When visiting South Korea, you will notice that the food is part of the rich culture and long rooted history. Street food is considered to be part of South Korean popular culture, and changing trends have added many different types of delicious cuisines to the evolving street food lifestyle.
Here is a list of the 10 best Korean foods to try when visiting Seoul, South Korea:
1. Ja jang myeon (black bean noodles)
Ja jang myeon is a type of noodle dish that has originated from China, but was culturally modified into the Korean style over the decades. Historically, jajangmyeon is known to have been first created by a Chinese immigrant who started a Chinese restaurant in Korea.
Jajangmyeon is made with thin noodles, jajang sauce made out of a black gravy, thinly sliced cucumbers, and ground beef or pork. There are different versions of jajangmyeon that famous Korean chefs have experimented with over the years.
Jajangmyeon can be eaten in boonsikjeoms (restaurants that serve cheap Korean food), specialty jajangmyeon restaurants, delivery, and can even be cooked at home because there are many kinds of instant jajangmyeon noodles sold in stores.
Because jajangmyeon is inexpensive and usually under W10,000 ($8 USD), it is a very popular dish throughout South Korea. There are jajangmyeon delivery services all over the country, and you can commonly see motorcyclists carrying silver tins in the back that hold jajangmyeon bowls.
Delivery men come drop off your jajangmyeon directly inside your home, and they even leave their own bowls from the restaurants. If you leave your bowls outside, the delivery carriers will come back to your home and collect your bowls at a later time.
Jajangmyeon restaurants often have appetizers to go along with your noodles. Kind of like America’s ”Panda Express,” there are choices of mapo tofu (spicy tofu dish), mongolian beef, and tang soo yook (sweet and sour pork).
Jajangmyeon is so popular in South Korea that there are special days to eat them. The first is White Day and the second is Black day. In Korea, White Day takes place on March 14, a month after Valentine’s Day.
A little different from American culture, the female gives the male (significant other) chocolate on Valentine’s Day, and the male gives the female candy on White Day. If you do not have a boyfriend or a significant other, you would eat jajangmyeon with your single friends on White Day. Black Day is on April 14, where the single friends would again get together and eat jajangmyeon.
Tteokbokki has been a traditional Korean dish loved by Koreans and people all over the world.
It is a rice cake flavored with red pepper paste, soy sauce, sugar, scallions, and is a spicy dish that is served as both a street food and a main dish in Korean restaurants.
In street food booths called pojangmachas, you can see that the owners usually set up an orange tent, with big steel tin sections inside with tteokbokki and other types of dishes like odeng (fish cakes) with broth, soon dae, and hot dogs.
All tteokbokki tastes different, with some amazing and some mediocre. Make sure to visit the restaurants and booths that are well visited and have good reviews by past customers.
Tteokbokki is usually eaten during the cold winter months, since Korea is known to have severely cold winters. Eating this dish will help warm you up before needing to head to work or school. A lot of children will be swarming around these pojangmachas before and after school, because this dish is typically inexpensive and convenient to eat. One serving of tteokbokki is often only $1 USD.
3. Sam gyup sal and oh gyup sal (pork belly)
Sam gyup sal is a pork belly that is usually thick and very juicy. The term sam gyup sal literally means “three layers of meat” in English, because it is known to have three layers of meat and fat. Ogyupsal means “five layers of meat,” which means that there are five layers of fat and meat on the pork. People with heart conditions or high cholesterol should eat these meats in moderation, because of the high fat content.
The pork takes a long time to cook because of its thickness, but waiting is very worthwhile. Koreans like eating this type of meat without it being marinated, and on a grill in restaurants or at home. The pork is usually served with side dishes, rice, soup, and wrapped in lettuce. People flavor the meat by dipping the meat into ssamjang (bean paste) and garlic pieces.
Koreans will normally order in restaurants in food portions, (1 person serving, 2 person serving, etc.). Often eaten in barbecue restaurants at night with a bottle of soju, you can often see crowded samgyupsal restaurants with a lot of lively customers late into the night.
Even though Koreans don’t really eat marinated samgyupsal, one marinated samgyupsal specialty restaurant is very popular among foreigners. They have eight different types of samgyupsal, with each having different flavors such as wine, curry, herb, and garlic. Eight restaurant has many different locations all over the world, including America and Singapore.
4. Pat bing soo
Patbingsoo is a type of frozen dessert that usually is served in a big bowl. Patbingsoo is a type of shaved ice that is topped with red beans, ice cream, condensed milk, mochi, and fruits. Patbingsoo is normally eaten in the summer on a hot day, because the cold and sweet dessert will cool you down.
Patbingsoo has also been altered by different cafes around Korea over the years, and one famous cafe called Ok bing sul is known to serve many different kinds of pat bing soo or regular bing soo. They have different types of fruit shaved ice such as watermelon, mango, and strawberry.
There are many different versions of patbingsoo without the red bean, and other types of shaved ice in bakeries and cafes throughout South Korea. There are also different versions of shaved ice in other cultures such as Taiwan’s shaved snow, and Japan’s takoyaki shaved ice.
5. Dak gal bee
Dak gal bee is a spicy stir-fried chicken dish, which is usually very spicy and sweet. There has been an explosive trend in eating this dish because a lot of celebrities have been eating in popular variety of food shows and on Youtube mukbang channels.
Top chef Baek Jong Won in South Korea teaches people how to make his famous dak gal bee dish through his Youtube channels, where people copy the recipes and try them out at home.
Even though dak gal has been sold for many years before, the hype has grown because of the dak gal bee that is served with an enormous amount of mozzarella cheese. To make it even better, some places serve buldak noodles (fire chicken noodles- type of instant noodles) with the dish.