If you’ve ever tried Korean food before, you must know how it’s always fun to eat. It always brings together families and friends over gratifying dishes and unique dining experiences. Everyone is guaranteed satisfaction in flavors and servings, from Korean barbecues serving meats and veggies to soulful, rich broth soups. What is really lovely about Korean food is that its menus are usually great for sharing. With Korean food, you do not just get savory food, but you also share them with your loved ones. At Roverista, we have selected the best Korean food you should try when you’re visiting Seoul. Read on to learn more.
Korean cuisine is one of the healthiest in the world, where vegetables are loved and are almost present in every dish, and meats are cooked in as little oil as possible. They also love fermenting vegetables which are beneficial as they are rich in probiotic bacteria, increasing the health of your digestive and immune systems.
Korean cuisine borrows a few elements from China and Japan. However, it still has its own unique cuisine, as seen back when elaborate feasts were served in ancient palaces.
What makes Korean food unique is that every meal is balanced. There is a perfect match between the yin and yang where every meal has positive and negative elements. They can both be salty and bitter, sweet and sour, incorporating a shock of colors.
The typical Korean food starts with a bowl of rice and soup, where the main meal is complemented with numerous shared side dishes. The number of side dishes differs, but they usually range from two to twelve.
Unlike other cuisines, Korean cuisine is served at once to be shared rather than in courses. A typical Korean feast includes dishes cooked in different ways: pan-fried, steamed, simmered, stewed, fermented, and raw. The backbone of every Korean meal is rice, but it is sometimes substituted with noodles.
Korean food is known to be intensely flavored, sharp-tasting, and spicy. Still, it is never complete without the famous sauces and spices such as salt and sesame oil, soybean paste (daenjang), chili pepper paste (gochugang), chili pepper flakes, garlic, and ginger.
When you dine at a traditional Korean restaurant, you’ll often find indoor grills where they are placed in the middle of the table. Korean BBQ is famous in Korea and in other Korean restaurants worldwide where paper-thin slices of meat (bulgogi) or beef ribs (kalbi), marinated or not, are served then grilled by customers.
After grilling, meats are then cut into pieces, wrapped in lettuce leaves, then topped with your own choice of side dish. These wraps are made one by one by the customer then eaten as one big bite. Remember: Korean BBQs are best enjoyed by hand!
Besides the usual meats of pork and beef, seafood is also part of Korean cuisine since the country is surrounded by the sea on three sides.
Also, since Korea is mountainous, it creates regions. Each area has its own style of food, cooking, and ingredients where they add or remove some of a dish’s main elements. This is the reason why most Korean food has a lot of variations.
Koreans love vegetables and being healthy, so they have perfected the art of preserving them. Many of their side dishes are pickled, salted, or fermented.
An example of a popular Korean side dish would be kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage adored in every meal. They have not only perfected fermenting it but have also developed a hundred varieties by using other vegetables.
Besides fermenting, Koreans also put emphasis on the role of food as medicine, so they use exotic ingredients in their cooking and in their brewed teas. Such exotic ingredients include jujube (red dates), dried persimmon, ginkgo, ginseng, tangerine, chestnut, and pine seeds.
For their drinks, Koreans love to drink tea, especially barley and roasted rice tea. They also love soju which is their favorite alcoholic drink with a whopping 20% abv content. It is a clear alcoholic drink that’s made from distilling rice or sweet potatoes.
Started as a way to ferment vegetables during the winter months in Korea, Kimchi is traditional Korean food that’s always served in every meal. This fermented vegetable dish began as cabbage pickled in salty brine then slowly altered into more seasoned and spiced kimchi.
Kimchi is also a healthy Korean food because of its high nutritional value and health benefits. According to the American magazine “Health,” it’s one of the top five healthiest food in the world.
Through its fermentation, lactic acid bacteria are created, which help combat harmful bacteria and provide healthy digestion. Other variations of kimchi use other vegetables other than cabbage, such as radish and cucumber.
Hoeddeok or hotteok is a popular Korean street food which is a filled Korean pancake. Sweeter than the Western version of a pancake, hoeddeok is a must-eat in Seoul, especially in winter. It is made of circular flour dough with a sweet brown sugary filling that is oh so fulfilling!
But evolving versions of it have expanded the filling ingredients used, such as cinnamon, honey, peanuts, and walnuts. It is cooked in a griddle and is crisp on the outside but soft and indulgent on the inside.
One of the best Korean food is the popular Samgyeopsal. It is made up of grilled pure pork belly slices that are neither marinated nor seasoned. These are best enjoyed when dipped with a seasoning of sesame seed oil with salt and pepper, giving a juicy flavor.
Wrap them in lettuce with some garlic and onion slices, green onions, and for a fiery kick, some kimchi. This must-try Korean food is such a staple that it’s always found in Korean restaurants anywhere in the world.
Andong Jjimdak is another kind of jjim that originated in Andong City, Gyeongsangbok-do Province. It is made with marinated chicken and vegetables using a ganjang-based sauce. It has a subtle spiciness, salty, sweet, but is ultimately savory.
The spicy kick comes from the dried whole red chili peppers and fresh hot chili peppers from the braising liquid. Because of all the mix of these flavors, the Andong jjimdak is addicting and definitely a must-try food in Seoul.
Ddukbokki, also known as tteokbokki, is a simple Korean street food staple made with rice cakes and fish cakes. Its red-orange appearance makes it a famous Korean street food icon that there’s an entire place in Seoul dedicated to it. Ddukbokki is made of triangular fish cakes (oden), cylindrical rice cakes (tteok), vegetables, and sweet, spicy sauces made of chili pepper paste (gochujang). As you walk along the streets of Korea, you’ll find ddukbokki in every corner sold by street vendors.
An authentic Korean food that’s usually served as a side dish during lunch or dinner, Japchae is a traditional Korean noodle dish. It is made of thin, transparent cellophane noodles with thinly sliced vegetables, beef, sweet potato, all sauteed in soy sauce with sugar. Sometimes mushrooms and other vegetable ingredients are added for healthy Korean food. This dish is so savory, sweet, and chewy that it’s always present during their traditional feasts, celebrations, and potlucks.
Bulgogi is made of grilled marinated thin slices of beef sirloin that’s flavorful and juicy. The beef is marinated for 2 to 4 hours in a sauce made up of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, onion, ginger, black pepper, and sugar, giving the bulgogi its rich taste.
After marinating, it is grilled with onions, green peppers, and garlic, giving the meat more flavor and a somewhat smoky tang. Usually, bulgogi is best enjoyed and eaten when wrapped in lettuce with a bit of ssamjang (thick, spicy paste).
Bibimbap is an authentic Korean food you shouldn’t miss when you visit Seoul. Loved by Koreans, bibimbap is a mixed rice meal with meat and assorted vegetables. This tasty dish usually consists of warm white rice with seasoned and sauteed vegetables, beef, soy sauce, mushrooms, chili pepper paste (gochujang), and a fried egg on top. The ingredients of this rice dish vary per region, but the most famous and ones you definitely should are from Jinju, Tongyeong, and Jeonju.
Pajeon is a variety of savory Korean pancakes with scallion as its main ingredient. Pa means scallion while Jeon means pancake, so to translate pajeon, literally means scallion pancakes.
The common pajeon is made with egg batter, rice flour, wheat flour, and scallions/green onions. In Haemul Pajeon, seafood is incorporated, including squid, clams, oysters, shrimps, shellfish, and cuttlefish. Although this soft and dewy Korean pancake is a pancake, it is not eaten during breakfast. Instead, it is eaten as a snack or dinner perfectly paired with makgeolli and Korean rice wine.
An excellent snack, appetizer, or light lunch, Pajeon is a savory Korean pancake made with scallions. This dish is made using eggs, wheat flour, rice flour, scallions, and often some other ingredients, then perfectly pan-fried until golden brown. Pajeon produces a fresh and mild taste from the scallions without tasting too much like an onion. It is usually served with its perfect pair of savory-sweet dipping sauce. This restaurant favorite is an authentic Korean food you should try in Seoul.
Sundubu-jjigae is a spicy Korean stew that is a must-eat in Seoul. It is made with tofu, vegetables, seafood, mushrooms, beef or pork, and chili paste. Different variations of this spicy stew exist where chefs from other regions add, remove, or substitute some ingredients.
Sundubu-jjigae is typically served in a large earthenware bowl that’s intended to retain heat. By tradition, a raw egg is cracked on top of the boiling hot stew then continued to boil until it’s softly cooked.
Seolleongtang, more commonly known as the ox bone soup, is a traditional hot Korean soup made from ox bones, meat, and briskets. The rich broth soup is simmered for more than 10 hours until it becomes milky white. It is usually served with noodles, scallions, and a few strips of meat.
As a customer, you can season it with salt and pepper according to your liking. This is a definite must-eat food in Seoul since it’s a local dish from the city. Seolleongtang is a cheap Korean food that’s very rewarding in ingredients and flavor.
Soondae, also spelled Sundae, is a kind of blood sausage that is a must-eat Korean food. It is made by a combination of pork blood, barley, and cellophane noodles. In some provinces and cities in South Korea, soondae’s fillings and wrappers vary. But even if the recipes are not the same, this Korean food is full of flavors and textures. That is why this traditional Korean sausage is a popular snack sold by street vendors and restaurants. Usually, it is served with a mixture of salt, pepper, and red chili pepper flakes to season it according to your liking.
Naengmyeon is a Korean cold noodle cuisine served with icy cold beef broth or radish water kimchi. During winter months, locals traditionally enjoyed it but have become more popular as summer noodles now. This must-try food in Seoul is best eaten in summer because of its chilled soup. It consists of long, thin noodles then topped with sliced cucumbers, pickled radishes, Korean pears, boiled egg, and beef. The noodles are sweet potatoes, potatoes, and buckwheat with a mild texture and refreshing taste. Overall, you’ll be surprised that the flavor of the naengmyeon is savory and sweet.
One of the best Korean food you should try is the Samgyetang or Ginseng Chicken Soup. This soup primarily consists of whole young chicken, rice, garlic, Korean jujube, and Korean ginseng, making the broth flavorful and rich. Although this Korean soup is served piping hot in a bowl, Koreans love to eat this during the hottest of summer days (sambok days).
Based on the lunar calendar, the Sambok days are chobok (beginning), jungbok (middle), and malbok (end). Locals believe that samgyetang is nutritious and can cure ailments because it has vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other nutrients. Because of this, Samgyetang is undoubtedly a must-try healthy Korean food.
Gimbap, also sometimes spelled Kimbap, is a popular Korean dish you must try in Korea. It is the perfect meal to take away and are familiar sights in schools and bus stations. They are served in bite-sized slices and are looking like sushi. The difference is that Japanese sushi is made with rice that is seasoned with vinegar.
In contrast, Korean gimbap rice is seasoned with sesame oil. There is no limit to gimbap fillings, but the common ingredients are cooked rice, vegetables, fish, and meats, all rolled in dried seaweeds. Other fillings are imitation crab sticks, pickled radish, egg, braised burdock root, and fish cake.
Dak Galbi is a spicy chicken stir fry that’s an authentic Korean food you should try. It is the representative dish of Chuncheon, which is a small city in Korea. Traditionally, the chopped chicken is marinated using a spicy Korean sauce then cooked in a pan together with sweet potatoes, rice cakes, and green cabbage. But some restaurants are offering this dish as chargrilled, which results in a slightly different taste than the regular stir-fried. Grilled dak galbi is best eaten wrapped in lettuce and perilla leaves with some other side dishes. The curry powder recipe makes dak galbi a crowd favorite, which gives the meat a smokey and spicy accent.
A popular summer dessert and snack in Korea, Patbingsoo is a decorated shaved ice dessert. It’s topped with various fruits, mochi rice cake pieces, sweet red beans, and rich condensed milk. The red bean toppings are soft and sweet because they have been mashed and sweetened. So if you are looking for things to eat in Korea, particularly dessert, head to the nearest restaurant and order a patbingsoo to immediately satisfy that craving!
Kalguksu is a Korean noodle dish consisting of handmade, knife-cut wheat flour noodles served with broth and other ingredients. What’s unique about this dish is the noodles are made purely by hand, giving fresh, thinner, lighter, and chewier noodles.
This hearty dish is made from chicken and anchovy, making the taste sweet yet unusually light. It is a simple noodle soup that will surely warm and comfort your appetite. Kalguksu is considered a seasonal food that was mainly consumed during summer.
Another popular Korean dish is the Kaan Jajangmyeon, made with Chinese black bean paste, vegetables, and meat. It is actually a part of Korean Chinese hybrid cuisine developed during the 19th century by the early Chinese immigrants in Korea. Kaan Jajangmyeon is rich and delicious, with thick udon noodles tossed and smothered together in a flavorful black bean sauce. The black bean sauce is made from soybeans, flour, and caramel. This noodle dish is served on almost every major street in Korea, making it one of the best things to eat in Korea.
Hobakjuk is a traditional Korean porridge made with pumpkin and glutinous rice flour. It is a popular snack or dessert but is sometimes enjoyed during breakfast too. It is also relished by those who are unwell and recovering from sickness since they cannot feed on heavy meals.
Hobakjuk is made with danhobak, known as Japanese pumpkin, Kent pumpkin, or kabocha squash. This Korean pumpkin porridge has a velvety smooth texture. It is surprisingly sweet and nutty, which makes it a perfect fall and winter food.
It might be weird for some, but a Spicy Korean Ramyun topped with processed cheese actually works! This is one of the must-eat Korean food that you can easily consume at home. Just buy an instant Korean ramyun, then place a cheap processed cheap on top! The result? Creamy Korean ramyum full of flavor and spice! You might even think about it as a mac n’ cheese but a spicy version.