When compared to other Asian cuisines, especially Chinese and Japanese, Korean food has almost no presence abroad. Those who have sampled kimchi and Korean barbeque know that this is an absolute shame. Korean food is diverse, flavorful, and healthy (for the most part). For those who are planning a trip to Korea, read on to find out which foods you must try.
Devour Korean barbeque
If you’re one of the lucky people who has a Korean restaurant near their home, it’s probably safe to bet that it’s a barbeque restaurant. This is a classic abroad and in Korea. Korean barbeque is the best kind of meal to share with a big group of friends and family because of the convivial atmosphere. You’ll be provided with a plate of raw pork or beef and plenty of vegetable side dishes like kimchi, bean sprouts, and fermented radishes. According to Korean tradition, the youngest person at the table is responsible for manning the grill and ensuring that everyone gets enough to eat. Lastly, order some soju (rice alcohol) and beer to complete the experience. With meat, side dishes, and drink, budget about 12,000 SKW (10.50 USD) per person.
Add some spicy kimchi to your meal
Kimchi is probably Korea’s most famous export product. To make it, cabbage or radishes are fermented in a spicy red pepper paste and left for several months so that the flavors can develop. There are over 100 varieties of kimchi depending on the vegetables and which ingredients are used in the fermentation process. It is served with literally every meal in Korea so you’re bound to eat some (or a lot) during a visit to Korea. Mostly this is a free accompaniment, but buying a small container at the grocery store will set you back 5,000 SKW (4.40 USD).
Snack on kimbap
Kimbap is Korea’s answer to sushi. In Korean ‘kim’ means dried seaweed and ‘bap’ means rice; pair those together and you have a vague derivative of the beloved Japanese dish. It differs from sushi as the rolls are larger and contain unexpected ingredients like spam, eggs, and mayonnaise. It’s a food that can be enjoyed as a meal in a restaurant or as a snack from a convenience store. Kimbap is rapid, inexpensive, and readily available so you have no excuse not to try it! At a restaurant, budget about 6,000 SKW (5.25 USD) for 10 pieces; at a convenience store, one roll will cost about 1,500 SKW (1.30 USD).
Be careful not to burn your mouth on tteokbokki
This snack is made from chewy pasta-shaped rice cakes drenched in spicy gochujang (red pepper paste). If you’re not good with spicy food, definitely avoid this; it can be very hot. If you enjoy some heat, take the plunge and see what you think. It is one of the most popular street foods so keep an eye out for it while you’re sightseeing. It comes in a small cup with wooden skewers, making it perfect for sharing. A hearty serving will cost about 2,000 SKW (1.75 USD).
Warm up with odeng (fishcake skewers)
Another popular street food, especially during Korea’s frigid winters, is odeng (fishcake skewers). The fishcakes are folded and served on skewers for easy eating. They are served in a hot seafood and spring onion broth that is purported to be a great hangover cure. A serving is one cup of soup with two to three skewers and costs about 3,000 SKW (2.60 USD).
Snack on a rice burger
Before you cry our heresy (burgers are made from beef not rice!) give these a chance. Rice patties take the place of the bun, making them a great alternative for gluten-free travelers. Inside the patties you have your pick of ingredients such as tuna, spam, pork, or cheese. Again, these may sound like unorthodox flavors, but these burgers make for a great snack or light lunch especially if you’re busy or on a budget. Prices vary based on ingredients but typically cost around 3,000 SKW (2.60 USD) for one burger.
Take the plunge and try sannakji (live octopus)
This one is certainly not for the squeamish or the faint of heart, but if you’re feeling adventurous, order up a live and kicking octopus. It is readily available in outdoor fish markets. At most stands the waiter will cut it up to make it easier to eat. Even though it has been cut, many of the pieces still move and may slid off the plate if you’re not attentive. It is often served with spicy red pepper sauce for dipping. One octopus can be shared between two to four people and costs around 15,000 SKW (13.00 USD).
Fill up on pajeon (scallion pancakes)
These pancakes are made from wheat, egg, and rice batter with scallions and other ingredients mixed in. Typical mix-ins include vegetables, seafood, beef, and kimchi. After the batter is ready, it is pan-fried until golden brown and served with a soy sauce-based dipping sauce. They’re big enough to share and are usually accompanied by a variety of vegetable side dishes. One plate-sized pancake costs about 7,000 SKW (6.15 USD).
Indulge in bingsu for dessert
Koreans aren’t really known for their desserts, but bingsu is an exception. These enormous treats are made from shaved ice, condensed milk, and your choice of sweet ingredients. Popular add-ins include fruit, red beans, and chocolate. They are served in a large bowl and are as beautiful as they are as delicious. One order is enough to share between two to four people and costs about 10,000 SKW (8.75 USD).
Sample traditional Korean rice cakes
You should try rice cakes during your time in Korea, if only because they’re one of the most traditional foods in Korean cuisine. They come in a variety of colors and flavors, with some being plain white and bland, and others adorned with flowers that seem too pretty to eat. They can be found in most outdoor markets and supermarkets. Prices vary greatly depending on quality and size from 5,000 SKW (4.40 USD) for a small container to 100,000 SKW (87.50 USD) for a gift box.
A wild culinary adventure awaits you
Visiting Korea is a truly magical experience. Regardless of where you come from you will be captivated by the people, the culture, and certainly, the food. With such a dizzying array of choices, it’s often hard to know where to begin your culinary journey. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it is a good starting point for anyone ready to dive head first into this incredibly rich culture.
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