Thanks to me spending more and more time in Seoul these days, I have at last decided to say 안녕하세요 to the joys of Korean food! In many ways, Korea is unfortunately situated between two culinary powerhouses in China and Japan, and as such Korean food is often overlooked. But I found that in its own quiet and effective way, Korea serves up some of the most delectable (and downright weird) cuisine in the region!
Most people are familiar with the concept of Koreans eating dog. Yes, that is true. Dog is a fairly popular dish in Korea, although somewhat controversial nowadays, especially with younger Koreans who – unlike their elders – are acutely aware of the bad reputation they receive for their canine cravings.
It can often be difficult to get used to eating the kind of weird things for which Korean cuisine is universally renowned! And yet not all Korean food needs to be “weird” or “scary”, as this following blog informs us by detailing some tasty Foreign Friendly Korean Foods! Enjoy!
For more great photos and for the all-important recipes please visit Maangchi – Korean Food Legend!
So now, let us look at some of the most popular foods found on the Korean family dinner table, and also some street foods that backpackers love to enjoy during their visits to the hipster community of Hongdae or the night markets of Myeongdong.
Starters and Everyday Snacks:
Gamjatang (감자탕) is a watery stew featuring potato, scallions and pork bones, cooked in the pork bone broth. There is a unique taste of the stew that is created by the addition of ground perilla seed, which adds more flavour to the dish than even the meat. Usually eaten as a snack, rather than as a full meal.
The eternal snack Haemul Pajeon (해물파전) basically means “seafood pancake” and is the most popular kind of traditional Korean pancake to be found in the country. Usually a mixture of cuttlefish and crab are used to bed in with this snack, but tuna is also a popular filling.
Hobakjuk (호박죽) is a tasty pumpkin porridge, which Koreans love to eat at any time of the day. Often served as an appetizer to meals, hobakjuk seems more of a pudding than a porridge, and this is because the pumpkin ingredients are blended with glutinous rice to give it an extra sticky texture.
One of the strangest foods in this list is Dotorimuk (도토리묵) which is a kind of jelly made from acorn starch. The extremely bitter taste is said to reflect the taste of an acorn itself, and is often served with rice or vegetables.
Perfect for a hot summer’s day, Naengmyeon (냉면) is the name given to the dish of cold buckwheat noodles topped with Korean mustard and raw egg. Sometimes eaten as part of a lunch, naengmyeon can also be used to purify the body after eating grilled meats.
A traditional favourite, Bibimbap (비빔밥) is a salad bowl of mixed veg, rice and meat, usually with an egg for dressing. Once a royal dish, bibimbap is now sold on every street corner in the country! My guide on how to eat bibimbap.
Kimchi Jjigae (김치찌개) is a great way for Koreans to include their beloved kimchi in a stew! The red cabbage kimchi is cooked with tofu and vegetables, with either meat or fish thrown in for good measure. This one is an ever-present dish on the Korean family dinner table throughout the year.
Ganjang Gejang (간장게장) is crab marinated in soy sauce. Non-natives may dislike the pungent and bitter taste, but Koreans love the dish and will eat as much as they can with generous helpings of rice.
Bokkeumbap (볶음밥) is a dish of fried rice. Many other meats (and of course kimchi) could be added to this standard dish, but Koreans eat it ‘as is’ by the bucket load!
Dak Galbi (갈비) is what you would find in a steakhouse, with thick and voluptuous slices of chicken sizzling away on a grill while marinating in soy sauce and garlic before your very eyes. A great sharing dish for the student crowd!
Due to their transparent appearance, the noodles used for Japchae (잡채) are also known as “glass noodles”. Once served as a side-dish, nowadays people in Korea tend to enjoy these japchae noodles as a main meal, and can be sautéed with a wide variety of vegetables.
Bulgogi (불고기) is the term for thin strips of meat that can be used not only in dishes by itself, but also to create burgers or salads. Beef bulgogi is the traditional dish, but pork, lamb, and chicken are also popular. I happen to believe that Beef Bulgogi is one of the top beef dishes in the world.
For something a little slimier, Nakji Bokkeum (낙지볶음) is the eternal Korean favourite of diced octopus. It is usually stir-fried with vegetables and topped with peppers and fiery chili powder to make one hell of a hot dish! The octopus becomes chewy and tender and the enduring taste is why it is one of the main meals for Korean businessmen.
Jokbal (족발) is literally pig’s feet cooked in herbs and spices and is served in a dark liquid made from rice wine. The consumption of jokbal is said to be good for the prevention of wrinkles!
Yang Yeum (양념 치킨) is better known as Korean Fried Chicken and this is revered all over Asia as quite possible the tastiest way cook the bird. It differs from typical American fried chicken by being fried twice. This results in the skin being crunchier and less greasy. Read more about Yang Yeum!
Bearing a close similarity to Zhajiangmian from Imperial Beijing Cuisine, Jajangmyeon (자장면) is a Korean noodle dish topped with a thick sauce made of chunjang (a salty black soybean paste), diced pork and vegetables, and sometimes also seafood. The noodles are usually made by hand.
Korean cuisine is not really known for its vast array of desserts, but nevertheless a great way to finish off a meal in the country is to scoff down Patbingsu (빙수), which is a delicious dessert comprising red beans, mixed fruit and shaved ice. This is considered Korea’s national dessert! Read more about why I love Patbingsu!
Baesuk (배숙) is a traditional Korean dessert of poached pear, which is smeared in treacle and honey for some extra stickiness! The dessert is first heated and then chilled, and when served on the table, it is possible to even drink the cold pear juice inside.
Chapssaltteok (찹쌀떡) is very similar to Japanese Mochi in texture and size. It is a rice cake filled with sweet bean paste. These can also be sold on night markets as well as in cafés and restaurants.
An extremely tasty sweet in Korean cuisine is Mujigaetteok (무지개떡). This is a rainbow cake that is made from many colourful layers and is popular in times of celebration, such as birthdays or anniversaries.
Popular Street Food Snacks (Banchan):
Sundae (순대) is a type of sausage that actually began its life in Mongolian cuisine, yet has been adapted for the Korean palette. The sundae is stuffed with pig intestine, japchae noodles and vegetables and is one of the more adventurous street foods that you can find in South Korea!
Everybody loves a bit of Kkultarae (꿀타래)! Similar to the so-called Dragon’s Beard Candy in China, this little street food is made from honey and maltose, and can be filled with various things. If you’re lucky, you may even see it being ‘spun’ before you buy it!
Kimbap (김밥) is a great little snack, sold in street markets – and the occasional pojangmacha – all over the country. It may look a little like the sushi from Japan, but this can actually be filled with anything, from meat to vegetables, rather than just fish.
Probably the ultimate Korean street food snack, Tteokbokki (떡볶기) is a dish of spicy Korean rice cakes, usually covered in a spicy sauce, but occasionally can be served with kimchi sauce.
For more ideas of what kind of street food you can find in South Korea, check out my Snack Attack article!
Thanks for reading my post on Korean cuisine. If you found this interesting, why not compare my analysis of Korean food to that of Japanese cuisine to see what they eat in other parts of Far East Asia?!