As a teenager, I found myself growing up in a community dominated by Korean culture. Many of my high school and college friends were Korean and loved to go for late night supper at nearby K-town after a night out. Thanks to this, I became very well-versed in their cuisine despite not speaking much Korean. So imagine my excitement when I finally got to visit Seoul last year! It’s like I was going to food heaven.
Without further ado, here is a round-up of my favorite traditional Korean meals, in no particular order:
1. Spicy Korean Ramyun with Cheese topping
Yeah, I know this sounds weird. I was skeptical when I first heard about it too but in practice, it really works! A bowl of Ramyun is usually served piping hot so the cheese would melt and blend with the spicy soup, which gives the dish a slightly creamy texture. Think of it like a spicy mac and cheese. The cheese also helps to tone down the spiciness a little bit.
The best part is? you can easily make this at home too! Just boil some instant Korean ramyun (I personally love the Nong Shim or Jin Ramyun brand) and put kraft singles right before serving. Add Kimchi if you like.
Wanna know the first thing I did when I landed in Seoul? I looked for Kimbap. It looks like sushi rolls but the taste is totally different. For one, all the ingredients in Kimbap are fully cooked. There is also a hint of sesame oil in it, making the taste a stronger than Japanese Sushi rolls. And delicious of course.
3. Korean Savory Pancake (Pajeon)
These are. So. delicious. Korean pancakes use a special type of rice flour which gives it a more “bouncy” or chewy texture than the pancakes you know. There are usually two kinds of Pajeon – Green Onion or Seafood, and you eat it by dipping in a light soy sauce. A side of Kimchi is a must of course.
4. Soup, soup, and more soup!
I love soup and there is no shortage of hot soup in Korean cuisine. The ones pictured above are (from left to right): Doenjang Jjigae – Stew made of soybean paste, Kimchi soup – Soup made from Kimchi, and my personal favorite: Soon Doo Boo – Spicy soft tofu, which is usually served still boiling and with a side of whole egg you can crack and mix into the soup so it will be soft-boiled.
5. All. The. Street. Food.
Given the theme of my instagram, do I need to explain how much I love street food? Go to any popular hangout area in Seoul and you’re bound to find street food vendors lining up.
6. Glorious, glorious Korean BBQ
I once told my friend that my choice of last meal would be Korean BBQ. And I stand by that choice to this day. The way to eat Korean BBQ is to grill the meat yourself to the desired doneness, put it on a piece of lettuce, add raw garlic, green chili and a bit of Gochujang (Korean chili paste) and sesame oil, wrap it all in lettuce and then pop the entire thing in your mouth. The fresh crunchy texture of the lettuce pairs really well with the juicy meat! Also, you eat less carb this way and that’s healthy right?! (Don’t tell me otherwise)
Aside of the grilled beef and pork, there is also a Korean dish that calls for chicken, rice cakes, and vegetables stir-fried with Gochujang (Korean chili paste) in a huge pan and eaten communally on the table. It’s called Dak Galbi, a local specialty of Chuncheon.
A little Korean trivia for you: “dak” means chicken!
Humankind had been drinking beer for a very long time. Somewhere along the way, smart Koreans figured out that fried chicken and beer goes really, really well together and made this a drinking tradition.
The name ‘Chimaek’ is a combination of ‘chicken’ and ‘maekju’, which means beer in Korean. Chimaek fits right into the Korean drinking culture and became a popular food item to have delivered. You can even have it delivered to a park if you happen to be out picnic-ing with your friends.
Everyone knows soju, but do they know Makgeolli? This rice wine is so light tasting but still very potent, making it a dangerous beverage to drink if you are a lightweight. I personally can’t get enough of it! Too bad it gives me the worst hangover the next day…
It’s not just any shaved ice, it’s shaved milk ice! The ice is shaved so thin that it feels like you are eating milk-flavored (clean) snow. Usually served with red beans and rice cake as pictured above, or powdered sesame seeds and rice cake. Yes, there are tons of rice cakes in Korean cuisine.
10. Banana Milk
Loved by many Koreans for its nostalgic value, adored by visitors for its delicious taste. My friend told me specifically to get this drink when I arrive in Seoul, and I almost dismissed her. But I kept seeing this unique bottle packaging everywhere I go, so I finally gave it a try – and I can see why this drink is so popular! I never thought banana and milk would be a good combination, but it really works.
Do you have any Korean dish you love that I didn’t mention? Comment below and let me know!
Where to stay in Seoul
I’ve been to Seoul twice and both times I stayed in Myeongdong. I would definitely stay here again! Here are the two places I’ve stayed in:
- K Stay Guesthouse Myeongdong – I stayed here twice. Once in a single room and once in a 4-bed dormitory. I highly recommend this place if you don’t care about hotel amenities since it was really cheap, clean, and right in the middle of Myeongdong (3 mins walk from the station!)
- Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel – This hotel is located in one of the few high-rise in Myeongdong. The lobby is located on one of the upper floors and you get unblocked view of the entire district from your room. The location is also hard to beat, it was less than 3 mins walk from Myeongdong station.