If you love strong flavours and spicy foods, then you either already like Korean food or you should give it a go! For myself, Korean food is one of my favourite cuisines. From Korean BBQ, to boiling hot stews, to pickled vegetables, to fried chicken, to shaved ice, there will be something that you will fall in love with. In this Korean food guide, I am going to share with you my Top 5 Eats in South Korea!
Jokbal is Korean for pig’s trotters (feet). While that might not sound appealing, cooking it with soy sauce and spices makes for an unbelievable dish.
We tried this at the recommendation of a local at Manjok Ohyang Jokbal. Little did I know it was featured in the Michelin Guide. The jokbal was well seasoned and had a unique gelatinous texture. It went well with the garlic vinegar sauce and shredded cabbage, which added a different taste and texture to the meat. It was also served with all the banchan (side dishes, more info below!), condiments and a hot pot which contains dumplings and rice cakes. We were with a big group and got the biggest set of jokbal and came to around 13,000 KRW ($14.43 CAD) per person which also included beers and soju.
A lot of Asian countries have their own version of shaved ice, but my favourite has to be the Korean one. Bingsu or Bingsoo originally began as ice shavings with red bean paste but has since taken on other toppings and flavours. Additional toppings may include roasted soybean powder, mangoes, cheese, berries, etc. Popular flavors of shaved ice include green tea, coffee, and mango.
This dessert cooled us a lot of times in the hot and humid days of August. We ate in at numerous restaurants but the ones that we recommend are the ones at Sulbing which are found all over Korea and at Bukchon Bingsu. Each bingsu varies in price depending on the toppings and where you get it from but usually start around 9000 KRW ($10 CAD).
3. Korean Fried Chicken
KFC has a different meaning here. While they have Kentucky Fried Chicken in Korea, the local fried chicken is what you need to eat.
What makes Korean fried chicken unique is that it is twice fried; the skin is therefore crunchier and less greasy. There are variations of fried chicken. There is the tongdak (original whole roast chicken) and the modern chicken pieces (boneless and boned) slathered in yangnyeom (sweet and spicy sauce). With the chicken also comes with a side of pickled radishes.
Two places I recommend are Mansuk Dak Gangjeong for fried chicken with yangnyeom sauce. The chicken had a great crisp and was quite sweet and spicy. It was also great value as a whole box was only 17,000 KRW ($18.87 CAD)!
The other place is Bampo Chicken. They are the OGs in the fried chicken game in Seoul opening in 1976. They’re most famous for their roasted garlic chicken. Their generous use of garlic makes their sauce pungent and tasty (if you like garlic). The chicken that they use are a little on the small side as only young chickens are used, which makes the meat quite tender. It is however more on the pricier side costing 18,000 KRW ($20 CAD) for a plate.
4. Korean BBQ
BBQ also has another meaning in this part of the world. Instead of the backyard, the grills are built into the dining table itself. Meats are cooked in right front of you, either by yourself or by the restaurant staff.
Some popular meats that in Korean BBQ are:
- galbi – marinated beef short ribs
- Samgyeopsal – thicker strips of unsalted and unmarinated pork belly.
- bulgogi – thin, marinated slices of beef or pork
- Chadolbegi – thinly sliced beef brisket
After grilled, you can dip them in seasoning made of salt and pepper mixed in sesame seed oil. Wrap them in lettuce along with grilled slices of garlic, grilled slices of onion, green onions, and kimchi and you have a makeshift Korean BBQ taco!
You can find these all over Korea and is popular meal when drinking alcohol (soju and beer). They can also be quite cheap as we found a Korean BBQ lunch special for 8000 KRW ($8.88 CAD)!
5. Cheese Dakgalbi
Dakgalbi is a dish of stir-fried marinated diced chicken in a sweet spicy-based sauce with sweet potatoes, cabbage, perilla leaves, scallions, tteok (rice cake). The game changer here is the addition of melted cheese. It all taste so good together. You have the sweet savoury spicy sauce and topped with creamy cheese. There are different textures from the crunch of the cabbage and perilla leaves to the chewiness of the rice cake. Everything is so warm too coming straight from the grill.
Once the meal is almost finished, it’s normal at dakgalbi restaurants to add rice to the left over ingredients with cheese. This makes a really good fried rice.
I ate this as a part of an event with my hostel in Seoul. I paid 25,000 KRW ($27.75 CAD) which included the meal and lots and lots of soju! I am sure it will be a lot cheaper if you don’t go through the hostel and without the copious amounts of soju!
Special Mention: Banchan
My favourite thing about Korean meals, is that most times it comes with side dishes, called banchan. They are usually an assortment of kimchi (fermented vegetables seasoned with chili peppers and salt), namul (steamed, marinated, or stir-fried vegetables) like bean sprouts or spinach, Bokkeum (stir fried dishes) like fishcake or zucchini. The best thing, most often, you can get a refill on these when you eventually eat them all!
Other Korean dishes I tried:
- Bulgogi – grilled thin, marinated slices of beef or pork
- Sundubu jjigae – a spicy stew made with soft tofu and seafood
- Kimchi jjigae – A stew made with mainly kimchi, pork, and tofu
- Bibimbap – rice topped with seasoned vegetables and seasoned with a red pepper paste. It is usually served in a heated stone bowl
- Naengmyeon – cold buckwheat noodles
- Bossam – thinly sliced boiled pork belly pork served with side dishes
- Gimbap – similar to that of the Japanese sushi roll but usually bigger in size.
- Dopotki or Tteokbokki – sliced rice cake and fish cakes flavoured with a sweet and spicy sauce
- Hotteok – fried pancake containing brown sugar, honey, chopped peanuts, and cinnamon
- Bungeoppang – fish-shaped pastry that is usually filled with sweet red bean paste. Similar to Japan’s taiyaki
- Eomuk-tang or odeng-tang – Korean fish cake which you can find all over even in metro stations. They are usually served with a spicy soup.
- Dwaeji-gukbap – Pork and Rice Soup
- Kong-guksu – noodle dish served in a cold soy milk broth
- Ojingeo-sundae – stuffed squid
- Mandu – Korean version of dumplings
- Sikhye – a traditional sweet rice drink
- and probably more!