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List of 13 Korean Main Dishes Anyone Can Make

Jason Park
Published by: Jason Park
Published on:

Koreans have a love affair with food and their cuisine shows it. Whether its veggies and rice or meaty and hearty soups, Koreans have endless classic dishes sure to make anyone’s mouth water (or burn off!). Much of their cuisine is adventurous, spicy, flavorful, unique and always incredibly healthy.

The following 13 Korean main dishes provide a carnival of flavors for the distinguished palette. 

While there are many more that deserve attention, these have the best combinations of flavors. Most of these you can make at home and are mostly palatable to a Western diet.

There are descriptions of each dish mixed with a little history, culture and other information. 

However, to get the full Monty of experience around each main course, there is a YouTube video to accompany it. These comprise native Korean cooks or Westerners sampling the food.

Overview of 13 Korean Main Dishes:

Korean cuisine is a special type of Asian cooking. While they do adopt many variations from places like Japan and China, they put a twist on things that make it their own. 

Much of Korean cooking focuses around healthy, fresh and organic ingredients. Fermentation, seasoning and aging is king.

Take heed, however, they like things spicy. While some are a bit on the milder side, they have no problem taking it over the top. The heat can be so intense, not even the most daring Westerner stands a chance.

They have a huge array of food to choose from, but the 13 Korean main dishes below are some of the best. Not only are they most accessible in places like the United States and Europe, but many of these are easy enough for anyone to make.

  • Galbi (갈비) – Grilled Pork or Beef Short Ribs
  • Bibimbap (비빔밥) – Healthy Rice and Vegetables
  • Ganjang Gejang (간장게장) – Crab Marinated in Soy Sauce
  • Bulgogi (불고기) – Thinly Sliced Grilled Beef
  • Jjajangmyeon (짜장면) – Noodles in Black Bean Paste
  • Gopchang (곱창) – Cattle Intestines
  • Samgyetang (삼계탕) – Chicken Soup with Ginseng
  • Gimbap (김밥) – Seaweed Rice Rolls
  • Tteokbokki (떡볶이) – Spicy Rice & Fish Cakes
  • Gamjatang (감자탕) – Spicy Pork Bone Soup
  • Haemul Pajeon (해물파전) – Savory Seafood Pancakes
  • Jjambbong (짬뽕) – Super Spicy Noodle Soup
  • Bossam (보쌈) – Steamed Pork

1. Galbi (갈비) – Grilled Pork or Beef Short Ribs  

Galbi, or Galbi-Gui, is the classic and quintessential Korean BBQ. These comprise mainly beef and pork short ribs. 

The meats may or may not marinate in a special blend of soy sauce, sugar and garlic. Once cooked, the savory flavors of the marinade and meat meld together for a journey in taste.

When ordering this at a restaurant, they serve it raw where customers then cook it themselves at a tabletop grill. Galbi usually comes with things like kimchi or a green onion salad.

See How to Make It Here:

2. Bibimbap (비빔밥) – Healthy Rice and Vegetables  

Literally translating to “mixed rice,” Bibimbap is a classic rice dish that has its roots in Korean history, dating back as far as the 16th century. 

The dish is a bowl of white rice topped with seasoned and sautéed veggies (called, “namul”) or fermented veggies (or “kimchi) along with chili pepper paste (“gochugang”) or fermented soybean paste (“doenjang”).

South Korea boasts it’s fabulous array and preparation of the dish, with most restaurants proving their salt by the Bibimbap they serve. 

Foreigners and locals alike find this one of the most favored and beloved dishes in the country.

See How to Make It Here:

3. Ganjang Gejang (간장게장) – Crab Marinated in Soy Sauce  

Ganjang Gejang is a dish is for crab lovers. It’s essentially crab marinated fresh in a soy sauce brine. 

The delectable flavors of the marinade combined with the meat translate to downing a whole bowl of rice in one setting. This rice-gobbling facet to the dish has Koreans affectionately calling it the “rice thief.”

It’s bitter and pungent yet tangy and full of flavor. While Koreans often use horse crabs for this dish, those living in places like the US will use blue crab instead. 

Making it at home is time consuming and ordering at a restaurant will set you back at least $60.

See How to Make It Here:

4. Bulgogi (불고기) – Thinly Sliced Grilled Beef  

Yet another classic BBQ item on many Korean menus is Bulgogi. It means “fire meat” and it’s often thinly sliced cow or oxen meat. 

Just like Galbi mentioned above, the meat comes in a special seasoning and/or marinade that is then cooked on a tabletop grill.

Bulgogi has its origins in North Korea, specifically in the Pyongan Province where it’s a delicacy. However, South Korea very much makes it their own.

See How to Make It Here:

5. Jjajangmyeon (짜장면) – Noodles in Black Bean Paste  

A popular dish among Koreans is Jajangmyeon, or “noodles in black bean paste.” It’s a big bowl of thick, chewy noodles seasoned with black bean paste, soy sauce and other spices. 

This was actually a Chinese dish created by immigrants living in Korea many years ago. It’s usually reserved for special occasions, but Koreans will eat it about once a week.

It’s become a symbol of singlehood, where love-lonely hearts eat the dish with their friends on April 14th, known as “Black Day.” 

They commemorate their lack of romance over a bowl of black noodles and companionship.

See How to Make It Here:

6. Gopchang (곱창) – Cattle Intestines  

The name of this dish, Gopchang, refers to either the small intestines of cattle (like cow or ox) or the large intestines of a pig. 

These can come boiled in a soup, rolled into sausage, stir-fried or grilled. Most classify this as a healing dish, especially the soup. It has proven to improve postpartum depression, poor constitutions and recovering patients in hospital.

The chef thoroughly cleans the intestines, which involves a rub of salt and wheat flour along with many rinses. 

Once all traces of blood are no longer visible, a seasoning of wine, ginger, onion, garlic and a variety of peppers drench the intestines. The grilled version comes with a side dip of sesame oil and salt.

See It Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjI5askNjxc

7. Samgyetang (삼계탕) – Chicken Soup with Ginseng

Samgyetang is basically the Korean version of chicken soup. However, the feature of this is a whole stuffed chicken immersed in a glutinous and thick broth. 

It incorporates ginseng as the signature seasoning, which leaves a wonderfully aromatic flavor soaked in a juicy bird.

Even though ginseng is generally a bitter tasting herb, the cooking process removes it completely. 

Not only is this excellent for when colds and flu strike, but it’s also South Korea’s signature dish in summertime. This comes under their long-held belief that you fight the dog days of summer with hot, boiling soups and stews.

See How to Make It Here:

8. Gimbap (김밥) – Seaweed Rice Rolls  

Essentially, Gimbap (or Kimbap) is Korean sushi. While Japan’s presentation of this is more famous, the Korean one is worth trying. 

However, Gimbap is not quite the same as Sushi. It takes on a similar approach to that of millefiori, the Italian glasswork technique. People usually eat Gimbap at picnics or during lunch breaks at school or work.

These seaweed rice rolls have things like ground beef, pickled radish, sautéed veggies and many other ingredients. 

While Gimbap does derive from the Japanese, it’s much larger and not served with things like pickled ginger, soy sauce or wasabi. Plus, the ingredients are not raw, but often cooked.

See How to Make It Here:

9. Tteokbokki (떡볶이) – Spicy Rice & Fish Cakes  

Steamed and sliced rice cakes cooked with scallions and fish cakes (called, “oden”) are what comprise Tteokbokki

These cakes bathe in a spicy sweet sauce comprising chili paste and other sauces. This could be black soybean paste, ketchup, Siracha, hot sauce or anything of the sort. The sauce and cakes stir-fry together so the flavors meld.

But, be careful, most types of Tteokbokki are super hot. Even the most experienced capsaicinophile (a person who loves hot, spicy food) has problems tolerating the heat that comes off this dish. Regardless, this is one of the most popular street food fares in places like Seoul and Busan.

See How to Make It Here:

10. Gamjatang (감자탕) – Spicy Pork Bone Soup  

Otherwise known as “Spicy Pork Bone Soup,” Gamjatang is a famous late night dish to accommodate the drinking culture around Soju, a distilled rice spirit. 

It helps stave off hangovers in the morning too. This soup features pork bits amid a broth containing ground perilla seeds, scallions and potatoes.

While it is quite spicy and hot, some people do make it on the more mild side of things. However, the perilla seed is what really makes the flavor of this hearty and healthy soup.

See How to Make It Here:

11. Haemul Pajeon (해물파전) – Savory Seafood Pancakes  

Haemul Pajeon is a savory seafood pancake. It’s light and crispy with that perfect crunch. 

People usually fill the pancakes with things like crab, shrimp, cuttlefish and other such seafood. Some restaurants serve it with a dipping sauce like soy sauce or sesame oil while others will make their own special creation.

Most Koreans drink Makgeolli, or Korean rice wine, as an accompaniment to the Haemul Pajeon. It really hits the spot on cold, wet and rainy days. 

While Koreans technically classify this as a pancake, it actually looks like a Korean version of Italian pizza. The ingredients rest on the top and people do sometimes put cheese on it.

See How to Make It Here:

12. Jjambbong (짬뽕) – Super Spicy Noodle Soup  

Yet another dish with Chinese roots is Jjambbong, which is a spicier and soupier accompaniment to Jjajangmyeon. 

Noodles dominate the dish, where you will find some onions and chili oil mingling amid the broth. These components drive the soup’s flavor and clear you sinuses within minutes.

Even though there are other vegetables and meats in the soup, the chili oil steals the show. In fact, not many people can down an entire bowl in one setting. 

This bad boy is so hot, the copious amount of noodles will not take care of the burn. Many order an additional side of plain rice to compensate.

See How to Make It Here:

13. Bossam (보쌈) – Steamed Pork

As one of the most Korean ways to consume pork, Bossam fits the bill. It’s steamed meat sliced into cubes that are about the size of one bite. 

A leaf of lettuce encircles the pork along with perilla or kimchi and comes with a dipping sauce.

Traditionally, there are three preparation methods: Ssamjang (chili paste), Doenjang (soybean paste) or Saeujeot (pink sauce). 

The Saeujeot is a special yet incredibly salty sauce comprising tiny pickled shrimp.

See How to Make It Here:

Conclusion

While this list of 13 Korean main dishes is by no means complete, it’s a good place to start. You can usually order these at any Korean restaurant you’re visiting, whether in that country or in your own neck of the woods. 

However, the ingredients are very accessible and you should be able to make them easily at home.

Clearly, Koreans love to eat while also ensuring they consume a well-rounded diet. Incorporating their food philosophies would do Western countries some good, especially in the way they ferment many vegetables and meats. 

This statement is never truer in regards to the US, where fast food restaurants reign supreme.

The care taken to prepare each meal means your belly will be full of love and good quality food. Try any of the dishes above, your stomach and digestion will thank you.

About The Author

Photo of author

Jason Park

Jason has been living in Seoul for over 4 years, and during that time, he has experienced many of the city's hidden stores. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others. Jason has been quoted and referenced by different major media companies like Mashed, Distractify, ThePrint and TastingTable. In his free time, he likes to watch Korean dramas and learn more about Korean culture.

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