5 Korean Foods You MUST-TRY
If you haven't noticed from my Instagram or blog posts, I am a massive foodie. South Korea has introduced me to new flavours and raised my spice tolerance, allowing me to indulge in more dishes than the first time I came here! If you're planning a trip to Korea, then these are the 5 dishes I highly recommend you try.
Korean BBQ is an experience not to be missed. As a solo traveler, I made sure to befriend the other woman in my hostel dorm, and demolish a few pounds of thick, succulent pork belly. Of course, I definitely recommend other meats, like galbi (ribs, 갈비) and bulgogi (fire meat, 불고기), too. However, there's something about wrapping juicy, fatty pork belly pieces, vegetables and spices into a fun-sized leafy parcel and stuffing it into your mouth. I think that grilling your own meat indoors in the middle of your table makes for an interesting and hands-on cultural experience!
For those who appreciate strong flavours, try a more pungent leaf like perilla (ggennip, 깻잎 pronounced 깬닙), which adds a rather aromatic intensity to your wraps.
Kimchi is Korea's number one food found absolutely everywhere and present in a variety of dishes. This staple dish is made by fermenting vegetables, like cabbage leaves, radish and cucumber, with spices. The older the kimchi, the more pungent and sour it becomes.
Kimchi can be added to stir-fries (bokkeumbap, 김치볶음밥) or act as the base for a Korean pancake (jeon, 김치전). If you get the opportunity to feast on a steaming pot of kimchi stew (jjiggae, 김치찌개) then enjoy every moment of it…
Vegetarians and vegans, please bear in mind that cabbage kimchi in particular contains varying amounts of fish oil, fish sauce or salted seafood called jeotgal. As I am allergic to seafood, I can tolerate and enjoy certain types of kimchi, radish kimchi (kkakdugi, 깍두기) being my favourite.
Let's talk about one of Korea's most popular desserts: bingsu. This dessert is certainly appreciated more in summer as the base is thinly shaved ice! Similar to a parfait, it is beautifully garnished and often spectacular in size; perfect for sharing. It is refreshing on an unbearably humid Korean summer day, and the ice literally melts in your mouth. You could go for the more traditional and oriental taste of red bean paste (patbingsu, 팥빙수), the more unusual but intriguing taste of soy bean powder (kongkomul, 콩고물), or opt for something more familiar like chocolate.
One of the things I noticed in South Korea is that their couple culture is unlike any other. (I’ve even seen couple seats and couple meal deals at the cinema!) So, to avoid ordering the ‘couple size' like I did in Sinchon, Seoul, it is safer to assume that your bingsu will be bigger and taller than you expect. The smaller the better, really, because one, ice melts, and two, brain freeze!
Growing up, I found chewy food as a sign that it wasn't edible. I wasn’t a major fan of gum or steaks cooked rare. Fast-forward to the time I moved to Japan and discovered mochi, sticky rice cakes. Now that I live in South Korea, I can't get enough of this stuff! Spicy rice cakes are soft but slightly chewy, swollen from cooking, and pair beautifully with instant noodles in my favourite Korean dish: ra-bbokki (라볶이). Basically, ramyeon (instant noodles) and tteokbokki (rice cakes). Heck, add some sausages, spam, cheese and everything in a Korean mother's fridge, and you've got a whole new dish: army stew (budae jjigae, 부대찌개)! What I’m saying is, after spending some time in Asia, I now prefer rice cake to carrot cake.
치킨 Fried chicken
Now here me out…I’ve traveled to quite a few countries and, alongside karaage from Japan, Korean fried chicken is some of the best fried chicken you will ever eat. It's crispy on the outside thanks to being deep-fried not once, but up to three times! Despite this, it is not at all oily, and maintains its juiciness on the inside. Although incredibly delightful on its own, if you supplement the chicken with a crisp, light beer, and some pickled radish, and you have yourself the best combination of food and booze since wine and cheese!
While Italy has the best food and wine I've ever consumed, Japanese food is incredibly varied and delicious, and British food is heart-warming and close to home, I enjoy Korean food, and I hope one day you can too!
All images are my own and are subject to copyright.