You may have noticed that Korean cuisine is an absolute global sensation. The demand is evident in the growing number of Korean restaurants and supermarkets all across America. Still, there’s nothing like sampling food in its country of origin. After extensive travel in Korea, we here at The Dragon Trip know exactly which dishes every foodie should try. Use this handy list of recommendations to kick off your culinary adventure in Korea!
1. Jokbal (족발)
If you like slow-cooked meats, you’ll love jokbal, which consists pig trotters, braised in soy sauce and spices until it’s melt-in-your-mouth tender. It’s served de-boned and sliced so you can easily dip it in saewoojeot (salted shrimp sauce) and make lettuce wraps. Variations include spicy “fire” jokbal and cheesy jokbal. Truly a meat-eater’s dream!
2. Dak galbi (닭갈비)
Also known as chicken galbi, this spicy stir-fry contains marinated chicken cubes, potato slices, onions, cabbage, and gochujang (red pepper paste) sauce. The server will sautée everything in a huge pan in the middle of your table. Take it to the next level with add-ons like cheese-filled tteok and shredded cheese. When it’s done cooking, the server will let you know and you can eat it with rice or choose to make wraps with the lettuce provided. Best comfort food ever!
3. Naengmyeon (냉면)
Naengmyeon literally means cold noodles but don’t let that put you off! This refreshing dish is made of chewy, thin buckwheat noodles in a chilled beef broth. Toppings include sliced Asian pear, cucumber, kimchi, beef and a hard-boiled egg. The server should bring you spicy mustard and vinegar for condiments and kitchen shears to cut the noodles with. Try a bowl of ice cold naengmyeon during a Korean summer and you won’t regret it!
4. Hotteok (호떡)
Hotteok is the perfect winter treat. Any traditional market worth its salt will have a granny making fresh hotteok at a street stall. It’s a pancake-shaped fried dough filled with brown sugar and a variety of nuts. After it’s pressed and cooked on the griddle, it’s placed in a paper cup that you can hold as you explore the rest of the market on foot. Just make sure you let it cool before you take that first bite! Cheap and tasty, hotteok is a favorite among Koreans and foreign visitors alike.
5. Pajeon (파전)
Pajeon is a savory fried onion pancake usually paired with makgeolli, Korean rice wine. You can add kimchi to make kimchijeon or seafood to make haemul pajeon. When it comes to the table, use your chopsticks to rip it up into bite-size pieces to share and dip in the soy sauce provided. Yum!
6. Bingsu (빙수)
More traditional bingsu is called patbingsu, which is shaved ice with red beans, sweet rice cakes and soybean powder but now you can find all different kinds in any given dessert café in Korea. The base is a mound of silky milk ice shavings with heaps of toppings. You can order it with cheesecake pieces, mango chunks, or green tea syrup. Any bingsu variation you can think of is probably available somewhere. Due to its large size, it’s usually shared among friends around a table.
7. Samgyeopsal (삼겹살)
More well-known marinated meats like bulgogi and galbi need to step aside for a moment and let samgyeopsal take the spotlight. It’s thickly cut pork belly that you can cook on the grill in the middle of your table. While it’s cooking, you use the provided kitchen shears to cut the meat strips into bite-size pieces. Dip the meat in a sesame oil and salt paste, lay it in a lettuce leaf with garlic, gochujang, onions, and then eat the whole wrap in one go. Don’t forget the soju!
8. Jjajangmyeon (짜장면)
You know how the United States has its own brand of Chinese food? Well, the Chinese expat community in Korea has also developed its own unique fusion cuisine. One popular Chinese-Korean dish is jjajangmyeon, consisting of wheat noodles, topped with a savory black bean sauce, diced pork and veggies. At less than $5 a bowl, it’s filling, delicious and wildly popular with Koreans. You’ve probably seen it eaten by characters in a K-drama and not even known it!
9. Shabu shabu (샤브샤브)
Named for the swishing sound of meat being cooked in hot pot broth, shabu shabu is a great communal DIY meal. You can order a set amount of meat for your table – usually beef – and have an unlimited salad bar at your disposal for veggies, sauces and side dishes. Eat the hot pot soup however you want but most restaurants will provide rice paper for you to make your own spring rolls wraps.
10. Dolsotbap (돌솥밥)
This is bibimbap’s edgier cousin. Essentially, it’s steamed rice served in a very hot stone pot with a cover on it. Basic dolsotbap has jujubes, ginseng, mushrooms, chestnuts and beans for traditional, healthy and totally vegan meal. You can add vegetables, meat and kimchi to transform this into a dolsot bibimpbap or really go wild and get jeonbok (abalone) dolsotbap, a Jeju Island specialty! As you’re eating, work your way down to the slightly burnt, yet tasty, rice crust. If you don’t feel like chipping the crust off the stone bowl, you can fill the bowl with a hot broth, cover it with a wooden lid and let it soak for a quick rice porridge. Only in Korea!