Korean Food – A Guide to the Best Cuisine in the South

Last Updated on April 9, 2021 by 90 Day Korean
Korean soup in a black bowl

Have you tried Korean food? If not, you’re in for a treat!

And if so, then you’re going to love what we have in-store today.

Korean food is healthy and tasty, with lots of different varieties for every season. And by trying the food, you’ll also be experiencing the culture.

Whether you’re in a Korean BBQ restaurant in your current city or you’ve made the trip and are exploring the authentic street food of Seoul, we’ve compiled the top Korean food lineup you should be on the lookout for.

Let’s get to it!

Korean soup in a black bowl

Don’t be alarmed if some of these foods are like nothing you’ve ever seen before – Korean cuisine is known for incorporating exotic complementary flavors and often incorporates bright colors and funky textures.

Each of the foods on our list has something unique that sets it apart from the rest, so try as many as possible to get an accurate taste of Korea!

We’ve included the names of food in Hangul, the Korean alphabet, so that you can find them in Korea more easily. If you can’t read Hangul, it is possible to learn in just ninety minutes using fun associations and stories. It will be helpful when reading menus in Hangul.

Onto our list of delicious Korean foods!

Korean Side Dishes

Kimchi (김치 | gimchi)

Kimchi is a tried and true staple that has been around for over two thousand years in various Korean foods. It’s made through salting and fermenting to create a distinctively spicy flavor, and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to cabbage. (Seriously. What other food has made you excited about cabbage?)

Korean Kimchi

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Kimchi is one of the most versatile Korean side dishes out there. While classic, cabbage-based kimchi is the original favorite and is available pretty much everywhere in Korea, different types of vegetables can be salted and fermented to create different tastes (with some being spicier than others!).

If you’re looking for a way to spice up an otherwise bland meal, incorporate one of the many types of kimchi! It’s a classic crowd favorite for a reason, and you won’t be disappointed. Note that kimchi may be spelled as “kimchi” or “gimchi.” Kimchi is the more common way, while gimchi is the newer spelling.

There are many different varieties of kimchi, from plain to extra spicy. Look for this spicy banchan (반참 | side dish) served along with many Korean BBQ combos.

Kimchi in Korean is spelled “kimchi” or “gimchi.” Kimchi in Hangul is 김치.

Tofu kimchi (두부 김치 | dubu gimchi)

Dubukimchi is a Korean food featuring three distinct, different flavors – tofu, pork, and kimchi. While tofu isn’t necessarily exciting on its own, it pairs wonderfully with the stir-fried pork and kimchi in this dish because of the intense flavor of the latter two balances out the subtle flavors of the tofu.

Korean Food 22 Dubukimchi

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The tofu brings together the kimchi and the pork’s intense flavors, which need the tofu to bring them together into a cohesive, balanced dish. This Korean food is also jam-packed with protein from the tofu and the pork as well as nutrients from the fermented kimchi – you’ll be making your body happy as well as your taste buds!

This food is a common banchan that is served along with Korean BBQ. Order a plate of dubukimchi the next time you want a solid, satisfying entrée full of flavorful elements that are great on their own and as a trio. You won’t be disappointed!

Dotorimuk (도토리묵)

Dotorimuk is a curious Korean food – made from acorn starch solidified into cold, dense jello. Dotorimuk is a similar fish to tofu in that it is full of protein and vegan-friendly food. It is also versatile in its flavor in the same way that tofu is – dotorimuk does not have a distinct flavor of its own, so it can be served with a variety of flavors and textures to enhance or bring together a meal because it takes on the flavor of what it is prepared with.

Korean Food 23 Dotorimuk

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Dotorimuk is frequently served as a banchan side dish and can be paired with soy sauce to make the flavor more exciting. Take a walk on the wild side and order a side of dotorimuk the next time you see it on a menu!

Korean instant noodles (라면 | ramyeon)

Instant noodles are a type of food that has unarguably transcended cultural barriers. While popularized in Korea, they’ve become a kitchen must-have all over the world. Short on time? No worries! These noodles only require a couple of steps and are ready as quickly as the water boils – just follow the directions on the back of the packet.

Korean Instant Noodles

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Short on money? No problem. Korean instant noodles are notorious for their less-than-intimidating price tag. You can probably pick up a pack for less than the change that you have in your pocket right now.

While basic Korean instant noodles are relatively uncomplicated, there’s plenty you can do in the kitchen to spice up your noodle combo and make it a little more interesting. Try adding eggs, tuna, tofu, or other meat such as beef, pork, or chicken – these Korean favorites can help a boring meal transcend to something sublime! You may also want to pair your cup of noodles with kimchi and mix it with cheese. Adding cheese is one of the best ways to lessen the spicy flavor of your noodles.

There are many different brands and varieties of Korean instant noodles. Some are spicy, and others are milder. Check them all out and see which one is your style.

Whether you’re treating instant noodles as an appetizer or your main course, you can’t go wrong with incorporating this classic staple into your meal. Instant noodles have become so much popular in Korea that there are even simple but unique ways you can eat them that will really impress your Korean friends!

Soy sauce crab (간장게장 | ganjanggejang)

As far as Korean seafood dishes go, ganjang gejang (crab prepared by soaking in soy sauce before serving) is a gem that’s not for the faint of heart. Ganjang gejang is a powerful South Korean dish served cold, and it’s notorious for its bitter aftertaste that tends to linger long after you’ve finished eating.

Korean Soy Crab Sauce

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Though this Korean cuisine is on the intense end of the spectrum, it’s also insanely popular – the food’s nickname is “rice thief,” because the sauce is so tasty that it’s hard to resist piling extra rice onto your plate to soak it all up once the crab is gone!

The next time you’re out and see ganjang gejang on the menu at your favorite Korean restaurant, consider ordering it so you can know what all the fuss is about – you may find that you have a new favorite meal!

Yukhoe (육회)

Raw slices of beef may sound intimidating at first – fear not, foodies. This Korean cuisine is perfectly safe and is best known as steak tartare in other countries, which is considered a delicacy in most places and can be found in fine dining establishments.

Korean Yukhoe

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This Korean food can either be served as a standalone meal or as a topping on another dish. If it’s your first time, I recommend ordering it as a standalone food so you can appreciate the flavor (and the experience) without distraction from other strong flavors. Be warned, however – while tasty and tender, the meal’s price can be a bit higher than average, as chefs choose the best selections of beef to star in the Korean favorite.

If you love meat and don’t mind paying a little bit extra to get a meal you know you’ll love, yukhoe may be the delicacy for you!

Bibimbap (비빔밥)

If you’re on your lunch break and are on a time crunch, bibimbap may be the perfect food to leave you satisfied and get you back to the office on time. A Korean favorite takes multiple food groups and combines them in one lunch bowl to make sure you’re getting a balanced lunch in a simplified form.

Korean Bibimbap

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Bibimbap combines rice, vegetables, meat, and a fried egg for a balanced flavor, so it also hits all of your major food groups for the day. Sesame oil and chili paste are added to the dish for a little extra flavor to really bring the meal together and add a spicy element that makes it so popular.

While bibimbap used to be a meal meant for Korean royalty, it’s now accessible all over Korea and a crowd-pleaser. You can see it served as the main food or along with Korean BBQ. Get your fix of vegetables and give bibimbap a shot on your next lunch break – you’ll be glad you did!

Doenjang (된장)

I’m sure that you’re familiar with soy sauce. It is a staple in many Asian cuisines, and it complements anything due to its savory nature. However, did you know that soy sauce is a byproduct of doenjang? Doenjang is a paste derived from fermented soybeans – it boasts a strong taste and a not-so-appealing color, so it’s not quite as popular as soy sauce on its own.

Korean Doenjang

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However, doenjang is a beloved Korean cuisine that can spice up simple dishes in a way that other spices can’t if you’re looking to add a little more character than soy sauce can provide on its own. Give it a try in bibimbap – the taste may be something you’ve never experienced and set a new spice standard for your meals!

Haemul Pajeon (해물파전)

How do you like your pancakes? Warm, with maple syrup? How about full of seafood? This South Korean meal turns the basic pancake concept on its head. These crunchy fried pancakes are stuffed to the brim with different vegetables and seafood ingredients, resulting in a satisfying, savory meal.

Korean Haemul Pajeon

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How do you like your pancakes? Warm, with maple syrup? How about full of seafood? This South Korean meal turns the basic pancake concept on its head. These crunchy fried pancakes are stuffed to the brim with different vegetables and seafood ingredients, resulting in a satisfying, savory meal.

You may also see this food nicknamed “Korean pizza” since it looks like an actual pizza.

These pancakes are said to go well with rice wine – pour yourself a glass and enjoy this intricate South Korean meal.

Oimuchim (오이무침)

While most of the dishes on this list can be considered a full meal (or close to one), oimuchim is the answer if you’re in search of a light summertime dish but can’t bring yourself to eat anything too heavy or filling. Most commonly eaten as a snack or a side dish, oimuchim is a cut-up cucumber marinated in vinegar and red chili flakes.

Korean summer food

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Cucumber is arguably one of the best summertime vegetables due to its high water content and crisp texture. The vinegar and red chili flakes combine to bring out the subtle flavors of the cucumber. The chili flakes also add a spice that makes the dish interesting (because, face it, although it’s great, cucumber isn’t super interesting on its own).

Order a side of oimuchim as a standalone refresher or as a complementary side dish to one of the larger dishes on this list!

Golbaengi Muchim (골뱅이무침)

Don’t knock this food before you try it! While “snail” isn’t a word that makes most people’s mouths water (unless you’re an escargot fan), sea snail salad is a traditional Korean dish that pairs perfectly with an alcoholic beverage – something about the taste of snail, the spicy flavor and the bitter taste of alcohol really complement each other.

Korean Golbaengi Muchim

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Had a long week at work? Look no further! Relax with a beer (or two) and dive into some sea snail salad for a spicy treat to take an edge off.

Jjolmyeon (쫄면)

Jjolmyeon is a fresh approach to more traditional noodle dishes – rather than being served hot, and these noodles are served cold and chewy. The dish’s temperature and the crunchy vegetables make it a refreshing treat, so this is a great food to enjoy during the sweltering Korean summer.

Korean Jjolmyeon

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Extra thick noodles are combined with spicy chili paste and a variety of fresh vegetables, and they all come together to form something magical. Dig into a bowl of jjolmyeon for a refreshing (yet spicy!) snack, and you’ll quickly understand all of the hype.

Gyeranjjim (계란찜)

This dish is often served as an appetizer at Korean BBQ restaurants. You’ll see it together with some of the spicier options on this list to bring the meal together – and give your mouth a break from all of the spice! An egg is beaten, steamed, and baked into a moist, dense cake, resulting in a dish that is mild in flavor and soft to the touch.

Korean Gyeranjjim

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Served plain or with vegetables and sesame seeds on top to bring out the slightly salty flavor, give this Korean dish a try the next time your eyes are watering from a spicy dish! Something about the egg’s mild taste acts as a neutralizer for a lot of spice, so if you’re in over your head with a dish’s spice factor, this dish will help you cool off.

Korean Soups

Kimchi stew (김치찌개 | gimchijjigae)

Kimchi pairs well with almost everything, so it’s only natural to make its unique flavor the focus of a stew! Kimchi-jjigae is one of the most popular South Korean stew dishes out there, and the popularity of this stew is no surprise when you consider how popular kimchi is as a standalone food.

Korean Food 25 Kimchi stew (Kimchi-jjigae)

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While the vegetables and meat that the stew incorporates can change from restaurant to restaurant depending on preference and availability, the most popular versions of kimchi stew include tender, savory pork, scallions, and a whole lot of kimchi. You’ll often get a bowl of rice with it as well.

You can mix and match with the protein and vegetables that sound best to you, so this warm, filling stew can be whatever you want it to be! Try a bowl of kimchi-jjigae the next time you want something that will fill you up and provide some intense flavor profiles at the same time.

Ox Bone Soup (설렁탕 | Seolleongtang)

Don’t let the name scare you! Ox bone soup is a delicious Korean favorite that proves that simple food can be better than more complex meals if it’s done well. Ox bone soup only has a few ingredients – meat, noodles, and a couple of sparse scallions float around in a milky-white colored broth for an extra kick.

Korean Ox Bone Soup

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This is the perfect meal for a cold day, or if you’re feeling a little under the weather – think of it as a Korean rendition of the classic chicken noodle soup cold cure. Warm, satisfying, and simple, give ox bone soup a try the next time you’re looking for a classic cold-weather meal!

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Galbitang (갈비탕)

sick in Korea

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Galbitang, a Korean soup made from simmering beef ribs, is the perfect dish if you’re suffering from a cold or allergies that have your nose and sinuses clogged up.

There’s nothing worse than not being able to breathe through your nose while you’re sick — pressure starts to build in your head, you have tissues on hand all day, and the post-nasal drip never seems to end! The next time you find yourself stuffed up, make yourself a bowl of galbitang, and you’ll clear your nose right up!

Galbitang is prepared by simmering beef over a low to medium temperature until the meat is so tender it literally falls off the bones. There are different variations of this soup, but the one you should prepare yourself also incorporates spicy hot peppers, which help open up the sinuses and get you breathing again.

This Korean food is also ideal for when you’re feeling under the weather because it’s hearty and full of nutrients, so you’ll make sure that your body has the energy and fuel it needs to fight off your illness and feel better as soon as possible.

Hangover Stew (해장국 | haejangguk)

The Korean drinking scene is no joke and not for the faint of heart – with a ton of interesting Korean alcohols like soju available at most bars, restaurants, and grocery stores, it should be no surprise that food is called affectionately ‘hangover stew’ is a staple throughout Korea.

Korean Food 19 Hangover Stew

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Served with a side of rice, this stew is made with congealed chunks of ox blood, and something about the sodium content helps immensely with waking your brain up when you’ve done some damage the night before.

Don’t let the blood scare you! If you’re spending time in Korea soon, you’ll probably spend some time enjoying the great bars scattered throughout the country, so this Korean food will definitely come in handy. Give hangover stew a try the next time you need to roll out of bed bright and early after a night of drinking, and you’ll see why the Koreans can’t do without it.

Army Stew (부대찌개 | budaejjigae)

The origin story behind this warm, satisfying stew is as interesting as its name! Army stew soared in popularity immediately after the Korean War, when times were tough and the meat was expensive and hard to come by. This Korean stew is filled with pantry staples like spam, American cheese, and instant noodles – plus a side of rice – all foods that were easily found at an army base in Seoul and widely available to the public.

Korean Food 20 Army Stew

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The best part about Korean Army Stew is that you can mix and match ingredients based on what you have in your pantry or fridge at any given time, so there’s no need to run out to the store to pick up specific additional ingredients – how convenient is that? Give Army Stew a try the next time you REALLY don’t feel like trekking to the grocery store before cooking dinner, and you may be surprised at what you come up with!

Haemultang (해물탕)

Hamaeltang is a ‘live seafood soup,’ but perhaps not in the way you are thinking – while the seafood is initially live, it is cooked in a scalding soup before it is served, so the seafood isn’t technically live when you’re eating it. That being said, seafood doesn’t get much fresher than hamultang!

Korean Food 35 Haemultang

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This Korean soup is made with various spicy pastes and vegetables that give it a unique flavor and make it a favorite at Korean restaurants. Give a bowl of hamultang a try the next time you’re in the mood for seafood – after one bowl, you’ll be hooked!

Naengmyeon (냉면)

Naengmyeon literally translates to “cold noodles,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like! This popular summer Korean food is made of thin, long noodles made from buckwheat and vegetables like potato and sweet potato. Naengmyeon is served with a zesty stock, and sliced cucumber, pear, and radish are often added for additional flavor and crunch.

Korean Summer Food 4 Naengmyeon

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Don’t let the chilled part fool you — the broth is made from chilled beef or chicken stock, so it’s a hearty dish that will fill you up. This is definitely one of the more nutritious meals you’ll find in Korea due to the broth’s added vegetables and protein.

The next time you’re out for a fun lunch with friends (especially during the summer), give naengmyeon and see why it’s such a classic! You’ll be instantly refreshed, and it will give you energy for the rest of the day.

Kimchimariguksu (김치말이국수)

As you’re most likely already aware, kimchi is wildly popular throughout Korea and around the world. It’s difficult to find a menu without a dish that features kimchi in Korea due to its incredible versatility and intense taste profile. It’ll come as no surprise, then, that one of the most popular Korean summertime dishes is a celebration of kimchi!

Korean summer food

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Kimchimariguksu is a dish that incorporates cold noodles and an iced mixture of broths made from kimchi and meat. The result is a delicious flavor that marries the saltiness of the kimchi with the rich, savory notes of the meat, and the fact that it’s served cold makes the flavors that much more intense.

Kimchimariguksu will keep you cool, but your mouth will be feeling the heat from the spiciness of the kimchi. This dish is a great way to get your spice fix in the summer because the broth’s temperature will help you endure the spice without sweating up a storm.

Dalkalguksu (닭칼국수)

Dalkkalguksu is a classic Korean take on chicken noodle soup. Like samgyetang, dalkkalguksu features chicken that has been seasoned to perfection in a hot, savory broth, served with hearty noodles. Most variations of dalkkalguksu feature zucchini and green onions tossed with vinegar, brightening up the dish and making it an all-time favorite.

Korean Summer Food 6 DalkKalguksu

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Although dalkkalguksu isn’t a chilled dish, it’s popular for the same reason that samgyetang is popular: dalkkalguksu is meant to help relieve the negative effects of sweating summer fatigue by nourishing you and getting you back in tip-top shape. Order this crowd-pleaser after your next day in the sun, and you’ll see why Korean diners say this dish helps them survive the summer!

Soft tofu stew (순두부찌게 | sundubujjige)

If you’re looking for the perfect snack on a chilly, rainy winter day, look no further! Soft tofu stew is amazing for a couple of different reasons.

First, it combines distinct but very complementary flavors that make some magic happen in your mouth: the combination of silky soft tofu, kimchi broth, egg, and seafood is a force to be reckoned with. The contrast in texture between the seafood, tofu, and egg is amusing.

Korean food

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Second, this is a great Korean dish if you’re looking for a protein fix. Between the egg, the tofu, and the seafood, you have three different types of protein coming together to fill you up and leave you satisfied. Make some soft tofu stew the next time you need to warm yourself up!

Make sure to make some steamed rice to enjoy with it – you can use the rice to soak up the last few spoonfuls of the soup when you get to the bottom of the bowl. Look for this Korean food served alongside many different types of Korean BBQ.

Mandutguk (만둣국) & Tteokguk (떡국 )

Similar to porridge being popular because of how warm and filling it is, these two soups are popular go-to winter meals because they’ll warm you right up.

Korean Winter food

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As if the warm soup isn’t amazing enough when it’s cold outside, there’s more! mandutguk contains dumplings, whereas tteokguk is full of rice cakes. If you can’t decide between the two, then you can sit on the fence and order 떡만둣국 (tteongmandutguk). It has both dumplings and rice cakes in it, so knock yourself out!

Samgyetang (삼계탕)

What better way to make yourself feel better when you’re suffering from a stuffy nose and fever than a steaming hot bowl of chicken soup? Samgyetang is a bowl of Korean chicken soup, but don’t be fooled — this isn’t the chicken noodle soup you’re used to eating when you’re sick.

sick in Korea

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Samgyetang is made by stuffing a whole chicken with garlic, ginseng, and rice and bringing the dish to a boil until the broth is infused with the chicken’s flavors and the chicken is cooked through. When served, samgyetang is presented in a bowl with the whole chicken intact floating in the broth, and you’re meant to split open the chicken to get to the delicious flavors inside.

While not traditional chicken noodle soup, samgyetang is a dish consumed in Korea for its medicinal properties — it’s believed to help the body fight fire with fire, whether that be fighting the heat of a scalding summer day or fighting the heat of a fever.

Instead of eating cold food to cool yourself down the next time, you’re feeling feverish, try a piping hot bowl of samgyetang for some much-needed relief!

Korean BBQ

Galbi (갈비)

If you’ve been to a Korean BBQ restaurant recently, the chances are that you or somebody at your table decided to go with galbi. Galbi literally translates to “rib,” and if not specified, the food can be centered around one of many types of meat depending on your preference (pork, chicken, or beef more often than not). Strips of meat are prepared with soy sauce, sugar, and garlic before being cooked over an open fire to ensure the outside is seared while the inside remains tender.

Korean Galbi

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The combination of the sugar, soy sauce, and garlic brings out the subtle flavors of the meat (pork, chicken, or beef) and makes this Korean cuisine a sweet, flavorful, and tender favorite. Galbi is often served with rice and other vegetables. This traditional meal is a crowd-pleaser at Korean BBQ restaurants, and for a good reason!

Bossam (보쌈)

While some of the Korean dishes on this list are intricate and have a long list of ingredients, bossam is a Korean food that is evidence that simple can still be tasty when the components are delicious on their own. Bossam is steamed, tender pork sliced into small, nearly bite-sized pieces wrapped in crisp lettuce and served with a dab of dip as a finishing touch.

Korean Bossam

Korean Bossam

The wrapping and dipping combine the different textures of the lettuce and the steamed pork that really take this dish to the next level and make it a treat. The next time you’re craving a meat-based Korean dish or need some extra protein, have some bossam and leave the table feeling satisfied.

Bulgogi (불고기)

Bulgogi is delicious Korean food that is widely recognized as quintessential to the cuisine. The dish has long been a part of Korea’s culinary history. Millions of people have enjoyed it for thousands of years, so it has definitely stood the test of time!

Korean Bulgogi

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Bulgogi is a sweet meat that has recently been incorporated into a variety of modern dishes, so it’s easy to find at most restaurants. Grab a bowl of rice and some lettuce for wrapping, and you’re in business. The next time you’re in Korea, make sure you try a bulgogi burger for a modern twist on a classic favorite!

Korean Seafood

Nakji bokkeum (낙지볶음)

Do you like to take a walk on the culinary wild side when you’re dining out? Do you live for trying foods that test your palette and make your eyes water? If so, make sure you add this Korean food to your list! Octopus is stir-fried with a medley of extremely spicy ingredients (chili powder and two different types of hot peppers), resulting in a combination that will surely make your mouth water.

Korean Nakji bokkeum

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The octopus is seared to the point where it’s tender on the inside, and the sauce is thick and smoky, making the food hard to stay away from. Pair this Korean specialty with gyeranjjim for a well-rounded meal that is packed with flavor – just make sure you’re a fan of spice before doing so!

Grilled clams (조개구이 | jogaegui)

More often than not, the food choices at your favorite Korean BBQ spot will revolve around tender strips of different meats such as pork, chicken, and beef (hence the ‘barbecue’). Jogaegui is a fun way to mix it up if you’re looking for something a little different! Shellfish is cooked over an open flame until it’s hot and ready for you to dig into – the shells crack open on their own, adding an extra flair to this Korean favorite.

Korean Jogaegui

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Jogaegui is especially good if you can get it fresh from the ocean because what beats fresh shellfish that fishermen caught earlier that day? If you visit South Korea, give this Korean food a try to incorporate some saltwater fun into your meal the next time you need a break from meat!

Jangeogui (장어구이)

If you’re an adventurous eater, jangeogui is the dish for you!  Jangeogui, or grilled eel, is a popular snack rich in vitamins and minerals that will keep your body ready for anything. Although the idea of eating eel is a little intimidating if you haven’t done it before, the flavor is intensely delicious and can’t be found in other dishes!

Korean Summer Food 7 Jangeo gui

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The texture is also great — it’s a little bit tougher than fish, but when grilled, it becomes tender on the inside and develops a nice sear outside. Put your fears aside and try some jangeogui the next time your friends grill it up for dinner. You won’t regret it!

Mulhui (물회)

What’s better than sashimi, you ask? A chilled soup is full of spicy sashimi on a hot summer day! The recipe will vary from restaurant to restaurant because all different types of seafood can be used to give this dish flavor, but it’ll always be cold, a delight for your tastebuds, and perfect for the scorching Korean summer months.

Korean Summer Food 2 Mulhui

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Between the protein in the seafood and the spice’s kick in the sauce, mulhui is a great dish to have in the middle of a long day of fun and exploration in Korea. If you’re out and about checking out Seoul or the Korean countryside, eating a chilled dish like mulhui will cool you down and keep you from overheating, and the protein and vitamins in the dish will make sure you have the fuel that you need to keep going and crossing things off of your to-do list.

Korean Desserts

Bingsu (빙수)

If you need something sweet to tie together a rich meal, give bingsu a try for a decadent treat! Bingsu is Korean food in which sweetened red beans and tteok (made of rice flour) are laid atop refreshing freshly shaved ice. There are many different variations depending on your preferences – condensed milk, fruit, and corn flakes can be incorporated for different flavor and texture combinations.

Korean Bingsu

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This Korean food can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like, so feel free to mix and match flavors until you find your favorite. Bingsu is everywhere – be sure to give it a try during the summer months for a sweet end to an otherwise delicious meal!

Korean Ice Cream (아이스크림)

Korean ice cream is both similar and different from ice cream in Western countries. It’s found in convenience stores and grocery stores alike, so you should have no problem locating some frozen tasty treats when you need to cool down. However, some types of Korean ice cream are like nothing you’ve ever seen before!

Korean Summer Food 8 Ice Cream

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Take Samanco, for example – Samanco is a fish-shaped waffle treat with vanilla ice cream and red bean paste sandwiched in the middle (yes, you read that right). Step outside of your comfort zone and give some of the more unique Korean ice cream desserts a try! They’re super inexpensive at most shops, so your ice cream adventure won’t break the bank. Some of these snacks are very difficult to find outside of Korea, so if you have the opportunity to try them, you absolutely should!

Korean Street Food

Beondegi (번데기)

Are you the adventurous one in your group of friends? Were you the kid on the playground that your mom could find messing around with beetles? If so, I have a dish for you to try!

Beongdegi is to Koreans what boiled peanuts are to New Yorkers – you can buy beondegi at carts stationed throughout Korean cities, and it’s usually eaten on the go while out and about.

Korean Food 24 Beongdegi

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Beondegi is silkworm larvae steamed and served in the juice produced during the cooking process. It’s popular for a reason, though, so don’t knock it before you try it!

While the texture definitely takes some getting used to, beondegi is packed full of protein and is very inexpensive and accessible, making it a popular snack. Give it a shot the next time you see a Korean beondegi street food cart – once you get past the shock of feeling larvae in your mouth, the taste is quite pleasant!

Sundae (순대)

If you’re out in and about exploring the streets of Korea and looking for a snack to tide you over until dinner time, indulge in some street fare and give sundae a try. A favorite Korean street food (for a good reason), Sundae is a sausage that Korea picked up from Mongolian influences hundreds of years ago.

Korean Sundae

Photo credit: http://www.koreanfoodgallery.com

Cooked pig lungs and liver are often served on the side of this dish as additional accouterments, which are salty in taste and are much more delicious than they sound. Korea is full of street dishes for the more adventurous diners out there – get started on your street food journey with some steaming hot sundae!

Hotteok (호떡)

Pick up a hotteok to make your outdoor adventures ten times better!

A street food worker making hotteok in South Korea

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Hot, sweet, and gooey inside, Hotteok is the perfect winter comfort snack. This snack tastes like the best donut you’ve ever had – sure, it’s doughy and delicious, but it’s also full of a thick, sweet syrup and rolled in sugar after for a finishing touch. When you buy it, it is nice and hot, so it is great for those cold winter months.

Bungeoppang (붕어빵)

Although the name is a bit odd, don’t knock it before you try it. This snack gets its name, ‘fish bread,’ from the shape of the presses used to make it, so it’s rather literal and does not mean that there are fish products in the snack.

A closeup of bungeo bbang in Korea

Photo Credit: magazine.kakao.com

The goldfish-shaped pastry hides a sweet red bean paste center, making it an easy favorite for anyone with a sweet tooth. This snack is sometimes called 잉어빵 (ingeoppang) and is usually sold in groups of three (because really, who wants to eat just one of these tasty treats?).

Each snack’s identical shape has led to the word 봉어빵 (bongeoppang) being used as a slang expression meaning ‘exactly alike,’ so don’t be confused if you hear it used in other situations.

Pick up this snack the next time you want to eat something sweet without indulging in a full-blown dessert – be sure to let us know if you do the impossible and can stop after eating just one!

Gunbam (군밤)  & Gungoguma (군고구마)

Are you looking for a snack that is simple but still does a great job warming you up? If so, be sure to check out gunbam and gun goguma! These simple snacks are simply roasted chestnuts or sweet potatoes, and you can find them pretty much anywhere as the weather gets colder.

Korean Winter Food - gunbam and gungoguma

Photo Credit: koreanfoodgallery.com

Both are warm and sweet, making them a popular winter snack. Pick up this snack if you’re looking for something quick and easy to eat that will give you some relief from the chill during the winter months. It’s a favorite for a reason!

Charoksusu (찰옥수수)

You know the drill – when it gets REALLY cold out, it’s time to layer up with gloves, a hat, and a scarf to make sure you’re not miserable trekking around in the cold. This is true in Korea, too – usually, by the time December rolls around, it’s consistently cold enough to require gloves at the very minimum. Koreans also like to carry around something called ‘hot packs’ to keep in their gloves and add an additional heat element on an extra chilly day.

Charoksusu in a pot

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If you can’t find hot packs while you’re in Korea this winter, a natural alternative is to buy some steamed corn and hold it to warm up your hands. Bonus: after the corn has served its purpose, the corn then makes an extremely accessible and filling snack. Win/win! Pick up some 찰옥수수 this winter and take advantage of both perks.

Hodugwaja (호두과자)

If you find yourself on the road while in Korea, you know that Hodugwaja is a tasty snack that is a staple in Korean truck stops. This tasty, warm snack contains walnuts and red bean paste, so it’s no wonder it’s popular with people traveling long journeys – the sweet red bean paste provides quick energy. The walnuts provide an extra protein punch to keep you going throughout the day.

Hodugwaja on a yellow plate next to a bowl of nuts and a glass of milk

Photo Credit: https://blog.naver.com/parkyang1021/

If you aren’t planning any trips this winter, fear not; you can still get your fill. They are sold on the streets of Seoul, too! Pick up some Hodugwaja for a quick treat that will energize you to see as much of Korea as you can. There’s a lot to do, some you’ll need a pick me up to get through it all!

Gopchang (곱창)

How do you feel about intestines? If you instantly said “no way,” hear me out! Gopchang is a Korean food consisting of stir-fried or grilled pork or cattle intestines. While it may sound a little horrifying, it’s actually a staple in many Korean cities due to the intense flavor of the intestines and the food’s versatility.

Korean Food 21 Gopchang

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Paired often with Soju and served with rice, gopchang is served at most Korean barbecue restaurants and has a great texture when grilled.  As an added bonus, its unique flavor pairs well with pretty much any starchy Korean appetizer, so it’s easy to incorporate into a larger meal. Plus, think of it this way – if you try gopchang even once, you can tell all of your friends you’ve eaten intestines!

Steamed dumplings (찐만두 | jjinmandu)

What’s not to love about dumplings? They’re quick to prepare, easy (and fun) to eat, and can be filled with any number of interesting and delicious ingredients based on your preference. One of the most popular types of dumplings in South Korea is the steamed dumpling or jjinmandu. Jjimandu features a wrapper made from a noodle-like dough filled with a satisfying mixture of pork, vegetables, and mung bean noodles.

Korean Food 26 Steamed mandu dumplings (jjinmandu)

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You’re most likely to find them steamed, but people can also pan-fry the dumplings if you’d like to incorporate a little bit of a crunch. Give jjinmandu a try the next time you’re looking for an easy-to-prepare snack – they’ll definitely hit the spot!

Jokbal (족발)

If you’re a fan of pork and don’t mind taking a walk on the culinary wild side, put jokbal on your list of “Must Try Korean Dishes.” Jokbal is pig’s feet dipped in a savory red shrimp sauce served with rice and banchan, and it tastes WAY better than it sounds!

Korean Food 27 Jokbal

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First, the feet are cleaned and boiled until tender, at which point they’re seasoned to perfection and served. You’ll most commonly find jokbal as a large appetizer that friends can share, so bring some of your more adventurous friends with you to share in the jokbal experience. They’ll thank you afterward!

Japchae (잡채)

For a sweet potato lover, japchae is a dream come true! This popular Korean food features sweet potato noodles stir-fried with various vegetables, including mushrooms and scallions in hot sesame oil. Japchae is then flavored with soy sauce and sesame seeds, adding some texture and a delicious savory flavor profile that brings the dish together.

Korean Food 28 Japchae

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This Korean food is a lighter option than many noodle dishes because the noodles are made from sweet potato, so if you’re watching your figure and need your veggie fix, this food will be one of your favorites while you’re in Korea. Japchae can be enjoyed as an appetizer, a banchan side dish, or an entrée depending on what you stir fry with the noodles and how hungry you are – to make it filling enough to be an entrée, beef is usually incorporated as an additional ingredient.

Sannakji (산낙지)

Cooked octopus is delicious, but have you ever tried LIVE octopus? Sannakji is a Korean delicacy that features live octopuses cut into bite-sized pieces and flavored with sesame oil and sesame seeds. Intriguing, right? Be careful when you’re eating this Korean dish – the tentacles can (and do) wiggle in your mouth as you chew and swallow them, so an unsuspecting diner will be in for a surprise if it’s their first time trying sannakji.

Korean Food 29 Sannakji

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Cross this one off your culinary bucket list the next time you see it on a menu – the taste is amazing, and the experience is one you won’t forget soon!

Nokdumuk (녹두묵)

Like dotorimuk, nokdumuk is a Korean jelly made from green beans that are off-white and almost translucent. Nokdumuk is most often served as a banchan side dish with an intense sauce like soy sauce and a scallion garnish, seeing as it doesn’t have much flavor on its own and will take on the flavor of the sauces it is flavored with.

Korean Food 30 Nokdumuk

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Though not as exciting as some of the Korean foods on this list, nokdumuk is an underrated side dish with an interesting texture and a whole lot of protein that pairs especially well with Korean barbecue meals. Nokdumuk is most often served at special events, so you’re likely to see it on the menu the next time you find yourself attending a Korean wedding! Don’t worry – if you can’t wait until your next wedding to try this Korean staple, you can also find it at some Korean restaurants as a banchan side dish.

Hotteok (호떡)

If you’re a dessert fan as well as a pancake fan (and really, who isn’t?), you MUST add hotteok to your list of Korean foods to try. Hotteok is a delicious fried pancake filled with honey, peanuts, and brown sugar. With that many heavenly sweet ingredients incorporated into one food, what’s not to love?

Korean Food 31 Hotteok

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Hotteok is also easy to eat on the go, so it makes it a perfect after-dinner snack for when you’ve left the restaurant and to stroll around with friends. If you find yourself craving something sweet and pass a Korean street food cart, pick up some hotteok and satisfy your sweet tooth.

Pumpkin porridge (호박죽 | hobakjuk)

If you’re on board with the pumpkin trend that has surged over the past couple of years – pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin candles, even pumpkin-scented perfume – hobakjuk is right up your alley! A traditional pumpkin porridge made from sweet, satisfying steamed pumpkin and rice, Korean hobakjuk is a versatile meal that can be served both hot and cold depending on preference.

Korean Food 32 Hobakjuk

Photo credit: http://koreanbapsang.com

Heat up a bowl of hobakjuk the next time you’re trying to warm up on a cool autumn or winter day, and you’ll fall in love with pumpkin all over again!

Juk (죽)

Korean rice porridge, or ‘juk,’ is great at warming you up in winter. It’s also inexpensive and easy to make, so it’s a crowd favorite and a go-to for many Koreans.

Korean Winter Food juk

Photo credit: https://seoulistic.com

Red bean porridge is another winter favorite among Koreans – because who wouldn’t love porridge with some sweet red bean paste to brighten things up? Make yourself a bowl of juk the next time you need some warm comfort food – you won’t be disappointed.

Ogokbap (오곡밥)

Are you getting your five-a-day? This simple dish is made from five different types of rice.

Korean Food Ogokbap

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The different flavors of each rice variety make it interesting to eat on its own, but it is usually enjoyed as part of a meal. It can also stand alone as a hearty and filling dish if you get enough of it. Cook up a pot of ogokbap and do your body some good!

Gyeranppang (계란빵)

If you’re an egg fan (and really, who isn’t?), make sure to add this warm and tasty snack to your must-try list when you’re in Korea! Gyeran ppang is like savory French toast, except instead of soaking bread in egg and then frying it, the whole egg is stuffed in there. Sound amazing? That’s because it is.

Korean Food Gyeranppang

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Pick up some gyeran ppang the next time you need something warm and filling on the go – street vendors sell this snack everywhere, so it’s easy to find!

Odeng (오뎅)

If you’re a seafood fan, then you will LOVE this Korean winter snack! Odeng is a fish cake made from flour combined with fish and turned into a paste, which creates a tasty cake that is then skewered.

Korean Food Odeng

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Though fish cakes are amazing in and of themselves, the broth they are prepared in is the real treat – spicy and steaming hot; the broth will warm you right up and make you forget that it’s winter. You can find this unstoppable combo sold on trucks throughout Korea, so be sure to take advantage the next time you have the chance!

Dakbal (닭발)

Another Korean dish for our readers that are willing to push the envelope when trying new (and sometimes intimidating) food, dakbal is a dish featuring chicken feet. Most often, dakbal includes a thick red pepper sauce that coats the chicken feet and adds a strong, unique savory element that makes the dish worth trying.

Korean Food 33 Dalkbal

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Most people only eat the skin off the chicken feet, but you can also chew on the bones if you’re feeling adventurous. Come on – the sooner than you try this dish, the sooner that you can tell people you’ve eaten chicken feet!

Spoon worm (개불 | gaebul)

Not a dish for the faint of heart, gaebul is a type of raw sea worm served as is. While the texture can take some getting used to, gaebul has a distinct flavor that makes it worth trying. Don’t be too intimidated by its presentation – just think of it as a unique type of Korean sashimi!

Korean Food 34 Gaebul

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Pick up some gaebul the next time you are at a Korean fish market, and be sure to let us know what you think in the comments below.

Yaki (deep-fried) mandu (튀김만두 | twigimmandu)

If you’re a fan of #26 on this list, steamed mandu dumplings, we have a feeling you’ll love yaki mandu, its deep-fried crunchy counterpart. Deep-fried Korean mandu are stuffed with a mixture of glass noodles, various savory seasonings, and meat (usually pork) depending on the chef’s preference.

Korean food

Photo credit: http://theenchantedcook.blogspot.com

Regardless of the filling in this Korean fried food, all yaki mandu is crunchy and absolutely addictive when it’s served piping hot with soy sauce on the side. If you’re looking for a fried snack that is on the salty end of the spectrum, order some yaki mandu, and you’ll be in for a treat. They’re also relatively inexpensive, so you’ll be able to enjoy this delicious fried snack without breaking your wallet!

Gimbap (김밥)

One of the most popular dishes on this list, gimbap, is a Korean take on Hawaii’s extremely popular take on Japanese sushi, SPAM musubi. Gimbap is very similar to Japanese hand rolls in that the sushi rice and pickled vegetables are wrapped inside a sheet of seaweed.

Korean food

Photo credit: http://koreanbapsang.com

However, instead of highlighting fresh seafood, the protein featured in gimbap is ham. Gimbap is very easy to eat due to its shape, and it can be found both at Korean street food carts and full-service restaurants.

The word 김밥 (gimbap) means “seaweed rice.” The 김 (gim) part means “seaweed,” and the 밥 (bap) part means “rice.”

Whether you’re incorporating it into a larger meal or enjoying it as a standalone snack on a busy day, make sure that you make a point to try gimbap while you’re in Korea!

Korean style Tempura (모듬 전 | modeum jeon)

If you’re a fan of anything deep-fried (and really, who isn’t?) Korean tempura will be right up your alley. Like Japanese tempura, Korean tempura consists of vegetables, various seafood, and rice coated in a thick batter and deep-fried until each piece is tender on the inside and slightly crunchy and golden on the outside.

Korean food

Photo credit: http://deviantart.com

Although it’s not particularly healthy, you should definitely indulge in this tasty fried dish while you’re on vacation in Korea. That’s what vacation is all about! Try fried squid tempura if it’s available during your travels – something about the squid meat and the tempura batter come together to make a combination of fried flavors that’s to die for.

Cheese Tteokbokki (치즈떡볶이)

It doesn’t get much better than cheese tteokbokki – this food is love at first bite for the cheese lovers out there. This meal starts with a Korean rice cake covered in spicy chili sauce and topped with a layer of melted cheese to bring it all together.

Photo credit

Photo credit: http://maangchi.com

This is definitely a decadent Korean food, so you may need a nap after eating, but it’s totally worth it. Check out cheese tteokbokki the next time you feel like you need to treat yourself.

Yoojacha (유자차)

If you’re not feeling up to eating hearty food the next time you find yourself sick in Korea, make yourself a steaming hot cup of Yoojacha, and you’ll be well on your way to feeling better! Yoojacha is a uniquely Korean beverage made from a jelly of Yooja fruit preserved in honey that is then melted with hot water and diluted into a delicious citrus-y cup of goodness.

sick in Korea

Photo credit: http://maangchi.com

Yoojacha is great because it doesn’t really go bad — because the fruit in the jelly is preserved in the honey mixture it’s suspended in, you can keep it for an indefinite period of time if you store it properly, so it’ll always be there when you need it. And you’ll definitely need it! This tea is good for everything, and we mean everything.

Whether you’re suffering from a tension headache, the flu, the common cold, or even a hangover, Yoojacha will likely put you on the path towards health and relief. It’s also great because it’s packed with vitamins and minerals, so it will help keep your immune system up and running to prevent you from getting sick in the future.

Koreans swear by this tea, and for a good reason! Pick up a jar of Yoojacha, and you’ll see why.

Subakwachae (수박화채)

If you’re in the mood for something sweet and refreshing but want to go a non-ice cream route, you should seek out subakwachae. The variations of subakwachae are endless, but this fruit punch almost always features watermelon along with other summertime fruit. The punch is also sweetened with honey to bring out the fruit flavors’ subtle sweetness (and make it all that more refreshing).

Korean summer food

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But wait, it gets better! Not only is this fruit punch made from watermelon, but it’s also usually served inside of a watermelon. When making subakwachae, a melon baller is often used to scoop out a watermelon’s insides and incorporate them into the punch. Then the punch is served inside the hollow watermelon. It doesn’t get much more refreshing than that!

Subakwachae can be a refreshing dessert or snack, depending on how it’s made and what you’re in the mood for. If you treat it as a dessert, it will often have edible flower petals or barley floating on the surface of the punch, which makes it pretty enough to snap a Facebook or Instagram picture before you enjoy it.

Ogokbap (오곡밥)

If you’re in the mood for a dish that’s a little bit lighter the next time you’re sick in Korea, find yourself (or make yourself!) a bowl of ogokbap for a tried and true comfort food that will help you get back on your feet.

sick in Korea

Photo credit: http://chosun.com

 

Ogokbap is a basic (but fundamental) Korean dish featuring a couple of different types of rice and grains and black beans and red beans combined. The combination of simple and complex carbohydrates along with the protein in the beans means that this dish will ensure you have both short-term and long-term energy for your day, which is the perfect antidote to the fatigue that comes with most cold and flu bugs.

Ogokbap is also great because while it’s nutritionally dense, it’s also relatively low in calories, so you don’t have to worry about gaining weight. At the same time, you’re laid up on the couch or in your bed, unable to move. Incorporating a bowl or two of this Korean food into your wellness routine the next time you’re sick will help you feel nourished without feeling weighed down by a heavy, hearty meal. Ogokbap is also said to reduce the likelihood of developing high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues, so it’ll help you ensure your long-term health as well.

Kongguksu (콩국수)

Calling all vegetarians — please make it a point to try this delicious Korean dish! Naengkongguksu is a dish featuring cold noodles marinating in a creamy and thick broth made of soybeans. You absolutely do not have to be a vegetarian to enjoy this dish. Still, it’s a super popular summer option for vegetarians because it’s refreshing and meat-free, unlike many dishes on this list!

Korean summer food

Photo credit: http://maangchi.com

Don’t be fooled — just because this dish doesn’t feature meat doesn’t mean it’s not super satisfying. Because of the starchy noodles and the creamy broth, this dish will fill you up and make sure you have enough energy to make it through your day.

Popular variations of this dish include cucumber and peanuts mixed in, and if you’re enjoying it on a scorching Korean summer day, throw some ice cubes in there, too. (Really, it’s a thing — we swear).

Dotorimuk (도토리묵)

If you need to cool down quickly during a scorching summer afternoon and you’re not afraid to try interesting dishes, make sure you check out dotorimuk! Dotorimuk is a flavorful chilled salad made from acorn jelly, a popular menu item in Korea. Acorn jelly is served cold and is densely packed with a mild nutty flavor, and its consistency is similar to tofu. It’s also similar to tofu in the way that it doesn’t have a whole lot of distinct flavor on its own, and it will take on the flavor of whatever you prepare it in.

Dotorimuk acorn jelly in a white bowl

Photo credit: http://maangchi.com

Dotorimuk combines acorn jelly and intense flavors like soy sauce, chili, and garlic in the sauce most commonly used when making the dish. The result is a refreshing meal brought together by the spice of the sauce and the unique texture of the acorn jelly, and it’s absolutely delightful.

Chimaek (치맥)

Chimaek literally translates to “chicken and beer” in English, emphasizing how amazing this combination is in the warm summer months.

Korean summer food

Photo credit: http://bnbheroblog.com

Nothing says summertime like hot weather, cold beer, and a spicy, savory snack to tie it all together. If you order chimaek at a restaurant during summertime, it will more than likely be served with a side of radish cubes, which work to balance out the heat of the chicken and cool you down so you can fully enjoy your meal. Between the crisp, cool radishes and the ice-cold beer, you’ll be good to go!

While this dish’s popularity originates from Korean food culture, it has gained popularity in China due to being featured as a favorite dish of a character on the Chinese drama “My Love From the Star.” If celebrities are enjoying it, you know it’s got to be good!

Make a point to order chimaek the next time you’re relaxing at a restaurant with outdoor seating. You’ll be glad that you did!

Korean cuisine incorporates different flavors, textures, and combinations that many cuisines steer away from. As a result, many authentic Korean dishes are likely different from anything you’ve experienced for. Try some dishes from our list to give you a taste of some of the most popular flavors in Korea – and keep experimenting!

We’ve barely scratched the surface of the variety of dishes available in Korea and throughout the world. If this has motivated you to learn Korean, speak Korean, or expand your vocabulary, then we’ve got plenty of great resources for you.

Looking for something a little more daring? Then why not try some of Korea’s more unusual dishes?

Have you tried any of the dishes on this list? If so, what’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

    25 replies to "Korean Food – A Guide to the Best Cuisine in the South"

    • Avatar for Ivon Ivon

      I’ve tried most of these dishes and I can tell you for me Korean food is the best including their bbq. I’ve visited Asia in many occasions but can’t wait to visit Korea ❤️

    • Avatar for HAN-DA-EUN HAN-DA-EUN HAN-DA-EUN HAN-DA-EUN

      OMG!!!!!!Korean foods are just soo amazing!!!!!I’m in love with them and I cant wait to go to SEOUL,SOUTH KOREA and have these foods. seeing them itself is making my mouth water, at least I must try to cook them, and thanks for the information, it helped a lot and learned a lot about KOREA’s food
      THANK YOU!!!!!
      KAMSAHABNIDA!!!!

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        Thanks for your passionate comment, Da-Eun! ^^

      • Avatar for Ivon Ivon

        So agree with you ..loveee their food

    • Avatar for Carmelita Reynolds Carmelita Reynolds

      Am loving Korean food,have tried making kimchi lately, love it…

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        Great work, Carmelita! How does your kimchi taste? ^^

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