Foodie Guide: Must Eats In Seoul
Most people’s introduction to Korean culture come from one of two things. You’re either roped in by Korean entertainment like Kpop or K-Dramas, or Korean food. The mix of spicy and sweet, fried and fresh, boiling and ice cold is what makes Korean food so fun and addicting to people all over the world. Here’s a short guide to foods you have to try while you’re here. Psst - just try everything!
This is one of Korea’s most famous foods for a good reason. Ddeokbokki is a dish of chewy rice cakes that comes in all shapes and sizes, stirred together with a deliciously sweet and spicy sauce, spring onions, fish cakes, and often a hard boiled egg. The level of spice varies depending on which vendor you visit, but usually, the redder the sauce, the hotter the dish!
Don’t get this mixed up with an ice cream sundae! Pronounced “soon-dae,” this Korean-style sausage is commonly served alongside ddeokbokki at street vendors. What you get is boiled intestine stuffed with various ingredients like noodles, meat, and small veggies. You can pan-fry it, add it to soups and stews, or eat it freshly made. If you're feeling adventurous, why not give it a go?
Kimbap is a classic Korean food perfect for picnics or grabbing on the go. Kim means seaweed and bap means rice, so kimbap is literally seaweed and rice! While some people might compare it to a Japanese sushi roll, the taste is totally different. Its often stuffed with carrot, cucumber, crab sticks, and sweet radish along with anything else you want in it like kimchi, tuna, or beef. Restaurants are known to have lots of different varieties on their menu so order a few different ones to share!
While it doesn’t resemble a fish or a cake in the slightest, 'eomuk' is a local favorite, whether on a skewer, served as a side dish, or in soup. Imagine seasoned and ground fish paste that's pressed into various shapes such as cylinders, strips, or long rectangles, then served either on a stick or in a hot salty broth. It's the perfect food for winter!
Sit Down and Eat:
Winner winner chicken dinner. Korean Fried Chicken is practically a religion here in Korea, and for good reason. Chicken pieces are fried twice, giving it an addicting texture and taste, doused with sauce or without, and will leave you wanting more. With various flavours on offer, you can bet they're finger-lickin' good! If you're having a night out, why not start with ‘Chimaek’ - chicken (chi) and beer (maekju)?
So many chicken dishes, so little time! Dakgalbi is a dish that consists of marinated chicken stir-fried with onions, potatoes, and rice cakes in a spicy sauce. It's meant to be shared between people, and is usually cooked at the table on a cast-iron pan. The wait might be agony but it's worth it! P.S. The trend nowadays is to cover the dish with a ton of cheese, making it that bit more indulgent.
This sweet beef dish is one of Korea’s most famous foods! Bulgogi is literally fire beef, but the taste is surprisingly sweet. Beef slices are marinated in a mix of soy sauce, sugar, and salt which gives it the perfect sweet and savory flavor, before being grilled or stir-fried. If you’re coming to Korea, you can’t leave without trying some!
Korean BBQ needs its own list to explain what to try! There are so many types of meat on offer but our favorites include marinated beef short ribs, ox tongue, pork belly, and spicy marinated chicken. Small dishes of Korean soybean paste and sesame oil mixed with salt are served on the side for you to dip your meat in. One of the fun parts about Korean BBQ is cooking the meats by yourself but if you're not keen on wielding tongs and scissors, the staff will be glad to help you out.
Jjigae comes in many forms, but it is simply a very, very hot stew. It's often served in a ‘dolsot’ which is a traditional Korean pot that's incredibly hot so be careful not to touch it! The waitress will usually warn you even if you’re Korean and know better. Top hits include sundubu-jjigae (soft tofu stew), kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) and budae jjigae (army stew.) Unlike the first two soups, the army stew is a hot pot dish that consists of ramen noodles, vegetables, sliced hot dogs, spam, tofu, and more, and is meant to be shared between 3-4 people or more. Crack a raw egg in your jjigae, watch it cook itself, and enjoy!
Jeon aka pancake is probably on everyone’s list of favorite Korean foods. While there are many types on offer, the most identifiable ones are kimchijeon, pajeon (spring onions) and seafood jeon. Ingredients are whisked together with batter, and then fried to give it a slight crisp around the edges and on the surface. To elevate the taste of the pancake, dip a piece of pancake into the saucer of sweet & salty soy sauce that's served on the side.
Live octopus, anyone? I’m sure you’ve seen the videos of people eating tentacles that are still squirming around. For the most part, the animal is actually dead at the time of you eating it. What continues to move is its nerves, but there are a few places that will serve you the full animal, which is definitely not for the faint or soft-hearted. Served simply with a sprinkle of sesame seeds, all you have to do is pick a piece up, dip it into sesame oil, pop it into your mouth, and chew, chew, chew!
While many Koreans will tell you to eat hot things in the summer to cool down, I find naengmyeon to be my favorite summer dish! Literally ‘cold noodles,’ mul-naengmyeon is a pile of noodles that's topped with a hard-boiled egg, cucumber slices, and gochujang in an icy broth. Bibim-naengmyeon is the same, but without the broth. They're cold, savoury yet sweet, tart, and are perfect for cooling down during a hot day.
This is a classic Korean dish that never gets old. Bibim means ‘mixed’ in Korean and you already learned what ‘bap’ means! So essentially, what you're getting when you order bibimbap, is mixed rice. What comes to your table is rice topped with sauteed & seasoned vegetables like spinach, bean sprouts, and mushrooms, and a fried egg, but you could also get carrots, beef, and radish. It's truly a one bowl meal! Don't forget to add some gochujang or red pepper paste on top before mixing it all up and digging in. That way, you’ll get all the flavors in one bite!
Let’s end our list with something sweet! Forget everything you thought you knew about shaved ice. This refreshing Korean dessert cannot be beat, and you'll never run out of flavors to try. Often topped with ingredients like sweet red beans, chopped fruit, rice cake pieces, and condensed milk, this sweet treat is the perfect ending to your meal, or as an afternoon pick-me-up. Not a fan of red bean? Not to worry, there are heaps of other bingsu flavors to try! Take your pick from green tea, melon, caramel, and many more.