Korean Food Guide: 20 unmissable foods to eat in South Korea
South Korea, a fascinating country from different points of view, is a true paradise for those who love good food.
Eating in South Korea is a pleasure and food is considered one of the primary elements of socialization: it is no coincidence, in fact, that as soon as you set foot in a restaurant the first thing you notice is the long tables that host many people and that are shared, both by people who know each other and by complete strangers.
Before you go to the unmissable dishes to taste during a trip to South Korea, here are some rules to follow:
- Do not blow your nose at the table: blow your nose in public is considered rude, do it at the table is really unacceptable. If you can not hold back and you can not go to the toilet every 5 minutes, turn the other side and blow your nose very softly;
- Restaurant service is usually very fast; it is not rude by restaurateurs, rather it is considered attention to the customer;
- The cutlery in South Korea is of two types: the chopsticks and the spoon, both in aluminum. There are no wooden buns like in Japan and there are no forks and knives;
- Do not stick the chopsticks in the rice and, unlike Japan, the bowls should never be raised from the table, even when eating soup;
- Tipping is considered offensive.
The rules to be respected in public are quite special for us Westerners but are linked to Confucianism that still rules the Korean society.
Now let’s move on to the food to taste: what to eat in South Korea, to bring home truly unique travel memories? Here are some of the best and most special dishes that can be found everywhere in South Korea and that we have had the opportunity to taste during our trip.
The dish par excellence of Korean cuisine consists of rice, vegetables of different kinds, minced meat and an egg that is usually left raw. It is considered one of the healthiest dishes in the world as it contains all the nutrients our body needs and is usually served inside of stone or aluminum bowls in such a way that it never gets cold. Jeonju is considered the home of the bibimbap, to the point that a festival is also dedicated to this dish; the peculiarity of Jeonju bibimbap is the cooking of rice that is not made in water but in broth.
Everything about kimchi by clicking here.
A long series of appetizers served at the table and designed to be shared: ranging from a minimum of 5 to a maximum of 20, but each restaurant serves as many as they want, always including a bowl of soup or steamed rice.
The Korean pancake, which the Koreans also call pizza, is a dish that can not be ignored. The most popular version is the one with onions and fish, but also the kimchi pajeon is unmissable. A middle ground between a pancake and an omelette, the Pajeon is really nice to eat after a long walk, accompanied by appetizers.
The Koreans love the bbq and in all the restaurants there are special places where you can try your hand at cooking meat and vegetables. There is bbq of all types and all contemplate meat and vegetables, with pork that has the biggest role and the samgyeopsal, the bacon, being another great protagonist. The Korean pork is special compared to ours, much more tender and full-bodied, is bred outdoors and on the ground and often fed with special plants (for example green tea) that make it even more unique.
Very stringy and chewy rice gnocchi that are seasoned with a very hot sauce and served in restaurants and on the street. Difficult to avoid them because the curiosity is really a lot, but they are so hot that at the first bite you immediately think to let them go. Accompanied by a bottle of makkeolli, the Korean rice wine, they are perfect.
One of the best street desserts: pancakes that can be more or less soft and that are filled with brown sugar syrup, honey, chopped peanuts, and cinnamon. They cause addiction despite the calories.
A whitish soup prepared using the bones of the ox let cook in water for many hours. It is served with meat and onions, often also chili powder to give more spiciness to the dish.
A sort of fish pancake served with fish broth: it can be found on the street and in markets all over the country, alongside fried foods of all kinds that can be eaten standing up or sitting down.
A mix between the dough of a waffle and the dough of a roll of rice, the Bungeoppang is a classic dessert filled with red bean cream which is given the shape of a fish. It is also found filled with custard.
Cold noodles, served with or without meat, and available all year round but particularly palatable when temperatures are high.
In the coast above Busan, crab is a primary ingredient of the kitchen. It is stewed and served whole, leaving to the guests the task of cleaning. With the stock and parts not served, the fish bibimbap is prepared.
The beverage par excellence in South Korea, a transparent alcoholic drink very similar to vodka and grappa. You drink at the end of the meal but also to accompany the food and is sold in bottles.
Also called “penis fish”, the Gaebul is a typical fish from the coastal area of Busan. It is used raw and marinated or grilled. Definitely one of the least appealing dishes of Korean cuisine, at least for us Westerners.
The famous raw octopus, seasoned with oil and sesame seeds. The octopus still moves when it is served and for this reason it can cause suffocation: the tentacles, in fact, can attach themselves to the mucous membranes of the throat and cause suffocation, which is why the authorities also recommend being careful when you consume it.
The traditional Korean rice cake, similar to Japanese mochi but more glutinous and chewy.
Wheat flour, sesame oil, honey, liqueur and ginger juice mixed and fried in oil, before being immersed in honey. One of the sweetest biscuits ever, to be accompanied with something bitter or completely without sugar.
The classic dumplings that can be fried, steamed in the pan and are always served with sauces of various types and kimchi.
One of the most loved street foods by Koreans, hot dogs covered with fries.
Egg panini, where the egg is opened directly in the batter which is cooked on an oval grid that allows giving the characteristic shape.
In the beautiful Gyeongju we also suggest the Hwangnam-ppang, small brioches prepared with water and flour and filled with red bean paste that is only found in this area of Korea and that you can see in the video you find below:
[All the pictures have been taken by Giuseppe]