Choosing what to eat can easily become the hardest part of planning a trip. There are often too many dishes to try, and finding good restaurants is even harder! But the best thing to do is always the same; listen to the locals!
Today, as a Korean, I proudly present to you some of the best dishes of my country that you won’t regret trying. Pro tip: Pay attention to the names of Korean foods. Even better, memorize them! It’ll come in handy when it’s time to order and eat!
Traditional Korean Foods
Korea has an abundant culinary culture that is ancient and innovative at the same time. We are always getting some new dishes coming in trend here, but today I’ll introduce some of the traditional foods that have been around for a long time.
Classic Korean Bibimbap 비빔밥
비빔밥(bi-bim-bap) is a mixture of steamed rice, cooked vegetables, seasoned meat and/or fried egg, 참기름 (cham-gi-leum: sesame oil), and 고추장 (go-chu-jang: chili paste). All these ingredients come together to form a delicious flavor that’s totally different from each of them!
Samgyeopsal 삼겹살 (Korean BBQ)
삼겹살 is actually the Korean word for pork belly, the part Koreans love to barbeque the most. Cooked on a grill over a charcoal fire, it becomes delicious and chewy. It tastes so good on its own, but Koreans usually make 쌈 (ssam). It’s easy; you get a leaf of 상추 (sang-chu: lettuce), put a piece of 삼겹살 on it, and add other ingredients such as garlic and 김치 (kimchi: spicy cabbage). Then you roll it and put it in your mouth!
Kimbap 김밥 (Seaweed Wrapped Rolls)
김밥 is a rice roll with various ingredients inside and wrapped with 김 (gim: seaweed). It’s often compared to sandwiches. It’s what we pack for picnics, it’s easy to eat, and it has many different versions, depending on what goes inside! As a kid, I used to sit with my friends on field trip days and compare my mom’s 김밥 to others’. 김밥 is usually named after its main ingredient, like 참치김밥 (cham-chi-gim-bap: gimbap with canned tuna and mayo) and 오징어김밥 (o-jing-eo-gim-bap: gimbap with spicy squid).
Kimchi Jjigae 김치 찌개 (Kimchi Stew)
김치찌개 is the most popular kind of 찌개 (jji-gae: Korean stew) in Korea. It’s a simple dish that we often enjoy at home. But its taste can vary so much, every cook makes a different kind! The taste of 김치찌개 mostly depends on the 김치, and as each household has its own 김치 recipe, they all make different 김치찌개. Plus there are other ingredients, such as canned tuna, pork, onion, and potato, and whether each of them is in or not makes a great difference in the result, so be sure to try as many 김치찌개 as possible, you’ll find it new each time!
Bulgogi 불고기 (Korean Beef Barbecue)
불고기 is thinly sliced beef, marinated in soy sauce mixture, and cooked either over fire or in a pan. It’s one of foreigners’ favorite Korean foods, its savory and smoky flavor is irresistible! You can also eat it as 쌈, just like with 삼겹살.
Dongchimi 동치미 (Korean White Radish)
동치미 is a kind of 김치, but it’s not the red and spicy cabbage 김치 you’re familiar with. It’s white, it’s made of reddish, and it tastes refreshing and clean. It’s like the Korean version of pickles, we have it with spicy or fatty food like 삼겹살. 동치미’s 국물 (guk-mul: broth) also works as a medicine for all kinds of digestive problems. It’s a fermented food with lots of good microbes, so it really works!
Mandoo 만두 (Korean Dumplings)
Really, I could write pages and pages about 만두 alone. They come boiled, fried, steamed… And as for the filling, there are so many types. We put in 김치, beef, pork, shrimp, 갈비 (galbi: marinated beef), eggs… Even the dough varies so much! We have the classical wheat dough, chewy dough made of potato starch, and sometimes we even omit the dough and just roll the filling in flour! If you want to try as many different kinds of 만두 as possible, 북촌손만두 would be a good choice. It’s a chain, but it sells various types of 만두, all of them delicious.
Seollangtang 설렁탕 (Korean Ox Bone Soup)
설렁탕 is a traditional soup made of only water and beef bones. It may sound simple, but it actually requires hours of careful and skillful simmering to bring out its characteristic rich and comforting flavors. It’ll warm you up in cold winter or whenever you feel down. You can also add ground 후추 (hoo-choo: pepper) and chopped 대파 (dae-pa: green onion) to enrich your 설렁탕.
Chuncheon Dakgalbi 춘천 닭갈비 (Spicy Stir Fried Chicken)
춘천 (Chuncheon) is actually the name of the city where this delicious dish originated. 춘천 닭갈비 is boneless chicken and cabbage, marinated in spicy 고추장 (go-chu-jang: spicy chili paste) sauce and cooked in a pan. Other ingredients like sweet potato and 떡 (ddeok: rice cake) might be added too, and they all go well with the spicy yet slightly sweet taste!
Samgyetang 삼계탕 (Ginseng Chicken Soup)
삼계탕 is somewhat like Thanksgiving turkey. We put stuffings consisting of rice, chestnut, and healthy herbs like ginseng and garlic inside the chicken and simmer it. It’s year-round, but traditionally we eat it during the hottest time of the year to endure the heat and rejuvenate. It’s called 이열치열 (i-yeol-chi-yeol), to fight the heat by eating something hot!
Today we’ve covered some of the best dishes Korea has to offer, plus some related Korean words. But as they are all nouns, you’ll need verbs and adjectives to actually order them and talk about them. The best way to learn is Konju, the only Korean learning app that focuses on verbs and adjectives! It’s about conjugations of words, it’ll let you not just memorize words but actually use them in real conversations! Thank you for reading and I’ll be back with another fun post about Korean culture, with a sprinkle of language!