What Kind Of Food Do South Koreans Eat?

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Unless you’ve visited a Korean food shop or the country itself, you may not be aware of the huge variety of cuisine on offer in South Korea. From a range of delicious grilled meats to mouth-watering sweet pancakes, read on for a full guide to the South Korean food you shouldn’t miss out on.

Traditional Food in South Korea

Some of the best food from South Korea has a long period of gestation, the recipes passed down and refined from generation to generation.

A common staple in South Korea is Chulpan food, which can be found in cafes and restaurants across the country and follows a simple composition: a mix of seasoned meat and vegetables over a bed of mixed rice.

Another popular staple of cuisine in the country is Korean barbeque food, also known as Samgyeopsal, and famous for its unique cooking method: customers to bbq restaurants are often expected to prepare and cook meat themselves directly at the table.

As there is so much to sample across this unique cuisine, we’ve prepared a full breakdown of everything you should try on a foodie tour of South Korea.

Bibimbap and Gochujang

One of the most popular foods in Korea, and one of the least spicy, this dish derives its name from ‘bibim’, which means ‘a mix’.

Bibimbap certainly lives up to its name, as it is composed of marinated meat and vegetables on a bed of boiled rice, and topped off with an egg. It is also commonly served with gochujang sauce, a spicy condiment made with red chile pepper flakes, sticky rice, fermented soybeans, and salt.

Bulgogi, Korean BBQ

A prime example of the kind of food you can expect to enjoy at a typical Korean barbeque restaurant, Bulgogi consists of thin strips of beef or pork marinated in a sweet blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, Asian pear, garlic, and ginger.

Although most commonly grilled on a barbeque, this meaty dish can also be cooked on a stove-top top grill or pan-fried at home.

Hotteok, Korean Pancakes

Hotteok, sometimes called Hoeddeok, is the most popular Korean dessert, especially during the winter. It consists of a  flour pancake filled with a sweet syrup, which often contains honey, cinnamon, and chopped peanuts.

Found at street stalls across all of the major cities in the country, travelers to Busan are especially encouraged to try these sweet pancakes, as it is the home of the original variation of the dish, Ssiat Hotteok.

Japchae Noodles

One of the healthiest foods from South Korea, Japchae was originally a dish entirely composed of vegetables: the name in Korean literally translates as ‘mixed veg’.

However, over time this common staple of Korean cuisine has become known for what is now its main component: sweet potato starch noodles, also known as Dangmyeon or glass noodles.

Kimbap, Korean Sushi

Also known as Korean sushi, Kimbap shares much in common with the incredibly similar Japanese favourite, as it consists of cooked rice and other ingredients rolled up in dried sheets of seaweed.

However, a key difference between the two is that while the rice sushi from Jpan is seasoned with vinegar, Kimbap often has a sweeter taste as the rice is mixed with sesame oil, and it is often served alongside a generous helping of kimchi.

Kimchi, a Common Side Dish

The national dish of South Korea, Kimchi is a spicy side dish you’ll encounter served alongside a number of traditional meals. it is most commonly made with fermented vegetables such as napa cabbage, cucumber, and Korean radish, although a number of varying recipes can be found across the country.

Kimchi is becoming popular as a fashionable food around the world, but for an authentic original recipe must be tried while in South Korea.

Tteokbokki Rike Cakes

One of the most popular Korean street foods, Tteokbokki, also known as Dukbokki, has a long history and can be found in numerous variations around the country.

The dish is primarily composed of tteok, chewy rice cakes, which are fried in a gochujang sauce and seasoned with sesame oil, dried kelp, and anchovy stock.

Like many of these dishes, Tteokbokki goes great when washed down with one of the many intriguing local alcoholic drinks in South Korea. These include the rice wines Soju or  Makgeolli, or the sweet refined plum wine, Maehwasu.

The Best Places to Eat Out in Seoul

The undisputed capital of South Korean cuisine is also the capital of the country, Seoul, which boasts a range of both high-end and affordable restaurants where you can indulge in a wide variety of the country’s traditional food.

Travellers who choose to stay in a hotel in the Gangnam district, a trendy area made famous by Psy’s internationally successful song ‘Gangnam Style’, have a full cornucopia of excellent Korean restaurants at their doorstep.

These include a number of vibrant Korean BBQ eateries, food courts offering all of the latest trends in Korean cuisine, and a number of restaurants offering classic favourites like Ddukbokki as well as Gomtang, a robust beef-stock stew.


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