10 amazing Korean dishes you need to try

10 amazing Korean dishes you need to try

Embark on a culinary adventure through the bustling streets of Seoul, where the aroma of sizzling meats and spicy kimchi fills the air. Great Korean cuisine isn’t just confined to upscale restaurants; it can be found in every nook and cranny of this vibrant city, from humble street vendors to luxurious eateries nestled within 5-star hotels. Many of these delectable dishes boast a rich history, dating back over 2,000 years when they were exclusively savored by Korean royalty. Today, however, Korean food has transcended social barriers, captivating the palates of locals and visitors alike with its savory, spicy, and nutritious flavors. Join us as we take you on a gastronomic journey through Seoul, unveiling the top ten Korean dishes you simply can’t miss during your visit to this captivating capital city.

1. Kimchi

For over two millennia, kimchi has been a staple of Korean cuisine, its roots tracing back to the ancient Shilla Dynasty. This iconic dish is crafted from a blend of Korean cabbage, radish, pumpkin, onion, ginger, and scallion, seasoned with chili powder, crushed garlic, and salted seafood, then left to ferment. In the streets of Seoul, you’ll discover over 200 unique variations of this traditional delicacy. Whether enjoyed alongside a steaming bowl of white rice, incorporated into savory porridges, soups, or rice cakes, kimchi adds a burst of flavor to every meal. Beyond its standalone presence, kimchi serves as the foundation for an array of mouthwatering dishes, including the beloved kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae), crispy kimchi pancake (kimchijeon), and comforting kimchi fried rice.

2. Bibimbap

When you’re exploring Seoul, make sure to indulge in bibimbap, a hearty and wholesome dish readily available in restaurants, food courts, and bustling street markets. This Korean staple comes in various regional and ingredient variations, offering both meat-based and vegetarian options to suit every palate. The classic bibimbap typically features warm rice topped with an assortment of mixed vegetables, along with beef or chicken and a raw egg, seasoned with soy sauce and a spicy chili pepper paste. For those craving a taste of the sea, there’s a delightful twist called hoedeopbap, where raw seafood like salmon, tuna, or octopus takes center stage instead of meat. It’s not just a meal; it’s a flavorful journey through Korean culinary traditions.

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3. Rice cakes (tteokbeoki)

Tteokbokki, a beloved Korean street food staple, is a delightful blend of thick slices of garaetteok, fish cake, onions, garlic, and assorted vegetables, all tossed in a sweet and spicy red chili sauce. Its vibrant red-orange hue makes it easily recognizable as it beckons hungry passersby from street vendors and cozy snack bars alike. This tantalizing treat isn’t just a dish; it’s a symbol of Korea’s rich culinary tradition and a cherished part of many people’s street food adventures.

4. Bulgogi

Bulgogi, a beloved Korean dish, features thinly sliced beef sirloin marinated in a flavorful blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, and spices for 2 to 4 hours to ensure maximum tenderness and taste. Cooked alongside onions, green peppers, and garlic over a charcoal burner, the result is a mouthwatering medley of smoky flavors that dance on the palate. To complement the savory meat, Bulgogi is traditionally served with crisp lettuce and spinach leaves, perfect for wrapping around the cooked beef along with a dollop of spicy ssamjang paste and tangy kimchi. This dish isn’t just about nourishing the body; it’s about bringing people together around a table to savor every bite and share in the joy of good food and great company.

5. Korean Stew (Jjigae)

In Seoul, you’ll find a delightful array of jjigae, a hearty Korean stew brimming with meat, seafood, or vegetables, simmered in a flavorful broth seasoned with ingredients like hot pepper paste, fermented miso, soybean paste, or salted fermented shrimp. This comforting dish, often served as a palate cleanser between meals, boasts a texture akin to western-style stews. Among the city’s favorites is budae jjigae, affectionately known as army stew, which tantalizes taste buds with a mix of bacon, sausages, Spam meat, ramyeon noodles, and rice cakes bathed in spicy gochujang paste. It’s a culinary delight that warms both the body and the soul, a testament to Seoul’s rich and diverse food culture.

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6. Jajangmyeon

Jajangmyeon, a delightful fusion of Korean and Chinese flavors, features thick handmade wheat noodles adorned with crisp cucumber slices, complemented by a savory blend of black soybean paste, tender diced pork, and fresh vegetables. Affordable and satisfying, this hearty noodle dish, priced from 5,000 won onwards, is a go-to option when you’re craving a delicious meal without breaking the bank.

Interestingly, jajangmyeon holds a special place in Korean culture, particularly on Black Day, observed annually on April 14th. Singles who didn’t receive gifts on Valentine’s Day come together, donning black attire, to enjoy black-colored foods like jajangmyeon. It’s a quirky tradition that adds a unique touch to this already beloved dish, making it not just a culinary delight but also a cultural experience to cherish.

7. Samgyeopsal

Samgyeopsal, a beloved Korean classic, offers a simple yet delicious dining experience that anyone can enjoy. Thick slices of pork belly sizzle to perfection on a grill right at your table, filling the air with mouthwatering aromas. Wrapped in crisp lettuce or fragrant sesame leaves and accompanied by an array of dipping sauces and side dishes like button mushrooms, green chili peppers, and kimchi, each bite is bursting with flavor. It’s a favorite among Seoul’s young professionals, often enjoyed with a shot or two of soju, adding a dash of conviviality to the meal.

8. Korean fried chicken

Korean fried chicken offers a delightful twist on the classic American fast food favorite. Diverging from its American counterpart, this crispy delight is lovingly coated in a sweet and spicy sauce (with some spots even slipping in green pepper for an extra fiery punch) before undergoing a double fry in vegetable oil. The result? Juicy, succulent meat encased in a light, crunchy batter that’s surprisingly grease-free. It’s no wonder this delectable dish has become a beloved late-night snack, often enjoyed alongside a refreshing pint of beer.

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9. Spicy cold noodle (bibim nengmyun)

Bibim nengmyun, a delightful Korean dish, arrives in a gleaming stainless steel bowl, offering a refreshing blend of flavors and textures. Adorned with julienned cucumbers, crisp Korean pear slices, tender boiled egg, and chilled boiled beef, it’s a feast for both the eyes and the palate. The noodles, slender and delicate, are crafted from a mixture of flour and either buckwheat or sweet potatoes, though variations with seaweed and green tea add a unique twist. Rooted in tradition, these noodles symbolize longevity and good health, often served uncut; however, diners can customize their experience by requesting the noodles to be cut to their liking—a personalized touch that enhances the dining experience.

10. Ginseng chicken soup (samgyetang)

During the scorching summer months, locals swear by the revitalizing power of samgyetang, a beloved chicken ginseng soup. It’s a ritual deeply ingrained in their culture, believed to replenish the body’s energy reserves. This comforting dish features a small spring chicken stuffed with a hearty blend of chestnuts, garlic, dried jujubes, ginseng, glutinous rice, and gingko nuts. Slow-cooked to perfection, the tender meat and aromatic broth offer a soothing respite from the heat, filling the air with a hint of bitterness and fragrance that’s both familiar and comforting.