Many people visiting Korea often say that Korean cuisine is quite expensive there, but this is not always true. Food prices in the country actually depend on where you are living, the cuisine you are trying, whether it’s local or imported food, and several other factors.
Let’s take a glimpse into the tastes of Korea as we guide you to make the right choices when it comes to eating out.
Is All Korean Food Expensive?
If you’re planning a trip to South Korea and fretting about expensive food, you should know there are plenty of budget-friendly Korean restaurants once you arrive. In simple words, not all Korean food is expensive.
Still, there are some factors that can contribute to finding Korean food pricey. For instance, the prices will naturally hike when you dine out at touristy spots like Itaewon. Drinks here will be twice as expensive as well.
The trick to finding affordable eateries is to think smart, plan ahead, and navigate the area properly. If you’re looking for international dishes, you will be paying a higher price for them. So, your best bet is to try their local cuisine instead. Street food is one of the best ways to enjoy cheap and delicious food. Plus, you get to experience their rich culture too.
Keep in mind that meat, especially beef prices are on the rise in Korea. You will definitely get meat dishes with a higher price tag here. Again, this will depend on the restaurants you visit.
Cheap Korean foods you must try
Many local Korean places and foods are worth trying because of their unique taste and affordability. So, what are your money-saving options?
For starters, you must try steamed dumplings, also known as ‘mandu’ in South Korea. You can get 10 small dumplings in only 3000 won (3 USD). These dumplings have fillings of meat, kimchi, or veggies, and they are a must-try.
Another cheap food option is the cult-favorite ramyeon which comes in so many varieties and flavors. Ramen is now gaining popularity all over the world and is extremely tasty.
You can find a pack of instant ramen at any convenience store for around 1500 won (1,50 USD), or you can eat it at a restaurant for around 3000 won (3 USD). If you love spices, Shin Rameyeon should definitely be on your list.
Korean Kimbap rolls are another delicacy you must try if you are on a budget. In fact, we recommend these yummy rolls even when you’re not looking to save money.
The roll is made from a sheet of seaweed and rice and has assorted fillings of kimchi, vegetables, and meat. One roll will cost you around 1500 to 3000 won (1,50 to 3 USD) and you can find these at convenience stores as well as local restaurants.
And of course, you cannot forget bibimbap, which is also the national dish of the country and is highly loved by Koreans.
Essentially, it is a bed of rice and a red pepper paste, topped with a combination of vegetables and ingredients like spinach, mushroom, carrot, sprouts, and more. Simply mix it up and savor this cultural delicacy. It generally costs around 6000 won (6 USD).
If these options are too mind-boggling for you, simply hit the market for some amazing street food. You will find tons of options all around, from stir-fried noodles, tteokbokki, sweet potatoes, hot dogs, to chicken on a stick. Mouth-watering, isn’t it?
Average Cost of Eating Out in Korea
For anyone living in the country, it is important to know how much it usually costs to dine out at a Korean restaurant. The average expected price will depend on what, and where you decide to eat.
If you are planning to eat from their local cuisine, you can expect a full meal to start from around 3000 won (3 USD) and go up to 6000 to 8000 Korean won (6 to 8 USD). You will have to pay more if you choose something meat-based. However, these dishes are super filling as you get different side dishes to go with them.
You can also buy a meal from international food chains like McDonald’s or Subway which would typically cost around 6500 won (6,50 USD). Keep in mind that the taste and menu will differ according to local Korean preferences.
When it comes to fine-dining or sit-down Korean restaurants, you will be paying 10,000 won to 12,000 won per person (10 to 12 USD). Of course, this can go up depending on what you order, as well as drinks.
How Much Do Koreans Spend on Groceries?
You might be surprised to find out that the prices of grocery items in Seoul are even more expensive than in Tokyo or New York. In fact, Seoul has the world’s 6th priciest groceries.
A survey conducted in 2020 found that 26.6 percent of Korean households were spending 30,000 to 50,000 (30 to 50 USD) in one grocery shopping trip. In the same year, the average monthly expenditure on food and drinks was about 381.06 thousand won.
On average, the weekly spending on groceries is usually up to 90,000 won (80 USD), and the monthly spending on average would be about 360,000 (310 USD) won.
Due to the high price of groceries, whether you eat out or cook at home yourself- the prices generally end up being roughly the same in South Korea.
The 5 Most Expensive Korean Foods
Now that we’ve covered the basics and have shared the cheap and tasty must-try Korean foods, let’s take a look at the high-end dishes you would want to taste. These foods are a specialty in the county and have a huge cult following here.
Korean bbq, also known as ‘gogi-gui’ is a special cuisine offering meat, chicken, or pork on a grill. Sometimes, the meat is marinated for extra flavor. Pork belly, ribs, beef tongue, squid, and a variety of other meats are also used in korean bbq.
Korean bbq is unique because it has a sweeter flavor profile. Ingredients such as sugar, soy sauce, garlic, honey, and ground pear are usually used.
Korean fried chicken, known as ‘chikin’, is one of the best things you can eat here. Although chicken itself is not that pricey, fried chicken can easily cost you around 14,000 to 20,000 won (14 to 18 USD). With added sauces, you have to pay even more.
Regardless of the cost of eating fried chicken, it’s worth trying for sure. The crispy, crunchy exterior and tangy sauces make it a highly appetizing meal. Plus, there are many variations such as basic huraideu or the spicy yangnyeom.
Another bbq variation, bulgogi is considered one of the most delicious tasting foods in the world. It consists of slices of marinated beef served with grilled onions and garlic. It is often wrapped in lettuce and served with a spicy paste called ssamjang. It is also a must-try for meat and bbq lovers.
The price of beef bulgogi varies depending on the restaurant and usually starts from 8000 won (8 USD).
Spicy Stir-Fried Octopus
Another expensive and popular delicacy is Nakji Bokkeum which is a spicy, stir-fried octopus. It is chopped and then cooked in a red chili paste. This dish is super flavorful, as it combines spices and seafood in a harmonious way. The cost of nakji bokkeum is usually 7000 to 10,000 won (7 to 10 USD).
The octopus mixed plate is another amazing dish you can try and will cost you around 6000 won (6 USD).
You may have noticed that Korean cuisine itself is not very costly. However, if you are in the country and decide to eat steak or other foreign dishes, you will be paying a higher price. So, any non-Korean food may cause a dent in your wallet. Even pizza can cost up to 30,000 won here (28 USD). Cheese is also a high-priced food item.
If you’re still craving foreign cuisine, you can look around and find some cheaper restaurants as well.
Korean food is rich in flavor, spices, and has so much variety to offer. Koreans love and enjoy their food, so if you’re visiting, be sure to immerse yourself in their culture and taste their special cuisine.
Kimchi, tofu stew, ox bone soup, seafood, meat, barbecue, rice cakes, noodles, and more… there is so much to try in this delightful land.
And the good news, it’s not all expensive. So, if you’re planning a trip to South Korea, you have nothing to worry about. Just remember to create a budget for food, and take your tastebuds on a ride.