Buckle your seatbelts because we’re going on a mini tour of Korean cuisine to discover all their delicious dishes. Let’s learn more about the country through its wonderful dishes. Korean cuisine has evolved over time due to social and political changes. Unlike a Western course meal, Korean food has main and side dishes. They are serious about their food, and getting up from the table feeling hungry will be difficult.
Traditional Korean cuisine is composed of five primary colours: green, red, yellow, white, and black. Each one represents a different direction, a natural element, and a health benefit. The majority of Korean dishes are vibrant and delicious. So, it’s time to uncover these flavourful ten dishes that will provide a glimpse into the Korean cuisine that you may have been missing out on.
Kimchi (Fermented Vegetables)
Kimchi is probably the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Korean cuisine, and it is certainly the first thing you should try. Kimchi is the best dish to learn about Korean cuisine. So, what exactly is Kimchi? It is a traditional vegetable side dish made with salted and fermented vegetables. It is commonly made with napa cabbage and Korean radishes. As for the seasoning, the dish contains a variety of seasonings such as chilli powder, scallions, garlic, ginger, and jeotgal, also known as salted seafood.
Kimchi is considered a national dish in both North and South Korea. Keep in mind that there are different types of Kimchi, but vegetables are always the main ingredient. Suppose you’re wondering how or with what you can eat, Kimchi, this traditional dish, can be eaten with white rice or on its own. It’s also delicious in porridge, soups, and rice cakes. Kimchi is also the basis for a variety of other dishes, such as kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae), kimchi pancake (kimchi jeon), and Kimchi fried rice.
Tteokbokki (Spicy Red Rice Cake)
Tteokbokki, also known as spicy red rice cake, is a popular Korean dish. It’s a rice cake that can be found almost anywhere in Korea, from restaurants to underground stations. Tteokbokki is a traditional Korean street food made with thick slices of boiled chewy rice cake, fish cake, onions, diced garlic, salt, sugar, and various vegetables stir-fried in sweet red chilli sauce. The sauce is a vibrant red-orange colour. Don’t miss the opportunity to try it from a traditional Korean market! It is best eaten fresh to fully appreciate the spicy chewiness!
Bibimbap (Rice Bowl)
For those who find comfort in food bowls, bibimbap is a must-try dish in Seoul, Korea. Bibimbap literally translates to “mixed rice.” A tasty and nutritious bowl of vegetables, rice, beef, and gochujang, a Korean chilli paste, topped with a fried egg. When it comes to certain dishes, there are numerous variations in Korean cuisine. However, the most common bibimbap is made of warm rice topped with mixed vegetables, chicken or beef, and a raw egg.
Koreans are big fans of seasoning their food. So, for seasoning, the bibimbap is topped with a dollop of chilli pepper paste and soy sauce. Bibimbap can be served cold in a metal bowl or hot in a stone bowl. Some people believe that the hot version is the best because the egg and rice stick together and cook on the hot stone, making it ten times better. Hoe-deopbap is another bibimbap variation that is great for seafood lovers. Instead of meat, it includes some yummy raw seafood like salmon, tuna, or octopus.
Kimbap/Gimbap (Korean-Style Sushi)
Kimbap or Gimbap is a popular grab-and-go Korean street food from Korean cuisine. It is their version of Japanese sushi. Kimbap or Gimbap, the most popular Korean dish, is made with sushi rice, meat, spinach, and stir-fried vegetables wrapped in a seaweed roll. The roll is then cut into small bite-sized discs and served as a side dish with Kimchi. You can find Kimbap or Gimbap in some places with various fillings, such as cream cheese, bulgogi (fried beef), lobster, and other fillings that we won’t reveal so that you can try it for yourself.
Samgyeopsal (Korean BBQ)
This dish is not for you if you are a vegetarian because Koreans love pork. And, Samgyeopsal is their style of BBQ, which is not the type of BBQ found in the United States or the United Kingdom but is well-known in Korean cuisine. Samgyeopsal is a traditional Korean dish that requires little culinary skills. The dish is simply thick slices of marinated pork belly meat grilled on the serving table. So, if you’re wondering if you get to cook your own meal, the answer is yes! The strips are then wrapped in lettuce or sesame leaf with dipping sauces and garnish like button mushrooms, green chilli peppers, green onions, raw onions, and garlic, not to mention the Kimchi.
Sundubu Jjigae (Soft Tofu Stew)
This traditional Korean dish has an unusual flavour profile. Hot stew in Korea varies by region, as does any other dish. It is a delicious combination of unexpected flavours that results in an exquisite food experience. Sundubu jjigae is a traditional Korean stew made of freshly curdled soft tofu, Kimchi, vegetables, onions, and gochugaru or gochujang. If you want your stew to be filled with everything, you can add optional ingredients such as seafood, meat, and raw eggs.
The soft tofu stew is served in an interesting way: it is mixed and cooked directly in a serving earthenware vessel called a ttukbaegi. It’s usually served at the start of a meal, along with some banchan (a group of small side dishes served at the beginning of a traditional Korean meal with kimchi stew) and steamed white rice.
Kalguksu (Noodle Soup)
Korean cuisine is extremely diverse, and if you think they only eat rice, you are mistaken. In Korea, there are many different types of noodle soups, but Kalguksu is, without a doubt, one of the best. Kalguksu literally translates to “knife-cut noodles,” which is how the noodles are made. The noodles have a rich flavour because they are cut by hand rather than spun.
Kalguksu noodles are made from a thinly rolled-out dough of wheat flour and eggs that are cut into long strips. To make the broth, dried anchovies, shellfish, and kelp are simmered for several hours before adding the noodles and vegetables and boiling them together. Optional ingredients include ground beef, chicken, and cilantro. Try the noodles in a traditional Korean market for the full Korean experience. Watching the chefs make the noodles in front of you, toss them into the broth, and serve them directly to you, fresh and spongy, is a culinary experience in itself.
Manduguk (Dumpling Soup)
A bowl of soup to chew and munch on to keep you warm during the winter. We’re talking about the Manduguk, one of the best soups in Korean cuisine. Korean dumplings are best served in their own broth. Manduguk is served in a small or large bowl with tteok (rice cakes), sliced vegetables, ground meat, or an egg squeezed in.
Your bowl of mandu can be customised with a variety of fillings such as Kimchi, meat, prawn, and vegetables. In a manduguk, you usually get kimchi or meat dumplings, but fancy restaurants will have a variety of options. In some areas, such as South Korea, there is a very nice Korean tradition in which people eat Manduguk on New Year’s Day. Families work together to make hand-made dumplings to start the new year with a bowl of Manduguk.
Yangnyeom Tongdak (Sticky Fried Chicken)
Koreans are famous for their finger-licking fried chicken; being a traditional Korean dish is debatable, but with so many fried chicken restaurants in Korea, we had to include it on the list. Yangnyeom tongdak is unlike any fried chicken you’ve ever had! It’s topped with crushed nuts for extra crunch. The flavours are mindblowing, with a bold blend of sweet, sour, and spicy sauce that is generously spread over the fried chicken.
In Korea, this can be munched on as a snack at a Korean baseball game or a meal on its own. If you don’t mind getting your fingers a little messy, grab a cup and dip your fingers in, or use chopsticks to keep your hands clean.
Pajeon (Korean Pancake)
This meal is typically served to hikers to fill them up after a long day of hiking in Korean cuisine. Traditionally, a Pajeon is made by the chefs frying them on a hot plate outside the restaurant. Pajeon is a savoury Korean pancake. It comes with various fillings, including Kimchi, potato, beef, pork, and shellfish. The most popular of these is haemul pajeon (seafood with spring onions), which is a delicious late-night snack. For a perfect taste, Dip the pajeon in spicy soy sauce and wash it down with makgeolli, another mountain speciality. Makgeolli is a creamy rice wine with interesting flavours like chestnut, corn, and even banana.
Korean Cuisine Expert
After learning about all ten traditional Korean flavourful dishes, you can consider yourself a Korean cuisine expert. It’s like travelling to Korea while relaxing on your couch. The question is, what is the first thing you will order when you enter a Korean restaurant? If we had to choose, we would go to Kalguksu on a cold winter night and Tteokbokki for a summer snack.