It’s a love-hate relationship when it comes to Korean food. On the one hand, dining gets boring when options revolve around rice, kimchi, jjigae, and grilled meats. On the other hand, because Korean food has a certain “flavor” to it — fermented gochujang (chili paste), doenjang (soybean paste), you start craving for it when you’ve been away.
I swear, when I returned from my one-month South East Asia trip, the first thing I did was visit our neighborhood Korean chain restaurant and ordered jjigae.
Sherry’s Top 15 Must-Eats
1. Kimchi (김치)
The most popular “Kim” in Korea. Present at every meal, kimchi’s ubiquitous presence asserts its prominence, and the most common kimchi being the fermented cabbage. There are over 200 kimchi varieties, if you are interested, you can visit Kimchi Museum ( COEX Mall, subway line 2).
2. JJigae (찌개)
Jjigae are stews; there are many varieties in broth seasoned with gochujang (red pepper paste), doenjang (fermented soy bean paste), etc. I love all jjigae, there is something comforting about this simple dish.
- Kimchi Stew (김치찌개)
- Soft Tofu Stew (순두부찌개)
- Doenjang jjigae (된장찌개)
- Army Stew (부대찌개)
3. Galbi (갈비)
Compared to fatty pork meat (samgyeopsal), galbi, or marinated beef short ribs, is considered a delicacy. Tender and juicy, an order of galbi costs roughly 30,000 to 50,000 won (US $30~$50). Try 북악정 (Bukakjeong) near Gireum (subway line 4), it offers great food, view, and price. For lunch, galbi combo comes around 25,000 won/person (US $25).
4. Samgyeopsal (삼겹살)
Thick, fatty pork slices are definitely more affordable to eat on a daily basis. Common accompaniments include lettuce, sliced garlic, asperilla leaves, chili paste, and soy bean paste.
5. Tteokbokki (떡볶이) + Fried Goodies (튀기) = RaBokki (라볶이)
A common snack food, this salty/sweet/crunchy street food is rather addictive, because, frankly, what’s there not to like? What made me even happier is the discovery of Rabbokki — ramen and spicy rice cake pot. Be sure to visit Tteobokki Town in Sindang-dong! Here you will find the original restaurant that invented tteobokki (subway line 2 / Sindang station).
6. Sundaeguk (순대국)
Sundae, aka Korean blood sausage, is made by stuffing pork blood and noodles into boiled pig intestines. Surprisingly, it is not that bad. A common street food staple along with tteobokki and fish cakes, sundae is eaten by dipping it into salt or tteobokki sauce.
I would also recommend its soup form — sundaeguk. Why? This soup, with its clear, milky-white broth is the perfect remedy for hangovers. (** FYI, be prepared that you will be eating with middle-aged Korean ahjussi.)
7. Gimbap (김밥)
Gimbap could be found both on the streets as well as in restaurants. It is relatively cheap, a basic roll costs around 1,500 to 2,000 won (US $1.50 to $2.00).
8. Ox Bone Soup (설렁탕)
To achieve such clear, clean broth, care and time are given. Prepared by simmering ox bones for hours, the soothing broth is a heaven-sent after a crazy night.
9. Samgyetang (삼계탕)
Another one of my favorite, samgyetang is both soothing and nutritious. Prepared by stuffing ginseng, dates, garlic, sticky rice, and other medicinal herbs into a young chicken, this soup is said to prevent illness. Baekje Samgyetang (백제삼계탕), subway line 4 / Myeongdong station / exit 6.
10. Bibimbap (비빔밥)
A signature dish, be sure to get 돌솥 비빔밥 (dolsot means “stone pot).
11. Kalguksu (칼국수)
Literally means “knife noodle,” kalguksu is usually paired with kimchi and dumplings (mandoo). Try either Myeongdong Gyoza 명동교자 (subway line 4 / Myeongdong station / exit 8) or Bukchon Kalguksu 북촌칼국수 in Samcheong-dong (subway line 3 / Anguk station / exit 1)
12. Naengmyeon (냉면)
Naengmyeon, cold noodle, originates in North Korea. Served in tangy cold broth with pear slices, egg, cucumbers, naengmyeon is perfect for summer. Myeongdong Galbi Naenmyeong (subway line 4 / Myeongdong station / exit 8). ** Myeongdong is my -‘dong’ :P
Read about must-try Korean desserts HERE