Destination Seoul: Korean Food You Must Try

Photo Credit to Ann Yakult Martinez

If you are thinking of traveling to South Korea, one of the things you can look forward to is the variety of food you can try. While most of them are spicy and could take some getting used to, why not open your mind and your taste buds and have a grand food adventure together with your enjoyment of the sights and sounds of this once isolationist country.

If you have seen some South Korean movies or drama, you might be familiar with some of the food you can eat in restaurants and even in street food stalls. You might not know their names, but you might remember what they look like and how much your mouth waters at their sight.

      1.      Koreans love their soju and oftentimes have to battle with hangovers. Food is still one of their best cures and they swear by haejang-guk or hangover stew. It is a steamy and spicy stew (soup) made from beef broth with lumps of congealed ox blood, radish, bean sprouts and cabbage, which is sure to kick-start your day. 

      2.      One of the most well-known Korean food is kimchi, which has been around for more than 2,000 years. The enduring Korean traditional food, which they eat with almost everything at any time of the day has 200 varieties, some of which are seasonal. The most popular is the baechukimchi or the whole (napa) cabbage kimchi. One of the less spicy ones is the daikon or chopped radish kimchi.

Kimchi grilled with Pork. Photo Credit to Ann Yakult Martinez

      3.      If you love grilled food, one of the best is samgyeopsal, or grilled pork, accompanied by sliced onions, raw garlic kimchi, perilla leaves and lettuce. Traditionally the cooked pork is wrapped in perilla or lettuce, which is dabbed with ssamjang, a mix of gochujang (chili paste), doenjang (soybean paste) and garlic. It is still spicy but milder than red chili paste and saltier.

A three layered fats or Samgyeopsal

      4.      Kimchijiggae for non-Korean speakers is called kimchi stew. It is a good thing to eat during lunch or dinner. With this stew, the cabbage kimchi is chopped and sautéed in oil. Cellophane noodles, tuna or pork, chopped spring onions and other vegetables are well as tofu and broth make up this filling dish. It is served with a side dish, and what do you know? It's still kimchi!

      5.      The next dish may take some bravado to try. It is called soy sauce crab or ganjanggejang. People who have tried this dish said that it can be addicting. However, you have to know that these are raw crabs marinated in soy sauce and a mix of aromatic herbs for a few days to remove the raw and fishy taste. It is often called the 'rice thief' because the people who love this dish eat more rice just so they can consume more soy sauce crab. Normally very fresh female crabs with roe are chosen when making this dish.

      6.      Bossam is simply steamed pork, but it is not an ordinary dish. The tender pork is sliced into bite sized pieces and eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves spread with ssamjang or saeujeot, which is a pink-colored dipping salty dipping sauce made of pickled krill (tiny shrimps).

      7.      But if you are hankering for something that will not burn your tongue because of all the fiery spices, you can try japjae or chapjae, a flavorful side dish made with cellophane noodles mixed with light soy sauce and sesame oil with a bit of sugar, sautéed pork and assorted vegetables and mushrooms before getting mixed together and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Or you can have bibimbap, which was once a royal dish. It is made up of cooked rice, sautéed mixed vegetables, and beef topped with one egg, a sprinkling of sesame oil and a teaspoonful of chili paste. You mix everything up before you eat the bibimbap.  You can also try the Korean version of rolled sushi, kimbap, made with cooked rice, strips of crab stick, egg omelet, blanched carrots, fresh cucumbers, pickled radish and anything you can think of, rolled and tightly wrapped in gim or laver (dried seaweed sheet) and sliced into bite-sized rounds.

A bowl of chapjae. Photo credit to Ann Yakult Martinez.

For sure there are items in this list that will suit your taste buds. Otherwise, you can always have some of the ubiquitous ramyun or instant noodles in a variety of flavors and degree of spiciness, but that's beating the purpose of having a food adventure. Please also check my post about surviving your trip in Korea without learning the language


About the author of this article

Ronnie Avelino is working for Day Translations, Inc., a global interpreting and translation company that provides Korean translation services. If you want to know important facts, people, and history of South Korea please click here.