I’ve been in Korea a little over three months now, which has given me plenty of time to eat a lot of food! Korean food primarily consists of rice, vegetables, meats and seafood and is famous for it’s spicy flavors and many side dishes, especially kimchi. While I haven’t loved everything, trying new foods has been a fun experience and I’ve found a few dishes I really enjoy!
Here’s some of my favorite food experiences so far.
I’m from the South, so I know good BBQ. And let me tell you, Korean BBQ is fantastic! The food is cooked at the table, either over a gas or charcoal grill and served with endless side dishes, such as kimchi (fermented radishes and other vegetables), soybean sprouts, cheesy corn (one of my favorites!), spicy seafood soup, eggs and lots of sweet and spicy dipping sauces. The meal is also served with a bed of lettuce, which is used to make BBQ tacos full of meat and sides. Of course no Korean BBQ meal is complete without a bottle of soju and some beer!
Tteokbokki is EVERYWHERE in Korea. Literally, every restaurant, every street corner, and probably every home. And for good reason – it’s delicious! Tteokbokki is made with rice cakes and fishcakes cooked in a bright red-orange, spicy and slightly sweet sauce. Occasionally, other seafood or vegetables are mixed in as well. I personally like my tteokbokki with lots of cheese on top, which gives it a creamier flavor. I also love that tteokbokki is so versatile – you can get it at a nice restaurant, a tent in the street or even a baseball game!
Recently, one of my Korean colleagues took me out to lunch for my first samgyetang experience and it did not disappoint! Samgyetang is a boiling soup served in a hot stone bowl. In the soup is a literal chicken. Like an entire chicken stuffed with rice and seasoned with ginseng. The most surprising thing though, was the shot glass and bottle of liquor the server brought with it. I’m all for taking shots on a Saturday night. But Tuesday for lunch? I wasn’t so sure. Turns out we weren’t taking shots, but instead pouring the liquor into the samgyetang, which enhances its flavor as the alcohol boils off.
Yes, I’m talking about the ramen you are probably thinking about. The kind that comes in a little square that college students are known for living off of. However, here in Korea, ramen is more than just a college student staple. You can find it in any restaurant and I love it because it’s a familiar, spicy, tasty and, of course, cheap. You can find many variations of ramen, including with meat, seafood, egg and, my personal favorite, cheese. The only thing I’m not a fan of, is how hard it is to eat the slippery noodles with chopsticks (my chopstick skills still aren’t great).
Pajeon is one of my all-time favorite Korean dishes! It’s often referred to as a Korean pancake, but it’s not like a typically fluffy American pancake drowned in maple syrup. Instead, it’s made with a batter of eggs and flour mixed most often with scallions and seafood, such as octopus and shellfish. I’m not a fan of octopus or shellfish, so I typically opt for the vegetarian pajeon instead, which is packed full of delicious veggies. Similar to tteokbokki, pajeon can be found in restaurants and is also a common street food.
Seafood is everywhere in Korea, which isn’t surprising given the fact that the country is a peninsula surrounded by the ocean. Incheon especially is known for its seafood markets and dishes as it’s located right on the coast and is home to a large port. Fish was actually my very first Korean dish I had when I arrived and since then, I’ve found that there are endless ways to eat fish here. From large dishes of fish in a spicy sauce, to fish soup to live octopus, there’s a fish dish for everyone. The one thing I’ve had to get used to here though, is all the fish are served whole – bones, brains, eyeballs and all.
Korea does street food well. Whether your in the mood for something sweet, spicy or even something that crawls, you can find it. Some of my favorite street foods are sausage and rice cake kababs, steamed corn, bungeoppang (fish shaped bread filled with red bean paste) and yakgwa (flower shaped cookie made with honey). If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can find many varieties of meat and seafood, including entire fried squids, and even silkworms, which are very popular here (I’m still building up the courage to try them).