Korean food is revered all over the world for the lasting impression it leaves on diners. And there is so much more to Korean cuisine than the quintessential Kimchi and Ramen.
For your trip to South Korea, we’ve compiled a list of 19 delicious must-try foods to give your tastebuds a treat. This includes gimbap, bulgogi, tteokbokki, japchae and many more.
In this article, we will guide you through the best of Korean cuisine that you can easily find on streets and in restaurants. Plus, we’ll let you know exactly what to expect when it comes to their flavors.
Here are the 19 famous Korean Foods you must try:
1) Bibimbap / Mixed Rice with Vegetables
If you fancy a comforting food bowl, then Bibimbap will surely give you the ultimate satisfaction. This was originally a royal dish in the yesteryears which slowly made its way into Korean staple foods.
Bibimbap is a tasty mixture of rice, beef, vegetables tossed with gochujang (a hot red pepper paste) and soy sauce. Finally, it is topped with sesame seeds for some extra flavor.
Although chili paste is the most common seasoning used, people who prefer milder flavors usually opt for soy sauce instead.
2) Gimbap / Korean Seaweed Rice Rolls
If you’re in South Korea, you really shouldn’t go back without giving gimbap a try. This nutritious and filling dish is easily available in street markets, food courts, as well as fine dining restaurants.
Essentially, gimbap is made from dried seaweed which is rolled up and filled with white rice and vegetables like carrots, spinach, radish, egg, and other seasonings. Then, it is cut into bite-sized pieces which make it a convenient meal for picnics or traveling.
The main filling of gimbap can vary. Tuna gimbap is another highly loved option, with a filling of mayonnaise, vegetables, canned tuna, and sesame leaves. You can also enjoy other variations with beef, kimchi, and cheese fillings.
3) Tteokbokki / Red Rice Cakes
Anyone who knows about Korean culture has definitely heard about tteokbokki. This is a traditional street food that is highly treasured by Koreans for generations. It’s pretty easy to spot tteokbokki as it has a distinctly bright orange color.
Basically, tteokbokki is made from chewy, sweet rice and fish cakes. These slices of boiled rice cakes are combined with a special red chili and soybean paste. It is also tossed in onions, assorted vegetables, diced garlic, and other seasonings to elevate the flavor.
This scrumptious dish is an absolute must-try if you want to know more about Korean cuisine. You can easily find tteokbokki at street vendors and in many restaurants sprawled across South Korea.
4) Bulgogi / Marinated Beef Barbecue
For meat lovers, bulgogi should be on top of their list of Korean foods to try. In fact, in 2011, CNN ranked bulgogi as the 23rd most delicious food in the world in its CNN Travel’s reader’s poll.
This savory and juicy dish consists of thinly sliced, grilled beef sirloin. It is cooked in soy sauce, black pepper, green peppers, onions, garlic, ginger, sugar, and sesame oil to make it tender and flavorful.
The dish is usually accompanied by a side of vegetables like spinach and lettuce. Koreans usually wrap up the sliced meat and spicy paste in the lettuce and then proceed to eat it.
5) Japchae / Stir-Fried Glass Noodles
The famous glass noodles are another must-try for anyone visiting Korea. This is arguably one of the most popular noodle dishes in the country.
These glass noodles are typically made from sweet potatoes. Then, the noodles are stirred in sesame oil, mushrooms, assorted vegetables, and beef.
The best way to enjoy japchae is to use a spoon together with metal chopsticks while slurping the juicy noodles. In Korea, it’s not considered polite to keep the bowl too close to your mouth while eating.
6) Kimchi / Spicy Fermented Vegetables
Kimchi is one term almost everyone has heard when Korean food is mentioned.
It is basically a crunchy salad made with assorted, fermented vegetables. Cabbage is the base ingredient of this salad but it is packed with flavor as a spicy paste, crushed garlic, and minced ginger are also added.
The best part is that kimchi is also quite healthy. It has a high amount of fiber and is low on calories. This side dish is an important part of most Korean dining experiences.
A fusion of Korean and Chinese cuisine, jajangmyeon is made from thick, wheat noodles that are handmade. The noodles are then topped with savory black soybean paste, cucumber slices, and assorted veggies. Diced pork is also an important addition to this comforting dish.
Jajangmyeon is a hearty noodle dish and most Koreans absolutely love it. It is also very affordable with a starting price of 5,000 won. If you’re looking for a quick, budget-friendly meal, you can count on jajangmyeon anytime.
8) Ramyun / Korean Instant Noodles
Ramyun is a hugely popular instant noodle that has made waves not just in Korea, but all across the globe. With economical prices, a variety of flavors, and an amazing texture, this is one of the best dishes in Korean cuisine.
Korean instant noodles are becoming increasingly popular everywhere. They are usually enjoyed with lots of broth, a fried egg, and cheddar cheese on top.
9) Korean Fried Chicken
If you want to try out American fast food with its own twist, Korean fried chicken is the dish for you.
The chicken is coated all over with a sweet, spicy sauce and sometimes green pepper is added to the batter too. Then, it is double fried to give it a crunchy bite which makes it absolutely delicious. The meat of Korean fried chicken is as juicy and succulent as it gets.
This is one snack that will have you licking your fingers. It is typically enjoyed with beer and you can easily find places serving this popular combination in South Korea.
10) Nakji Bokkeum / Korean Spicy Stir-fried Octopus
Back in the 19th century, Koreans loved eating raw or fried squid. During this era, Najki Bokkeum was also born.
Squid lovers would surely enjoy this delicious dish made with stir-fried octopus bathed in a delectable caramel sauce. Nakji Bokkeum oozes flavor and leaves you wanting more.
Ideally, the squid should be soft yet chewy and balanced with assorted vegetables. It is often served spicy as chefs season it with chili pepper, powder, and paste to create an explosion of flavors. If you don’t like very spicy foods, you can have it with boiled bean sprouts to reduce the heat.
It is most commonly eaten with rice which is served separately as a side. Some restaurants will also cook the nakji bokkeum in front of you on the table.
11) Hotteok / Korean Sweet Pancakes
Almost everyone knows how yummy pancakes are. But what about the Korean version of sweet pancakes known as hotteok? This is a popular street snack in the country and is widely available everywhere.
The batter is made using flour, and then the pancakes are filled with mouthwatering syrup. This syrup is usually made with brown sugar, cinnamon, and peanuts.
Right off the grill, the pancake is typically folded in a cardboard or paper cup. It is served super hot and fresh, so be careful before you take a bite of this syrup-filled sugary goodness. Plus, the softness of the fluffy pancake is on another level.
We recommend you to have hotteok with a warm cup of milk, especially in the chilly Korean weather.
12) Soondae / Korean Sausage
Soondae is also worth a try for tourists who are looking for meaty food options. Basically, this is made from pig intestines that are stuffed with pig’s blood, vegetables, and dangmyeon (clear noodles).
You can enjoy soondae with a variety of dipping sauces. The usual sauce mostly varies from region to region.
For instance, it is mostly served with salt in Seoul, Gyeonggi. If you’re in Busan or Ulsan, you will probably get ssamjang sauce to go with it. In Jeolla and Chungcheong, it is usually enjoyed with shrimp sauce and chojang sauce.
13) Odeng / Fish Cake
This famous fish cake, known as Odeng, was actually named after Japanese Oden stew. This dish came into being during 1910 to 1945 when Japan took over Korea. So, a number of Korean dishes were inspired by Japanese cuisine during this period.
If you’re on the hunt for delicious street food, Odeng is one of the snacks you should try without hesitating. It is a unique taste and experience for many tourists and is usually appreciated by them.
The fish cake should ideally be tender and chewy, and it becomes even better when drenched in a zingy broth. You can either dip the fish cake in the broth before taking a bite or take a sip of the broth later. Either way, it’s a combination you will never forget.
14) Seolleongtang / Ox Bone Soup
Ox bone soup or Seolleongtang is a household favorite in South Korea. It is especially popular in the winters and is highly adored as comfort food.
The beef bones and ox bones are boiled for hours to whip up this tasty soup. Then, it is seasoned with scallions, garlic, salt, and pepper. The soup is not only immensely flavorful, but it is also rich in proteins.
If you’re looking for a healthy snack during the winter season in Korea, make sure not to miss out on Seolleongtang.
15) Bibim Nengmyun / Spicy Cold Noodle
You probably know by now that Koreans really love noodles. And there are endless variations of noodles in the country.
Well, bibim nengmyun is a noodle dish served in a cold broth. It is also seasoned with cucumbers, boiled egg, pear slices, and cold slices of boiled beef. The noodles can be made from different ingredients like flour, buckwheat, sweet potatoes, seaweed or even green tea.
These spicy cold noodles are known for being super healthy. Traditionally, they are served without cutting, but you can always ask the diner to cut them for you first.
16) Ganjang Gejang / Raw Crabs Marinated in Soy Sauce
Crabs are a delight to eat for anyone who is fond of seafood. Ganjang gejang, also known as ‘bap-dodook’ is essentially raw crab covered in soy sauce.
Many people are hesitant while trying out this dish but it is a highly loved part of Korean cuisine.
17) Pajeon / Savory Pancake
This addictive and famous pancake variation is a must-try in Korea. With a soft, delicious cake base, a combination of green onions and carrots, and a mouth-watering dipping sauce- there’s so much to love about pajeon.
The divine sauce is typically made from garlic, soy sauce, and honey. It really takes the flavor of the pancake up a notch and makes it irresistible.
Here’s a fun fact: The name Dongnae Pajeon was actually inspired by the Dongnaesung fortress from the Joseon Dynasty.
18) Sundubu Jjigae / Korean Spicy Soft Tofu Stew
Tofu is another important part of Korean food culture. Sundubu jjigae is a form of unpressed, uncurdled tofu stew that is a huge favorite among the masses.
The classic version of this dish is made from plain tofu bathed in a broth and is called Chodang tofu. Sundubu jjigae is made in a richer, spicier broth with seasonings of red pepper powder and oil.
19) Gamjatang / Pork Back-Bone Soup
Made from pork backbone, Gamjatang is another fascinating soup dish in Korea. It is usually mixed with boiled potatoes and other vegetables, as well as perilla seeds.
So, what makes this dish so popular? It is known to cure a hangover immediately. So, places that serve gamjatang are usually open for 24 hours. You now know what you need after a night of heavy partying in South Korea.
If you’re on a food adventure, Korean food will surely take you on a ride. However, you should know it’s an acquired taste, so not everyone is able to appreciate it.
We recommend you to try all the delicious Korean dishes on this list if you can. The strong flavors and interesting textures of this cuisine offer an experience of its own kind.