Of all the food in the world, there’s one particular cuisine revving the taste buds of the world’s cutting edge top chefs—the food of South Korea. Taking the culinary world by storm, South Korean food dishes and Korean recipes are swaggering in with bold, sharp flavors and vibrant presentations. Even Anthony Bourdain has a Korean barbecue date night with his wife.
By now, Korean kimchi and Korean bulgogi are pretty much household Korean food names. Heck, even my mother has a Korean BBQ recipe she pulls out for parties. But what about the other food of Korea, in all its beautiful multi-faceted variety? In our time teaching English abroad on Jeju, Korea, we’ve learned of some popular Korean dishes such as jeon (savory pancake) and kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew), as well as odeng (fishcake), tteokbokki (spicy rice cake), and kimbap (seaweed roll). But there’s a ton more South Korean food dishes you may not have heard of before. We’ve asked a few of our fellow South Korea travel blogger friends to make a top South Korean food list of all the essential dishes you must try, beyond kimchi. From the infamous live octopus of sannakji, to the ubiquitous Korean bibimbap, here are the South Korean food dishes you shouldn’t leave South Korea without trying!
Our South Korean food list will allow you to join the world’s top upcoming chefs in the excitement for the flavors of Korean food recipes. We’ll help you learn about the best Korean dishes you must try during a visit to South Korea, or even a local jaunt at your neighborhood Korean restaurant! So go ahead, pull up a chair and plan out your next Korean cuisine plan of attack at the Korean buffet. Your tummy won’t regret it.
|Cook Korean!: A Comic Book with Recipes||Seoul Food Korean Cookbook||Growing up in a Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook|
Here are the best Korean food dishes to try in South Korea (beyond kimchi!)
― Anthony Bourdain
- 1 Sannakji (Live Octopus)
- 2 Bibimbap (Mixed Rice with Meat and Vegetables)
- 3 Gwameji (Dried Pacific Herring)
- 4 Chuotang (Mud Fish Stew)
- 5 Gulbi (Dried Salted Croaker Fish)
- 6 Dak Galbi (Spicy Stir-fried Chicken)
- 7 Galmaegisal (Pork ‘Skirt-Meat’ BBQ)
- 8 Patbingsu (Shaved Ice Dessert)
- 9 And then some more Patbingsu (because we can’t get enough!)
- 10 Like this post?
- 11 You Might Also Appreciate…
- 12 Any other Korean food dishes you want to try in South Korea?
Sannakji (Live Octopus)
Recommended by Shelley of Travel-Stained as one of the best Korean food dishes!
Koreans like their seafood fresh. So much so that meal time can sometimes turn into a scary game of “if you dare,” with the most challenging offering being sannakji – an octopus so recently chopped up, it’s still wriggling around desperately on the plate when it’s set down before you.
I’ve never been able to place a writhing tentacle anywhere close to my mouth, but my more adventurous hubby claims it’s super tasty, never mind the suction cups attaching themselves to teeth, tongue, roof of mouth and throat on the way down. He says it tastes best when flavoured with the sesame oil it’s often served with.
If you want to re-enact your own personal version of Old Boy, however, be sure to take special care when eating this dangerous food. Chew thoroughly and carefully, and most importantly, don’t eat it while intoxicated. Sannakji is responsible for an average of 6 choking deaths in South Korea every single year!
Bibimbap (Mixed Rice with Meat and Vegetables)
Recommended by Linda of Linda Goes East as one of the best South Korean food dishes!
Bibimbap in Korea is like hamburgers in the US – you can get it anywhere at any time. However, much unlike the greasy Western fast food dish, bibimbap is actually healthy and extremely nutritious. Literally translating to ‘mixed rice’, the dish is basically a bowl of warm white rice topped with various vegetables and chili pepper paste. There are hundreds of regional variations of the dish but the most important things are the five different colors, symbolic in Orientalism.
My personal favorite varieties of bibimbap are topped with an egg sunny-side up as well as raw beef bibimbap. One of the most famous locations to have the rice bowl dish is Jeonju in Jeollabukdo Province.
Gwameji (Dried Pacific Herring)
Recommended by Hallie of The Soul of Seoul as one of the best South Korean food dishes!
Having married a Korean man that comes from the southern coasts, I have oft been presented with fishy delights I didn’t even realize existed. Gwamegi, or Pacific Herring that has been dried, is one of those dishes that definitely surprised me when it was all dished up and ready to go. Now, I look forward to it gracing the table. Only coming into season mid-winter, the herring are harvested in large haul locations in Korea like Pohang, Uljin and Yeongdeok. After being rinsed with sea water, the fish are hung to dry seaside where they will repeat a process of freezing at night and thawing during the day until the water content has dropped to about 40%.
The process ends in three to four days with the fish finally being washed in Korean green tea. Accompanied on the table by a selection of greens, different seaweeds as well as a spicy pepper sauce and garlic, the gwamegi that is now a bit chewy, is wrapped up into a little gift for the taste buds. It’s now one of my favorite seasonal dishes in Korea and should definitely NOT be missed come winter. Read more about the Korean dish of Gwamegi!
Chuotang (Mud Fish Stew)
Recommended by Hallie of The Soul of Seoul as one of the best South Korean food dishes!
Koreans have a way of ruining even the most pleasant of dishes with translations. When it comes to putting things into English, there are just so many foods that sound extremely unappetizing the way they’ve been translated. Chuotang is one of those dishes I was happy not to know the translation prior to digging in. Made from mud fish, it looks a bit like mud when it comes to the table but don’t let that sway you. Mud fish is also known by loach fish, and I would tell Koreans selling chuotang that this is a much better translation because conjuring up images of mud before eating isn’t appealing. However, this soup is high in protein, iron, calcium, vitamin A and unsaturated fat and is good for lowering cholesterol, helps with constipation, and is good for stamina and energy. It might be one of the healthiest soups there is in Korea and honestly, it tastes awesome. It actually has a familiar taste that’s hard to pinpoint—a bit like all spice or like a little mint has been added. My mother-in-law makes this dish and sends to us in the mail quarterly so we always have some on hand. Read more about the Korean food dish of chuotang!
Gulbi (Dried Salted Croaker Fish)
Recommended by Jessica of Family in Faraway Places as one of the best Korean food dishes!
Don’t let the slightly menacing look of gulbi hanging from racks while it dries turn you off. Gulbi is fantastic! Gulbi is the Korean name for the fish yellow corvina, which has been salted and dried. Yeonggwang in Jeollanamdo is best known for gulbi and when you visit you can see the little fish everywhere. It is on signs, statues and hanging out to dry outside of shops every which way you turn! While it is usually just grilled and eaten as is, Gulbi is a mild tasting fish so it lends itself to many different kinds of preparation. Yeonggwang is where you will want to go to sample the greatest variety of gulbi dishes in South Korea in one place.
Dak Galbi (Spicy Stir-fried Chicken)
Recommended by Rosie of Ravenous Travellers as one of the best South Korean food dishes!
You can’t leave Korea without trying Dak Galbi, a spicy stir-fried chicken dish that’s cooked right in front of you at the table.
Boneless pieces of chicken, rice cakes, sliced cabbage, sweet potato and onions are mixed together in a chili-based sauce and left to simmer. There’s also the option to add cheese which melts across the top of the dish and let’s face it – everything tastes better with cheese!
If you’ve got any room left by the end of the meal, you can add a portion of rice which is mixed with the leftover goodness and served in the sizzling skillet on your table. Dak Galbi is our absolute go-to dish during the cold winter months and a must-try if you’re visiting Korea.
Galmaegisal (Pork ‘Skirt-Meat’ BBQ)
Recommended by Natasha of Travelandtash as one of the best South Korean food dishes!
Galmaegisal (갈매기살) is my favourite type of Samgyeopsal (삼겹살) Korean barbecue meal. The pork “skirt meat’, which translates as “sea gull” from Korean, is fantastically tasty and succulent. It makes for a very nice change from the usual, and often very fatty, samgyeopsal cuts of meat.
The meal is accompanied by banchan (반찬), the usual side dishes, and we also ordered soybean soup (된장찌개) which gave a rich, brothy, and somewhat salty accompaniment to our meal. The most fun aspect of this experience was cooking the omelette, which was particular to our restaurant, 마포갈매기, located in Hongdae! The circular grill has a mold around the perimeter of the dish where the omelette cooks. My Korean dining friends showed me how to scatter spicy vegetables into the mold, and thereafter, pour the prepared egg mixture inside, filling the mold. After a few minutes, we had to twist the omelette over in pieces using tongs to make sure the top was cooked too. The omelette turned out light and frothy. The whole experience was enthralling, and my taste buds were sizzling with delight!
Hongdae, Seoul is apparently a popular destination to find Galmaegisal restaurants. We paid around 10,000 won per person, which included the added soybean soup. I highly recommend that when you stumble across a 마포갈매기restaurant, you eagerly try the delights inside!
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Patbingsu (Shaved Ice Dessert)
Recommended by Meghan of Expedition Limitless as one of the best South Korean food dishes!
If you’re traveling to South Korea in late spring or summer, add patbingsu to your list of gotta-have foods. Perfect for those hot, humid days, patbingsu is the Korean take on an old classic: shaved ice.
Unlike the Western version, Korean shaved ice is a multi-level masterpiece. Starting with a base of shaved ice, they top it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, sweet red beans, chewy mochi squares, and fresh, seasonal fruits. Then, to finish it off, a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk.
The red beans might sound strange, but you’ll just have to trust me. The Koreans know what they’re doing. Patbingsu has roots dating back as early as the 1300s, making a big comeback during the second half of the 20th century. With that many years of tradition behind it, they must be doing something right.
Get a small one to-go or a massive bowl to share. Either way, it’s a refreshing treat not to be missed.
And then some more Patbingsu (because we can’t get enough!)
Recommended by Izzy of The Next Somewhere as one of the best South Korean food dishes!
While Asian food on a whole is gaining popularity in the culinary world, the dessert genre has had a harder time winning over the masses. If any dessert could win fans, it’s patbingsoo (팥빙수), a Korean shaved ice dessert of epic proportions. Patbingsoo, or patbingsu, literally translates to “red beans shaved ice.” The formula for patbingsoo is simple: a mountain of shaved ice (similar to a sno-cone in the USA) is topped with chopped fruit, condensed milk, and sweet red beans, a well-known dessert ingredient in Japan. If it’s hard to get past beans in your dessert, fear not. More creative, Westernized expressions of this popular summer treat have been popping up around the country replacing the misunderstood red bean component with the likes of Oreo cookie crumbs and hunks of cheesecake for starter. My favorite spot for patbingsoo is Sulbing (설빙) Korean Dessert Cafe, which uses frozen milk shaving instead of ice shaving as a base, creating a richer, more decadent foundation. They also have over ten topping combinations to choose from and their portions are beyond generous. Each bowl comes with a side of condensed milk just in case it’s not sweet enough for you. I personally love the berry combo, with three types of frozen berries and layers of yogurt sandwiched between the frozen milk.
So there you have it—the South Korean food dishes you must try during a visit to South Korea! During our time living on Jeju Island in South Korea, we’ve enjoyed so many varieties of Korean traditional food, and hope to pass the metal spoon and chopsticks down on to you in your own South Korean food venture. We hope this Korean food list will aid you in exploring some new food of Korea and trying an unfamiliar Korean dish. After all, the variety of South Korean food dishes is exciting and extends so much more beyond kimchi, and we encourage you to go outside of your comfort zone and try something new!
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Any other Korean food dishes you want to try in South Korea?
Let us know in a comment below!