The food game in South Korea is strong. With the Korean food scene in other parts of the world starting to blow up, I was excited to see if things were different in Korea, much like how food in China is vastly different from Chinese food in America. But either surprisingly or not, Korean food is true to it’s roots and much of what you’ll find in Korea (at least in my brief experience) is exactly what I’d pictured Korean food to be like, except much more fresh and delicious.
Here’s what in my mind are the 6 foods you can not miss if you visit Seoul:
I’ve been a fan of bibimbap for a long time, and it was at the top of my list for must-try foods while I was in Seoul, as it should be on every palate of travellers to South Korea. Bibimbap literally translates to “mixed rice”. Toppings can vary, but if served correctly the rice on the bottom should begin to crisp which enhances the texture of the dish.
This is one of my favorites and it did not disappoint.
5. Traditional Korean Soup (Sam Gae Tang)
One of the best parts about traveling with a snapchat star is all of the recommendations they receive in real time as they travel. Expat Edna (the said snapchat star) got a recommendation for this lunch spot, where you sit on the floor in traditional style. It’s somewhere I never would’ve went to on my own so I’m really glad she got the recco!
This soup consists of a whole chicken stuffed with garlic and rice and then cooked with dates, ginseng, ginger and other spices.
Sitting on the floor and waiting (patiently!) for our soup
To be honest, I was starting to feel pretty under the weather from walking around in the cold rain for several hours after getting virtually no sleep at our hostel. Queue the soothing ginseng soup and I almost immediately stopped coughing and felt better. It was kind of amazing. I might try to recreate this recipe next time I’m feeling similar symptoms. Thanks Korea!
These rice cakes are usually sold as street food in Korea in a moderately spicy, thick red sauce. The actual rice cakes are spongey and absorb the sauce really nicely. It is positively addicting and was my favorite street food snack in Seoul.
Something I learned is that if you mix Korean food with any type of cheese, magical things happen and Dakgalbi is a perfect example. This is essentially a stir fry with chicken, a spicy chili pepper sauce, and an assortment of other ingredients including cabbage, onions, sweet potatoes, and either noodles or rice. It’s all topped with shredded cheese. Oftentimes rice cakes (the tteokbokki mentioned in #4) are also included in the stir fry.
Cheese-filled Dakgalbi rice heart <3
2. Fried Chicken
Koreans know how to fry a damn good chicken. Edna had gotten another recommendation for somewhere called Reggae Chicken, but after walking around the area where it was supposed to be about five times, we eventually gave up and went to an alternative.
It seems that most Fried Chicken spots in Seoul offer sets that include lots of other fried things besides the chicken like fried cheese and fried taro. Beer is also essential to the experience.
Korean Fried Chicken is fried twice, making it crispier than other versions. It’s also seasoned slightly different.
There’s chicken under there somewhere, I swear!
1. Korean BBQ
The be-all end-all of Korean food. If you find yourself in Seoul, and aren’t able to enjoy Korean BBQ, then I’m sorry to say it but you just haven’t done Seoul or Korean food justice. With that being said, most Korean BBQ must be done in groups which makes Korea a tough place for a solo traveler. This would be a great opportunity to seek out some new friends if you’re traveling alone.
If you’ve never had Korean BBQ before, you select your meats first and then they’re seasoned and cooked right on the grill at your table. There’s also tons of sides, called Banchan, that come along with it.
It is so unbelievably delicious and a carnivore’s dream.
BONUS: flavored soju.
This stuff is dangerous. With flavors like grapefruit and peach, the flavored variety is particularly dangerous because it doesn’t taste like alcohol at all but instead like flavored water. It’s quite potent with an alcohol content of 20%, and sneaks up on you slowly and then hits you all at once. Needless to say, you have to try it if you’re in Seoul.
It’s available everywhere – from basically every restaurant you’ll step foot in to convenience stores.
So there you have it! These are my best foodie suggestions if you are headed to Seoul. If you are, just know that I’m already jealous of you and your tum.