snack you can find and afford any time!
This isn’t one of our favorite Korean foods, but children love it and it’s easy to find. At only $1 it’s an easy food to try while in Korea!
6. Kimchi Pancake
This Korean food is pretty much exactly as it sounds. Small pieces of cut kimchi cooked inside pancake batter.
The difference between a Kimchi Pancake and a breakfast pancake is that a kimchi pancake is savory, not sweet.
It’s fried on the spot (no one wants an old kimchi pancake!) and served pizza-style with a sauce on the side. Dip your triangle pieces in the sauce, but it’s also good without. With a combination of delicious kimchi, savory batter, and oil you really can’t go wrong!
It’s sounds so weird, but kimchi pancake is an iconic Korean food you will love. It’s usually thick with grease and served on a piece of wax paper. What’s not to love?
Gimbap is most similar to sushi, but Koreans will fight you to the death if you call gimbap “Korean sushi.”
It’s a roll of rice and pickled vegetables wrapped in dried seaweed. As opposed to traditional sushi, gimbap doesn’t usually include meat or fish. Instead you’ll find pickled radish, kimchi, egg, carrot, or canned tuna.
Gimbap can be served sliced as a side dish or bought in a complete roll from convenience stores as a bite-on-the-go snack.
I love traditional sushi and wasn’t into gimbap the first time I tried it, but now I find it really tasty and refreshing! Give gimbap a try- you’ll like it, too!
8. Donkkaseu (Tonkatsu)
Donkkaseu is a thin pork cutlet that’s battered in panko bits and fried. Similar to German schnitzel, it’s crunchy and full of flavor!
It’s a popular dish you’ll find at most traditional Korean restaurants in Seoul for around $5-$10 USD. It often comes with a special sauce drizzled on top, but could also have melted cheese on top. I like it with the sauce on the side, because the pork just fried is so delicious!
9. Sanakji Live Octopus
San (alive) Nakji (octopus). Get it? zz
Look for a restaurant with a picture of octopus tentacles on the window to find a place to eat almost live tentacles!
Seafood is common and popular in South Korea, but this dish is pretty unique. Octopus tentacles are cut into bite-sized pieces and served on a plate with a side of oily sauce. Dip the bite into sauce and eat!
This dish comes with a warning: the tentacle retain their muscle spasm for a while after being cut, so the suckers can stick to your throat. That’s why it’s important to dip it in sauce first- the oil will help it slide down!
Take a picture and video of yourself eating the live octopus, because friends back home will be jealous you had the chance!
10. Beondegi (Silkworm Chrysalis)
Korea went through a period of poverty when World War II ended, which turned children at that time to eating silk worm chrysalis as snacks. And why not? When boiled they are crunchy, salty, and full of nutrients!
Those children grew up to be adults who fed their children silkworm chrysalis, and so the cycle continues.
Today you’ll find Korean women sitting on low stools stirring a giant pot of Beondegi, ready to dish out a cup to anyone willing to hand over $1.
Try not to think about the fact that you’re eating bugs when you have that first bite. Instead just think of it as a thick potato chip!
What to Expect When Ordering Korean Food:
Because there are so quirks to eating at authentic Korean restaurants and you don’t want to look like a fool!
Kimchi Is Life.
Kimchi is cabbage which has been fermented in a spicy liquid. The final result is limp pieces of spicy cabbage served cold which marry perfectly with traditional Korean foods. Koreans not only love the taste of Kimchi, they also believe it’s healthy. The fermentation process breeds healthy bacteria, which keeps your body going smoothly!
It sounds strange to foreigners, but consider that most cultures have a version of fermented foods. Germany uses sauerkraut, the United States eat yogurt, and so on.
Whether you like it or not kimchi is served with just about every meal in Korea. You’ll get it as one of your banchan at Korean restaurants, so you’ll have to try it sooner or later!
Our preferred method of eating kimchi is to cleanse your palate in between bites of your meal, or mixed with a side order of rice as it’s own tasty, crunchy, cold snack.
Korean Meals are Served with Banchan.
Banchan is a set of side dishes which are brought out with your meal. You’ll usually get an odd number of banchan (between 3-7 depending on how fancy your meal is) which are meant to enhance the experience of eating. Banchan most commonly include kimchi, but could also include bean sprouts, anchovies, cucumber, radish, seaweed, etc.
Banchan are served in small bowls and are meant to be shared around the table. Don’t worry about wanting more- that’s encouraged! If you need extra just flag down a restaurant employee and ask or gesture towards the empty banchan bowl. They’ll have plenty pre-made and will bring you a new bowl quickly!
The beauty of banchan is that you can begin eating right away, as they are usually brought out after you order. If you like kimchi as much as most people you can ward off hunger by eating yours before your main dish arrives!
The downside of banchan is that they take up a lot of room. You’ll find yourself reaching all over the table to get a bite of the banchan you want, or without enough room for your rice bowl or other necessary items because your immediate vicinity is covered by a ton of small bowls.
Korean Chopsticks are the Worst!
Not all chopsticks are created equally.
Yes, it sounds harsh to say Korean chopsticks are the worst, but rest assured most people familiar with Asia all agree with this!
As opposed to other countries which use rounded, wooden chopsticks, Korean chopsticks have a double whammy of toughness: They are both metal (slippery) and rectangular (difficult to grab with). The final result means you have to have excellent chopstick technique to keep the slippery tools in your hand in the first place and good precision to pick up food around the rectangular ends.
Don’t worry if you don’t get it right away. Look around and you’ll notice people all around you slip their chopsticks, too! Just keep trying.
You’re Served a Water Bottle at the table.
Koreans traditionally don’t drink until the very end of their meal, but they understand foreigners drink more frequently.
Don’t worry, this water has been filtered! It’s technically safe to drink the public water in Korea, but most locals don’t. It’s a matter of cultural preference to drink filtered water, so you can be sure that the water you’re being served is clean.
Your table may have a stack of clean glasses in the middle and you are welcome to serve yourself as soon as your water bottle arrives. Restaurants keep tons of these water bottles chilled at all times so don’t hesitate to ask for another!
Chopsticks, Spoons, and Napkins are in the Middle of the Table.
Table will usually have a long box in the middle. This is your utensil box. It houses a stack of metal chopsticks and a stack of wide spoons with long handles. Beside the utensil box is a square box of tissue-like napkins. The polite thing to do is place a folded napkin in front of each table guest and then place a set of chopsticks and a spoon on each person’s napkin. Just be sure not to touch the eating end of anything!
If you happen to drop a chopstick while eating leave it alone and grab another. Easy peasy.
Forks are available upon request if you or a child prefer one. In our experience, at least half of restaurants automatically gave our 6-yr-old son a fork when our meal arrived.
Lunchtime is Sacred.
Koreans take their lunch hour very seriously!
In early 2018 Korea officially cut the 68-hour work week to 52 hours. That’s a lot of hours! As you can infer, Koreans take their jobs very seriously. When faced with a demanding work schedule they have at least one thing to look forward to every day: lunch.
It’s not uncommon to find the many, many, many Korean quick eating restaurants filled between 11:30 and 12:30, and then a virtual ghost town the rest of the afternoon.
So if you’re flexible you may want to consider a late lunch!
You’re expected to order beer with certain foods.
Kimchi Pancakes are so full of oil that they are often ordered with beer. Koreans believe alcohol helps to neutralize the oil in your stomach. If you order a Kimchi Pancake alone you might get some funny looks, but don’t let that stop you!
Same goes for fried chicken. You’ll notice most chicken restaurants actually advertise “Chicken + Beer”, because it’s such a common combination!
Look for an Apron.
Since lunchtime is sacred Korean restaurants are used to their clientelle being dressed in nice clothes. Many will provide cloth or disposable aprons for their patrons to wear to protect their clothes. This comes in handy as many Korean foods are flavored in red pepper or served in a colorful broth.
Look for a box of them beside the cashier, hung up on the wall, or ask (or gesture) for one from your server.
We hope you love Korean Foods as much as we do! These traditional, delicious items are easy to find in Korea so you have no excuse not to try them!
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