Travel to a new country, and the first thing on my “to do” list is to try the local food. Eating all the delicious cuisine that each country has on offer not only lets you experience the local culture of the country through their food, but it can even put you outside your comfort zones. Things that I still would like to try but make my stomach turn include balut (fertilized duck egg), live octopus and shark meat. So far, the worst Korean foods I have had are beondegi (번데기), silkworm pupae and raw whale meat (고래).
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Korean food is unlike any other Asian food I have eaten.
The food is often prepared with hot pepper paste or kimchi and incorporates many vegetables and side dishes. Most dishes are steaming hot and are served with a small bowl of rice. Apart from barbeque or galbijim, most Korean foods can be bought and enjoyed even on the tightest budget.
I decided to spend some time thinking about all the delicious foods that I eat pretty often and often overlooked by the infamous Korean barbecue or samgyeopsal (삼겹살). While I enjoy eating Korean barbecue, there are many other, more colourful and tasty dishes that exist!
Korea not only makes tasty main dishes but make the most delicious desserts! My favourite summer dessert is the cheesecake bingsu, and my favourite autumn/winter dessert is hotteok!
This list was tough to compile because there are SO many unique and tasty dishes. So, in no particular order, here’s my list of Korean foods you must try!
Easy to make and sold almost everywhere, this dish of rice and vegetables is one of Korea’s ultimate comfort foods when the cold winter weather hits. Mix in some hot pepper paste, and you have a tasty one meal bowl.
A one-up to this classic dish is dolsot bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥), as the bibimbap is served in a hot stone pot. Then, a raw egg is added, cracked on top of the vegetables and cooks against the side of the sizzling pot.
Kalguksu is made of handmade, knife-cut wheat flour noodles. This dish is easy to find and is often sold in markets for relatively cheap (4000W). The best places I have eaten this dish have been in Seomun Market in Daegu and on top of Palgongsan mountain.
Often accompanied in a broth with courgette and carrots, this dish makes a good meal when you don’t feel like anything strong or heavy.
A Japanese influenced dish comprising of meat, mushrooms and vegetables, this one-pot dish will leave you drooling for more. More often than not, this meal is served in three stages. First, the soup and beef, second, the noodles are added, last the leftovers, and turned into fried rice.
Beware that this dish is quite spicy, and even the mildest flavour can leave your eyes teary!
This dish is another one-pot winner. Not easy on the pocket but fantastic in flavour, you will not regret indulging! Think of beef ribs mixed with pumpkin, carrots, potatoes and noodles!
Originating from Chuncheon, Dalkgalbi is a mix of marinated boneless chicken and vegetables. If you feel adventurous, you can add in cheese rice cake (떡), ramen or cheese! Usually also served in two courses, the first comprising the chicken and the second comprising fried rice from the leftover chicken and vegetables.
A classic hiking or rainy day food, pajeon is a vegetable pancake served with soy sauce. However, if you feel adventurous, you can order haemul pajeon ((해물파전), a seafood ‘pancake’ served with a variety of seafood including octopus or squid.
This dish is easily found in markets and often sold in noodle restaurants. The pajeon below was located in Damyang near the bamboo forest. Hence the vegetables appear like bamboo shoots!
A trip to the Eastern part of Korea is not complete without devouring a plate of fire-cooked clams. These clams are fresh from the ocean, cooked on a grill in front of you, mixed with cheese, green pepper, and hot pepper paste. The result is a bubbling spoon of happiness, unlike any other Korean foods.
If you are extra hungry, you can also order a side of fried rice.
Naengmyeon (물냉면 ) are buckwheat noodles served in an icy vinegar soup with radish and cucumbers. Served only in summer, it’s the perfect noodle dish to escape the hot and sticky summers.
The best place to eat this Korean food is in Boseong, famous for the green tea plantation. If you look hard enough, you will find these green tea infused buckwheat noodles!
9. (Andong) Jjimdalk
Hailing from Andong, a small city in Gyeongsangbukdo, jjimdalk (찜닭) is pieces of chicken, potato, carrots and celephone noodles cooked in a pot. The original dish comprises a soy sauce, but varieties of this dish include chilli sauce (featured below) and cheese.
The best place to eat this food is in Andong.
10. Fried chicken
A country famous for its fried chicken, this meal is one best served hot. Crispy chicken served with a choice of dipping sauce without being oily is the perfect food choice for a Friday night. The best thing about fried chicken in Korea is the variety of shops selling different variations of the standard choice and the option for home delivery if you are in no mood to cook.
My go-to restaurant for chicken, both baked and fried, is okkudak.
Now for the sweet treats
1. Street waffles
I found these waffles at a tiny popup food truck in Daegu. Then, upon walking the streets surround Busan University in Busan, I found a small shop selling these very waffles again. For 2000W, you can buy a freshly made waffle on a stick, spread with cream and your choice of strawberry or chocolate sauce.
The number one Korean dessert loved by millions is bingsu ( 빙수). Bingsu is a Korean dessert of shaved milk ice topped with various toppings, including mango, berries, cheesecake or even chocolate. Traditional bingsu is called ‘patbingsu’, which is red bean and shaved ice, but it is the least of my favourites (for my dislike for “pat” or red bean).
This is a summer seasonal dessert and is best eaten when you need to escape the hot Korean summers. Sold at various restaurants and cafes, my personal favourite is the cheesecake bingsu.
The best autumn/winter dessert, these hot pancakes are fried on a hot plate and stuffed with nuts, cinnamon sauce or peanuts. These are primarily found in markets or street stalls and cost as little as 1000W.
4. Green tea ice-cream
Sold exclusively at Boseong green tea farm and surrounds, this ice cream is number one for flavour. The perfect treat after a day of walking through the green tea plantations, this ice cream is light in texture and leaves you with a woody green tea taste.