A Beginner’s Guide to Korean Cuisine: 10 Dishes to Try in South Korea
Korean cuisine is a reflection of the country’s rich history and cultural traditions. From fermented vegetables and grilled meats to rice-based dishes and seafood, Korean food offers a wide range of flavors and textures for diners to enjoy. If you’re new to Korean food, here are 10 dishes you should try during your visit to South Korea.
The Basics of Korean Cuisine
Bold flavors and unique ingredients are what make Korean cuisine stand out. Traditional Korean dishes often feature fermented vegetables, such as kimchi made from Napa cabbage (baechu in Korean) and Korean radish, flavored with garlic, ginger, and chili pepper. Grilled meats, like bulgogi (marinated beef) and samgyeopsal (pork belly), are also popular in Korean cuisine. People typically eat them with a variety of condiments and dipping sauces.
The country’s geography and climate also play a role in shaping Korean cuisine. The mountainous regions of Korea are ideal for growing grains like rice and barley, which find their place in many Korean dishes. And with its long coastline and abundance of seafood, fish and shellfish are a big part in dishes like sundubu jjigae (spicy tofu stew) and ganjang gejang (raw crab marinated in soy sauce).
If you want to dive deeper into Korean cuisine, why not take a Korean cooking class during you trip to Korea? Check out this Korean full-course meal cooking class at a local home with local market experience in Seoul.
The role of rice in Korean cuisine
Rice is a staple in Korean cuisine, often serving as the main component of many traditional dishes. Koreans typically serve rice with every meal and is also used to make a variety of other dishes, such as tteok (rice cakes), which are used in soups and desserts. People use different types of rice for different purposes in Korean cuisine, such as short-grain rice for dishes like bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables) and glutinous rice for traditional rice cakes.
You can also use rice to make rice wine, such as makgeolli, which is a popular alcoholic beverage in Korea. Overall, rice is a key ingredient in Korean cuisine and culture.
Some information on Korean alcoholic beverages
Alcoholic beverages are an important part of Korean cuisine. Soju, a clear spirit made from rice, and makgeolli, a type of rice wine, are popular Korean alcoholic drinks.
People so also to have Korean beer, such as Hite and Cass, with fried chicken or other snacks.
Traditional herbal liquors, such as omija-hwachae made from the omija fruit and sikhye, a sweet rice punch, are also part of Korea’s alcohol culture.
Korean alcohol is often enjoyed with a meal and is also used in various traditional ceremonies and rituals.
Try this traditional Korean rice wine making experience to learn more about the whole process or go on a fun makgeolli sampling tour!
Here are 10 dishes to try if you’re new to Korean food during your visit to South Korea:
Kimchi – the Staple Side Dish
This is a staple of Korean cuisine and is made from fermented vegetables, usually Napa cabbage (baechu in Korean) and Korean radish, flavored with garlic, ginger, and chili pepper. It is a traditional side dish part of every meal in Korea, and it is also a condiment or topping for a variety of dishes.
In addition to its delicious taste, kimchi is also known for its many health benefits, as it is high in vitamins and probiotics. It has become a popular food around the world and you can buy it in many Asian markets and specialty stores. If you want to learn how to make your own kimchi, try this Seoul Kimchi & Culture Experience.
Bibimbap – Mixed Rice with Veggies
Bibimbap is a traditional dish in Korean cuisine that is popular for its delicious combination of flavors and textures. It isalso perfect for vegetarians as it features a variety of sautéed or stir-fried vegetables seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices. Top it with a fried egg and gochujang, a spicy red chili pepper paste that adds a bold flavor to the dish.
Bibimbap is either served in a regular food bowl or a hot stone bowl. The latter version of the dish helps to crisp up the rice and gives the dish a unique and satisfying crunch. Bibimbap is a truly delicious and satisfying meal that is sure to become a favorite for anyone who tries it.
Jeonju, a city located in the southwestern province of South Korea, is the home of bibimbap – so be sure to head there for the most authentic experience!
Bulgogi – the Classic Meat Dish
Thinly-sliced marinated beef is grilled served with a variety of accompaniments, including lettuce leaves for wrapping, rice, and condiments like kimchi and gochujang sauce.
But it’s the marinade that truly sets bulgogi apart, blending together soy sauce, sugar, and aromatic ingredients like garlic, sesame oil, and pear juice to create a distinct and flavorful taste. Don’t miss out on the chance to try authentic bulgogi straight from the source during your trip to Korea.
Make your way to Korea and let your taste buds be the judge of this truly satisfying and flavorful dish!
Samgyeopsal – the go-to Barbecue Option
Korean samgyeopsal is a tantalizing dish that will have your taste buds begging for more. Made from thick slices of marinated pork belly, this succulent treat is grilled to perfection and served with a medley of accompaniments. Lettuce leaves, garlic, and ssamjang, a spicy Korean dipping sauce, are all offered up as wrapping options for the juicy pork.
But the real star of the show is the pork itself. It is marinated in a luscious blend of soy sauce, sugar, and aromatic ingredients like garlic and sesame oil.
No matter which part of Korea you find yourself in, one thing is certain: Korean samgyeopsal is a mouthwatering and satisfying dish that will leave you craving more.
Japchae – Korean Glass Noodles
If you’re a fan of delicious and satisfying noodles, then Korean japchae is a must-try.
These sweet potato noodles are stir-fried together with a variety of vegetables, such as spinach, mushrooms, and bell peppers. A side of savory beef often comes with the noodles, adding an extra layer of flavor and protein to the dish.
Sundubu jjigae – Soft Tofu Stew
Korean cuisine has got many spicy, hearty stews, and sundubu jjigae is one of its most popular. This delicious dish is made from soft tofu, vegetables, and often seafood or meat. All simmered together in a spicy broth, this stew will have your taste buds tingling.
The stew is typically served boiling hot in a traditional stone pot, adding a rustic and authentic touch to the dish. But it’s the combination of soft tofu and flavorful ingredients that truly makes sundubu jjigae stand out, providing a unique and satisfying texture and taste.
Ganjang gejang – Marinated Raw Crab
Ganjang gejang, also known as marinated raw crab, is a traditional Korean delicacy that has a bold flavor and unique texture. To make this dish, fresh raw crab is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce and other seasonings. This helps to flavor and tenderize the crab.
The marinade typically includes ingredients like garlic, ginger, and sesame oil, which give the dish its distinct and savory taste. People typically have ganjang gejang with a bowl of rice, which helps to balance out the strong and salty flavors of the dish.
People usually have it as a main course or as a side dish, especially for special occasions and celebrations. If you’re a fan of raw seafood and bold flavors, then ganjang gejang is a must-try.
Korean fried chicken – Always a good idea!
Korean fried chicken, also known as “chikin,” is a beloved and iconic dish in Korea. There are endless of varieties of fried chicken to try, like spicy, sweet and spicy, soy garlic, and honey mustard.
The spicy flavor is made with a hot and savory sauce that adds a bold and fiery kick to the chicken.
The sweet and spicy flavor is a combination of sweet and spicy sauces, creating a balance of flavors that is both sweet and spicy.
The soy garlic flavor uses a soy and garlic-based sauce that adds a savory and garlicky taste to the chicken.
The honey mustard flavor adds a sweet and tangy flavor to the chicken.
Fried chicken joints always come up with new flavors so there’s always something new to try!
Korean fried chicken is often served with beer, making it a popular snack or meal to enjoy while socializing with friends. It is also a popular choice for takeout and delivery with outlets all across the country.
Tteokbokki – the go-to Snack
This is a popular Korean snack food because it is delicious, convenient, and affordable.
Tteokbokki is made from soft rice cakes that are stir-fried in a spicy and savory sauce. It is often served with a variety of ingredients like fish cake, boiled eggs, and vegetables.
The soft and chewy texture of the rice cakes, combined with the bold and flavorful sauce, makes tteokbokki a satisfying and tasty snack.
It is also convenient because you can easily find it at street food vendors and markets for a low price. This makes it a popular choice for snacking on the go or for satisfying a sudden craving.
Haejangguk – the Hangover Stew
Haejangguk, also known as the hangover stew, is a popular and hearty dish in Korea. Simply simmer a variety of ingredients, such as beef bones, vegetables, and tofu, in a rich and savory broth. The resulting stew is hearty, filling, and packed with bold and savory flavors.
Many Korean people have haejangguk as a breakfast or lunch dish. It has medicinal properties that can help to alleviate the symptoms of a hangover.
If you’re in need of a satisfying and flavorful meal to help cure a hangover or simply to warm you up on a cold day, haejangguk is a great choice.
Are you ready to experience Korean cuisine?
Overall, Korean cuisine is rich in flavors and history, and offers a wide range of dishes for people to try. From the fermented tang of kimchi to the spicy kick of tteokbokki, Korean food is sure to satisfy your taste buds and leave you wanting more. And with its diverse range of ingredients and techniques, Korean cuisine is sure to have something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re a seasoned foodie or a beginner, a visit to South Korea is not complete without trying some of its delicious and unique dishes.
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