One of the best things about becoming familiar with a new culture is trying new, exotic foods. On your journey to learn to speak Korean, I’m sure you’ll begin picking up on names of dishes that you’ve never heard of, and that list of names will continue to grow the longer you study the language.
Whether you’re in a Korean BBQ restaurant in your current city or you’ve made the trip and are exploring the authentic cuisine of Seoul, we’ve compiled a list of some delicious Korean foods you should be on the lookout for! Don’t be alarmed if some of these dishes 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 dishes on our list have something unique that sets it apart from the rest, so try as many as you can to get an accurate taste of Korea!
Korean Food #1: Kimchi (김치)
Kimchi is a tried and true staple that has been around for over two thousand years in Korean dishes. It’s made through salting and fermenting to create a distinctive spicy taste, and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to cabbage.
Kimchi is also pretty versatile – while classic, cabbage-based kimchi is a classic and available pretty much everywhere, different types of vegetable can be salted and fermented to create different tastes (with some being more spicy than others!). If you’re looking for a way to spice up an otherwise bland dish, incorporate one of the many types of kimchi! You won’t be disappointed.
Korean Food #2: Instant noodles (라면)
Instant noodles are a dish that have 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 water boils – just follow the directions on the back of the packet. Short on money? No problem. Instant noodles are notorious for their less-than-intimidating price tag.
While basic instant noodles are a relatively uncomplicated dish, there’s plenty you can do in the kitchen to spice up your noodle dish. Try adding eggs, tuna, or tofu – these Korean favorites can help a boring dish transcend to something sublime!
Korean Food #3: Soy sauce crab (간장게장)
As far as seafood dishes go, ganjang gejang (crab prepared by soaking in soy sauce) is a Korean favorite that’s not for the faint of heart. Ganjang gejang is a powerful dish served cold, and it’s notorious for its bitter aftertaste. Though this dish is on the intense end of the spectrum, it’s also insanely popular – the dish’s nickname is “rice thief,” because the sauce is so delicious that it’s hard to resist piling extra rice onto your plate to soak it all up! The next time you’re out and see ganjang gejang on the menu, consider ordering it so you can taste what all the fuss is about.
Korean Food #4: Yukhoe (육회)
Raw slices of beef may sound intimidating at first – fear not, foodies. This dish is perfectly safe, and is known as steak tartare in other countries. This dish can either be served as a standalone meal or as a topping on another dish. Be warned, however – while tasty and tender, the price for the dish can be a bit higher than average, as chefs choose the best selections of beef to star in the dish. 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!
Korean Food #5: Bibimbap (비빔밥)
If you’re on your lunch break and are on a time crunch, bibimbap may be the perfect dish to leave you satisfied and get you back to the office on time. A Korean favorite, this dish takes multiple food groups and combines them in one lunch bowl to make sure you’re getting a balanced lunch in a simplified form. The dish combines rice, vegetables, meat, and egg for a balanced flavor. Sesame oil and chili paste are added to the dish for a little extra flavor to really bring the dish together. While bibimbap used to be a dish meant for Korean royalty, it’s now accessible and a crowd pleaser. Give it a try on your next lunch break!
Korean Food #6: Doenjang (된장)
I’m sure that you’re familiar with soy sauce – soy sauce is a staple in many Asian cuisines, and it complements pretty much anything. However, did you know that soy sauce is a byproduct of doenjang? Doenjang is a paste comprised of fermented soybeans – it boasts a strong taste and a not-so-appealing color. However, doenjang is a beloved Korean food that can spice up simple dishes in a way that other spices can’t. Give it a try in bibimbap – the taste may be something you’ve never experienced and set a new spice standard for your meals!
Korean Food #7: Haemul Pajeon (해물파전)
How do you like your pancakes? Warm, with maple syrup? How about full of seafood? This Korean food is a dish that turns the basic pancake concept on its head. These crunchy pancakes are stuffed to the brim with different types of seafood, resulting in a satisfying, savory meal. These pancakes are said to go well with rice wine – pour yourself a glass and enjoy this intricate Korean dish.
Korean Food #8: Ox Bone Soup (설렁탕)
Don’t let the name scare you! Ox bone soup is a delicious Korean favorite that proves that simple is occasionally better. Ox bone soup only has a few ingredients – meat, noodles, and a couple of sparse scallions float around in a milky-white colored broth. This is the perfect dish for a cold day, or if you’re feeling a little under the weather. Warm, satisfying, and simple, give this dish a try the next time you’re looking for a classic cold-weather meal!
Korean Food #9: Galbi (갈비)
If you’ve been to a Korean restaurant recently, chances are that you or somebody at your table decided to go with galbi. Galbi technically means “rib,” and if not specified, the dish can be centered around one of a variety of meats (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. This traditional dish is a crowd pleaser at Korean BBQ restaurants, and for good reason!
Korean Food #10: Jogaegui (조개구이)
More often than not, the dishes at your favorite Korean BBQ spot will revolve around tender strips of different meats. Jogaegui is a fun way to mix it up! 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. Jogaegui is especially good if you can get it fresh from the ocean. Give this dish a try to incorporate some saltwater fun into your meal!
Korean Food #11: Golbaengi Muchim (골뱅이무침)
Don’t knock it before you try it! While “snail” isn’t a word that makes most people’s mouths water, sea snail salad is a traditional Korean dish that pairs perfectly with an alcoholic beverage. Had a long week at work? No problem! Relax with a beer (or two) and dive into some sea snail salad for a spicy treat.
Korean Food #12: Jjolmyeon (쫄면)
This dish is a fresh approach to more traditional noodle dishes – rather than being served hot, these noodles are served cold, and are chewy as a result. Extra thick noodles are combined with spicy chili paste and a variety of fresh vegetables. Dig into a bowl of jjolmyeon for a refreshing (yet spicy!) snack on a hot day.
Korean Food #13: Bossam (보쌈)
While some of the dishes on this list are intricate and have a long list of ingredients, bossam is a dish that is evidence that simple can still be delicious. Bossam is steamed pork sliced into small, nearly bite-sized pieces that is then wrapped in lettuce and served with a dab of dipping sauce. The wrapping and dipping combines the different textures of the lettuce and pork that really take this dish to the next level. The next time you’re craving a meat-based dish, have some bossam and leave the table feeling satisfied.
Korean Food #14: Gyeranjjim (계란찜)
This dish is often served with some of the spicier options on this list to bring the meal together – and give your mouth a break! An egg is beaten, steamed, and baked into a cake, resulting in a dish that is mild in flavor and soft to the touch. Served plain or with vegetables and sesame seeds on top to bring out the slightly salty flavor, give this dish a try the next time your eyes are watering from a spicy dish!
Korean Food #15: Bulgogi (불고기)
Bulgogi is a delicious Korean food that is widely recognized as quintessential to the cuisine. The dish has long been a part of Korea’s culinary history – it has been enjoyed by millions for thousands of years! Bulgogi is a sweet meat that has recently been incorporated into a variety of modern dishes. Try a bulgogi burger for a modern twist on a classic favorite!
Korean Food #16: Nakji bokkeum (낙지볶음)
Do you like to take a walk on the culinary wild side when you’re dining out? If so, this may be the dish for you! Octopus is stir-fried with a medley of spicy ingredients (chili powder and two different types of hot peppers), resulting in a combination that will surely make your mouth water. The octopus is seared to the point where it’s tender on the inside and the sauce is thick and smoky, making the dish hard to stay away from. Pair it with gyeranjjim for a well-rounded meal that is packed with flavor!
Korean Food #17: Bingsu (빙수)
If you need something sweet to tie together a rich meal, give bingsu a try! Bingsu is a dish in which sweetened red beans and tteok (made of rice flour) are laid atop refreshing shaved ice. There are many different variations depending on your preferences – condensed milk, fruit, and corn flakes can be incorporated for different flavor combinations. Bingsu is everywhere – be sure to give it a try during the summer months for a sweet end to an otherwise delicious meal!
Korean Food #18: Sundae (순대)
If you’re out and about and looking for a snack to tide you over until dinner time, give sundae a try. A favorite Korean street food, Sundae is a type of sausage that Korea picked up from Mongolian influences. Pig lungs and liver are often served on the side of this dish, which are salty in taste and are much more delicious than they sound. Korea is full of adventurous street dishes – get started on your street food journey with some steaming hot sundae!
Korean Food #19: Hangover Stew (해장국)
The Korean drinking scene is no joke – with a ton of interesting Korean alcohols like soju available at most bars, restaurants, and grocery stores, it should be no surprise that a dish called affectionately ‘hangover stew’ is a staple throughout Korea. 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! 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.
Korean Food #20: Army Stew (부대찌개)
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 meat was expensive and hard to come by. It’s filled with pantry staples like spam, American cheese, and instant noodles – all foods that were easily found at an army base in Seoul. The best part about Army Stew is that you can mix and match ingredients based on what you have in your pantry or fridge at any given time – 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.
Korean Food #21: Gopchang (곱창)
How do you feel about intestines? Hear me out! Gopchang is a dish consisting of stir-fried or grilled pork or cattle intestines, and 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 versatility of the dish. Paired often with Soju, gopchang is served at most Korean barbecue restaurants and has a great texture when grilled. Plus, think of it this way – if you try gopchang even once, you can tell all of your friends you’ve eaten intestines!
Korean Food #22: Dubu kimchi (두부 김치)
Dubukimchi is a dish 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 the intense flavor of the latter two balances out the subtle flavors of the tofu. This dish 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! 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!
Korean Food #23: Dotorimuk (도토리묵)
Dotorimuk is a curious dish – made from acorn starch solidified into cold jello, dotorimuk is similar to tofu in that it’s full of protein and vegan friendly. It’s also versatile 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 dish. Dotorimuk is frequently served as a side dish, and can be paired with sodium 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 Food #24: Beondegi (번데기)
Are you the adventurous one in your group of friends? Were you the kid on the playground that could be found 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. 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 beondegi cart – once you get past the shock of feeling larvae in your mouth, the taste is quite pleasant!
Korean Food #25: Kimchi stew (김치찌개)
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 – while the vegetables and meat that the stew incorporates can change from restaurant to restaurant, the most popular versions of kimchi stew includes tender, savory pork, scallions, and a whole lot of kimchi. You can mix and match with the protein and vegetables that sound best to you, so this warm, filling meal 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.
Korean Food #26: Steamed mandu dumplings (찐만두)
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. One of the most popular types of dumpling in South Korea is the steamed mandu 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. You’re most likely to find them steamed, but they can also be pan-fried 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!
Korean Food #27: 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 feed dipped in a savory red shrimp sauce, and it wastes WAY better than it sounds! 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 than can be shared among several people, so bring some of your more adventurous friends with you to share in the jokbal experience. They’ll thank you afterwards!
Korean Food #28: Japchae (잡채)
For a sweet potato love, japchae is a dream come true! This popular Korean dish features sweet potato noodles stir fried with a variety of vegetables often 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. Japchae can be enjoyed as an appetizer, a 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.
Korean Food #29: Sannakji (산낙지)
Cooked octopus is delicious, but have you ever tried LIVE octopus? Sannakji is a Korean delicacy that features live octopus 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 as you chew and swallow them, so an unsuspecting diner will be in for a surprise if it’s their first time trying sannakji. 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!
Korean Food #30: Nokdumuk (녹두묵)
Similar to dotorimuk, nokdumuk is a jelly made from green beans that is off-white and almost translucent appearance. Nokdumuk is most often served as a side dish with an intense sauce like soy sauce and a scallion garnish, seeing as it doesn’t have much flavor on its own. Though not as exciting as some of the dishes on this list, nokdumuk is an underrated side dish with an interesting texture and a whole lot of protein. Nokdumuk is most often served at special events, so you’re likely to see it on the menu the next time you’re at 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 side dish.
Korean Food #31: 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 pancake filled with honey, peanuts, and brown sugar – what’s not to love? Hotteok are also easy to eat on the go, so they make a perfect after-dinner snack for when you’ve left the restaurant and to stroll around with friends.
Korean Food #32: Hobakjuk (호박죽)
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, hobakjuk is a versatile dish that can be served both hot and cold depending on preference. 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!
Korean Food #33: Dalkbal (닭발)
Another dish for our readers that are willing to push the envelope when it comes to trying new (and sometimes intimidating) food, dalkbal is a dish featuring chicken feet. Most often, dalkbal includes a thick red pepper sauce that coats the chicken feet and adds a strong, unique savory element that makes the dish worth trying. Most people only eat the skin off of 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!
Korean Food #34: Gaebul (개불)
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 sashimi! 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.
Korean Food #35: 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! This soup is made with a variety of 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!
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 that will be available to you throughout your journey to learn to speak Korean, so travel forward with an open mind and an empty stomach.
Have you tried any of the dishes on this list? If so, what’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!Find this helpful? Share with your friends. They'll thank you for it!