Top five foods to try in South Korea
South Korea is the land of ubiquitous kimchi and cook-it-yourself haunts. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the numerous options you have when dining out in Korea. While you really can’t go wrong with any dish (especially if you’re okay with eating chicken feet or silkworm larvae), we have a few favorites that we feel every meat eating visitor to the country should enjoy at least once.
While it literally translates to “three layers of fat”, samgyupsal is like Korea’s version of bacon and is just as addicting. It’s one of the various meats that you cook yourself at a grill that’s cleverly imbedded in your table. Thoroughly cook it before popping it in your mouth or wrapping it up with kimchi, spicy bean paste, and garlic in a crunchy lettuce burrito. Our favorite place to get samgyupsal is at a chain called Bulzip. Their dipping sauce is like crack and always has us coming back for more. Get addicted.
Samgyupsal Tip: This meal is best enjoyed with a bottle (or two) of “Korean whiskey”, most commonly referred to as soju. Just be careful. It sneaks up on you.
Samgyetang might be one of my favorite dishes served in Korea. While it’s more commonly eaten in the summer, it’s available all year round. South Koreans like to enjoy this piping hot soup in the warm summer months as it encourages them to sweat out all the toxins in their body. It’s also their version of chicken noodle soup and is just as comforting. Samgyetang is comprised of a small whole chicken that is stuffed with rice, garlic, and ginseng. It’s cooked in broth and served still boiling.
Samgytang Tip: The best way to eat samgyetang is to first remove all of the bones from the bowl. Scoop up and eat remaining pieces of broth, rice, and meat until full. If you want more rice, don’t hesitate to ask.
Dolsot Bibimbap (비빔밥)
A hot pot of delicious goodness is what you’ll find in dolsot bibimbap. Served in a sizzling stone bowl (unlike regular bibimbap), this popular lunch time eat is a combination of rice, vegetables, egg, beef, and sesame oil. Top it all with a generous helping of chili paste and mix it all up. It’s a meal that goes down quickly and is incredibly filling.
Dolsot bibimbap tip: Let some of the rice cook at the bottom so that as you finish your bowl you have a few deliciously crunchy pieces to enjoy. Trust us, it’s tastier than it sounds.
Haejang Guk (해장국)
Okay. Stick with us here. This is Korea’s hangover remedy that just so happens to be terrifically delicious. While it’s said to help cure the effects of that sneaky soju, we prefer eating it completely sober. Now, the ingredients might be a little different than the soup you’re used to. This hearty soup is made from beef broth and then seasoned with some cabbage, sprouts, pig or ox spine, and a dollop of coagulated blood. No biggie. But really, this soup has a very deep and hearty taste and the meat around the chunks of bone is very tender and tasty. We probably ate it at least once a week when we lived in Korea.
Haejang guk tips: Like samgyetang, remove the bones and throw in some rice, or in the case of the dish above, rice noodles. I prefer it with a hefty portion of spicy radish kimchi.
Hotteok and Bungeoppang
Okay, so technically I cheated and listed two separate treats but I love both equally. Both of these dessert-like snacks are served in the winter months when it’s cold and their piping hot centers provide the perfect relief from the bitter chill. Bungeoppang is what you see in the picture above. It’s fish shaped pastries that are filled with either a sugary cream or red beans. I prefer the cream. The outside is a little crunchy and the tail is my favorite part as it usually has my preferred crispy crust to creamy center ratio.
This, my friends, is hotteok. It’s like a deep fried pancake that’s filled with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nuts. I don’t have a good picture of it because I always eat it before I remember to take one. Inner fat kid fail. The best part is that after being fried, the center is gooey and hot. I would probably eat these every day if I could. The best part of hotteok is biting into it and watching the steam rise from the center. Both bungeoppang and hotteok are street treats that are sold on various corners around town. I’m pretty obsessed with them.
So the next time you’re in Korea (or in Korea town), be sure to search out a few of these delicious dishes. Each one has a depth that can’t be put into words. If you do happen to try them, be sure to let us know what you thought. We like to share the foodie joy!
23 thoughts on “Top five foods to try in South Korea”
Hotteok and Bungeoppang – those little guys look amazing.
Oh, they are amazing! I brought back a few packages of the hotteok mix so I can try to replicate at home. Keep you posted on how it turns out. 😉
I like boozing so Haejang Guk will be fine with me to calm hangover.
Oh yes! I’m pretty sure that haejang guk will cure anything. It’s magical!
You need some Bacchus D for that hangover. Too much soju is not good for you. Lol
Isn’t that the truth! The condition drink is really good for fighting hangovers. We should have brought some back!
So hard to stop at just five things. I’ve been on the hunt for kimchi in YYT lately because I want to try making kimchi jjigae (김치찌개) at home. I think the cold weather is bringing it on. Though my friends turn up their nose at the sound of it, a big bowl of gamjatang (감자탕) would be great this time of year as well. If you want a switch from all the pork dak galbi (닭갈비) is a solid choice.
I can’t believe I never tried any of the street cart desserts. Womp-womp. 🙁
No bulgogi? No yaki mandu? Kimchi #1. Lol
Lived in Korea for a year, down south near Kwangju. Love the food. Unfortunately we have to drive an hour just to get korean food now. So it’s a treat for us.
The cook it yourself samgyupsal looks amazing. I am intrigued by the silkworm larvae that you can eat as well!
I only want to try the ones I can’t pronounce. Whichhhhh.. is pretty much all of them! LOL
I agree with almost all of these, except Samgyetang, I find the chicken taste so bland… but I am about 150% on board with you on everything else. Especially Hotteok. Ah now I’m craving Hotteok!
I think I’d add something with doenjang to the list, myself… but I’m strangely obsessed with doenjang so that may have something to do with it…
Sadly, I didn’t get to really explore Korean cuisine during my short trip there. Frankly, the ketchup, corn, peas, and hotdog breakfast pastry kind of scared me off. This stuff looks pretty good though. I need y’all to be my guide.
I am a virgin in terms of Korean food. Heard so many amazing things… and now I am starving!
You had this southerner at “three layers of fat.” And hotteok sounds amazing. Who wouldn’t love a deep-fried pancake?
Sorry, I can’t get past “spine” and “coagulated blood”. I will, however, get down with hotteok. Brown sugar and cinnamon?? Two of my favorite things!
Food can be kind of intimidating when traveling in Asia. Great to have a guide like this for Korea. I wish you had one for Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore 🙂 When I finally visit Korea I will definitely remember to revisit this post.
we have virtually no korean food experience, but methinks this need to change. we’ll start here. ooor maybe just go with you next time? ok great.
I usually l love sweet pastries so I am sure I would also list hotteok and bungeoppang as favorites should I go to Korea
Whoa! I’m not a Korean food lover but this photo would convert me and would try some. It looks so yummy!
this is reminding me that i haven’t eaten ALL day. and it all looks so delicious!
I love Korean food! I like their spices and flavor. Kimchi, Bibimbap and Ssamgyuupsal are my favorite.
I too miss eating hotteok… makes me with there was Korean street food in NYC
Right? Someone would make a killing if they offered hotteok! I’d be their best customer. 🙂