Korea offers some of the most delicious, not to mention healthy, dishes on the earth. The famous spicy fermented cabbage, kimchi, does make an appearance in almost every meal of the day, but Korean cuisine isn’t just about kimchi and Korean barbecue. From street food to the royal cuisine, let us introduce you to some dishes you have to try.
Street food in Korea is cheap, tasty and a must-try when visiting. There are many markets offering popular street food in Seoul, but one market you need to visit is Gwangjang Traditional Market (pictured above), the first to open as a daily market in 1905 and now the oldest remaining of its kind. It’s not just about food at this busy market – Gwangjang Market sells almost everything from silk to Korean hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and there are over 5,000 shops inside. You can spend hours here, so plan accordingly. You will have a great time looking around and doing some shopping!
On the food scene, head straight to the central ground level to taste delicious snacks like bindaettoek – the savoury crispy pancake the market is famous for. It’s made from mung bean batter seasoned with meat and vegetables, fried into sizzling, tasty pancakes, then dipped into soy sauce and onion sauce. The markets offer seating, so take a spot, get a plate of bindaettoek and wash these delicious savoury pancakes down with a cold serve of soju, or Korean ‘vodka’.
Another street food you must try in Seoul is tteokbokki in the Sindang-dong Tteokbokki Town in the Jung-gu District – a district that retains an old-Seoul charm. This area has several restaurants selling this popular comfort food. Tteokbokki is a hot pot of thinly sliced rice cakes (tteok), fish cakes, boiled eggs, noodles and vegetables in a spicy broth made with the red pepper gochujang sauce. It’s not as spicy as it looks, but delicious with just the right amount of spiciness. This hot pot is cooked and served right at the customer’s table. It can be eaten alone, but is best when shared!
The tubular Korean rice cake, or tteok, is made from steamed ground rice. It is also made by pounding boiled rice into shape. While rice is the main ingredient of tteok, it can also be made with other grains, fruit and nuts. It has a gnocchi-like texture and it can be addictive! This dish is especially delicious and comforting to eat when it’s rainy and cold.
You can’t talk about Korean food without mentioning bibimbap. One of the best places to have bibimbap is in the historic city of Jeonju in the Jeolla province, located in the southwest corner of Korea. This area, known as Korea’s rice basket, famously boasts some of the country’s most delicious cuisine. Jeonju bibimbap translates to ‘mixed rice’ and is said to be based on the royal court dish of the Joseon Dynasty. On top of a bed of rice, namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables) and gochujang (chilli pepper paste), sliced meat and raw or cooked egg are served. The ingredients are mixed together after serving and eaten while still hot. Jeonju bibimbap is famous for having over 30 different ingredients that vary by season. The cooked rice that forms the base of the Jeonju bibimbap is cooked in sagol soup – a broth formed through continuously simmering cow bones. This is important because cooking in the sagol soup prevents the rice from being smashed.
While in Jeonju, make sure you try hanjeongshik – the region’s full course meal. This is an extravagant meal that comes with thirty or more dishes, all carefully and beautifully prepared with the freshest ingredients. The focus of each dish is quality.
Hanjeongshik originates from the banquets served in the royal palaces. The meal often starts with cold dishes, leading to the main dishes which are often hot, and ends with desserts and traditional Korean punches. This is a wonderful experience that everyone needs to try in Korea.
About the Author – Shiori Cochrane
Shiori has been involved in the book and magazine publication and TV production industries for almost 15 years. Her articles are focused on travel, food and sustainability. When she is not writing or editing, she spends her time travelling with the Explore TV team, producing the popular travel series Explore TV on Nine. She lives in the beautiful hills of Western Australia with her husband and three boys.