Food, Korean Food, South Korea

What to Eat in Seoul: 12 Traditional Korean Food You Must Try in Seoul

comments 26

My love affair with South Korean food started way, way back. As a teenager, I grew up in a community dominated by South Korean immigrants in California. Many of my high school friends were either immigrants from South Korea or descendants of one.

When I got to college, my roommates were both South Koreans by chance. They loved going for a meal in LA’s Korea town or cooking meals at home, and they have always included me! It was from hanging out with them that I became very well-versed in South Korean cuisine.

So you can just imagine my excitement when I finally got to visit Seoul! I felt like I was truly on a pilgrimage to food heaven.

General Travel Tips for Visiting Seoul

Seoul (and South Korea in general) is a very safe and tourist-friendly country. On my first visit to South Korea, I went to Seoul by myself and I had no issues at all! Here are some tips that would make your trip as easy as mine:

1. Visa Waiver – If you qualify for a visa waiver to enter South Korea, you MUST apply for K-ETA at least 72 hours prior to your arrival. This is a new procedure from November 2021. Otherwise, you would be denied boarding your flight.

2. T-Money Card – When you first arrive at the Incheon airport, buy the T-money card – this is the transport card that you can use for the subway system in Seoul, as well as their buses. It allows you to use the tap in – tap out system so you don’t need to buy a ticket each time you take the train or bus. A single journey costs 2,700 won, and you can keep reloading the T-money card as you need.

3. Airport Express Train – Get to the city from Incheon Airport by AREX (Airport Express Train), which runs to Seoul station. You cannot use T-money for the express train portion, you have to buy the AREX portion separately. But once you get to / out of Seoul station, you can use the T-money card again. You can purchase the AREX tickets here via Klook.

What is Klook? Klook is the leading travel and experiences booking website in Asia. And yes, they are legit! I personally always book my activities through them whenever I am traveling. See my review of Klook here.

There is also an option to take the slow regular train using T-money for half the price of AREX, but I can’t recommend it since the price difference is not much.

4. Taxis and Car Sharing – Taxi is safe to use in Seoul, and you can just hail off the street. Car sharing app like Uber is not legal, so you cannot use it here. Personally, I found the public transport to be sufficient enough that I did not have to use a taxi much while I was in Seoul.

5. SIM Card – As with any other travel, it would also be handy to have an internet connection at all times, so I recommend getting a prepaid local SIM card which can be picked up as soon as you land in the airport.

6. Google Translate – If you don’t speak Korean, download Google Translate and pre-download the Korean language pack so you can translate stuff on the go. Locals will be nice and try to be helpful, but most do not speak English and a translation app can go a long way. Many stores in Myeongdong can accommodate Mandarin though! I suspect this is due to the influx of tourism from mainland China, especially in the beauty sector.

7. Maps – Google Maps is surprisingly not the best app in Seoul. This is because Google stores their data on foreign servers, and given the security threat from the North, South Koreans have been very protective of their data. It still works as GPS and major subways, but you probably won’t be able to get good direction from it. You can use Kakao Maps instead.

Without further ado, here is a round-up of traditional South Korean meals I’ve grown to love over the years.

1. Spicy Korean Ramyeon (라면)

Ramyeon is the Korean version of ramen, and it is usually spicy with dark red broth. It is such an excellent comfort food when the weather is getting cold outside.

The best way to enjoy Ramyeon? Topped with cheese. But not just any cheese, it has to be cheap processed cheese, like Kraft singles! Stay with me here – I know, this sounds weird. I was skeptical when I first heard about it too, but I discovered that cheese and Ramyeon work REALLY well together!

In South Korea, as well as among Korean-American immigrants, it’s a common practice to serve a bowl of piping hot Ramyeon with a slice of cheese. The processed cheese would melt and blend with the spicy soup, which gives the dish a slightly creamy texture. The cheese also helps to tone down the heat a little bit. Think of it like… a spicy mac and cheese.

South Korean Food
Spicy Ramen with Cheese

The best part? you can easily do this at home. Get yourself a packet of instant Korean Ramyun (I love the Nong Shim or Jin Ramyun brand) and put kraft singles right before serving. Add Kimchi if you like, and voila! You’ve got yourself a delicious meal.

Where to eat Ramyeon in Seoul

2. Korean Stuffed Rice Roll (Gimbap – 김밥)

Wanna know the first thing I did when I landed in Seoul? I looked for Gimbap.

Gimbap is a traditional and very comforting Korean snack – its appearance is very similar to maki roll you can find in Japanese food, but it is very different in taste. Gimbap is seasoned white rice stuffed with cooked meat and vegetables, rolled on dried seaweed with a thin layer of sesame oil pasted on the outside of it.

South Korean Food
Kimbap (Stuffed Rice Rolls)

So yes, it looks like Maki rolls from Japan, but the taste is totally different than the Japanese Maki. For one, all the ingredients in Kimbap are fully cooked. There is also a hint of sesame oil in the ingredients, making the taste stronger than Japanese Sushi rolls.

And it’s delicious, of course.

Where to eat Gimbap in Seoul

3. Korean Savory Pancake (Pajeon – 파전)

These are. SO. good!

Pajeon uses rice flour, which gives it a more dense and “bouncy” (or chewy) yet crispy texture than the pancakes you know from Western cooking.

South Korean Food
Korean Savory Pancake (Pajeon)

There are usually two kinds of Pajeon – Green Onion Pajeon or Seafood Pajeon. Pajeon is usually served pre-sliced into little squares, which you can easily pick up with your chopstick and dip in the light soy sauce that comes served with it.

And, of course, a side of Kimchi is a must to fully enjoy this dish.

Where to eat Pajeon in Seoul

4. Korean Soup

I love soup and there is no shortage of hot soup in Korean cuisine, which is why it’s one of my favorite cuisines.

Korean soups are not bland. They are packed with flavor, very nutritious, and comforting.

South Korean Food
Many different types of Korean Soups

The ones pictured above are some of the most popular types of soup – From left to right:

  • Doenjang-jjigae (된장찌개) – Stew made of Korean soybean paste.
  • Kimchi-jjigae (김치찌개) – Stew soup made from Kimchi-base, vegetables, and sliced tofu.
  • Sundubu (순두부) – Spicy soft tofu soup, my personal favorite! It’s usually served still boiling and with a raw egg on the side, so you can crack it into the soup and let it cook.

Where to eat Korean Soup in Seoul

South Korean Food
Korean Spicy Tofu Soup

5. Korean Street Food

Given the theme of my Instagram, I don’t think I need to explain how much I love street food. Thankfully there is an abundance of it in South Korea. Go to any popular hangout area in Seoul and you’re bound to find street food vendors lining up.

My personal favorites are:

  • Spicy Rice Cake (Tteokbokki) – a staple to the Korean street food scene and is a common menu item in restaurants as well, these are literally just boiled rice cakes served in gochujang chili sauce. Sounds simple, but it makes for a comforting snack, especially in the cold winter weather.
  • Korean Pancake with Brown Sugar filling (Hotteok) – if you can find this, make sure you get them fresh off the fryer. That first bite into a Hotteok, where the brown sugar filling melts into your mouth is one of the best memories I had from Seoul.

Where to eat Korean street food in Seoul

  • Myeongdong Main Street
  • Insadong Main Street
  • Hongdae

6. Korean Barbecue (고기구이)

Although Korean BBQ establishments are easy to come across these days, the concept of meat consumption is relatively new to South Koreans. In the past, meat was expensive and viewed as a luxury item, so it was only in the 20th century that Koreans started eating more meat, which led to the popularization of Korean BBQ.

South Korean Food
Korean BBQ

The concept of Korean BBQ thrived mostly overseas. In the 1980s many South Koreans immigrated to the United States, and many of them ended up settling down in Los Angeles. They brought with them the concept of Korean BBQ, which has now flourished throughout the country.

One of the most popular items in a Korean BBQ is “Galbi” aka BBQ Ribs, and there’s a variation of it called “LA Galbi” which is cut thinner than the original Galbi. And yep, you guessed it – LA Galbi was invented by Korean immigrants who lived in Los Angeles.

The way to eat Korean BBQ is to grill the meat yourself (or sometimes the waiter will assist you) to the desired doneness. Once done, you can then cut the meat into little pieces using scissors and put the meat on a piece of lettuce. Add raw garlic, green chili, a bit of Gochujang (Korean chili paste), and sesame oil, wrap it all in lettuce, and then… pop the entire thing in your mouth!

So good. The fresh crunchy 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)

I once told my friend that if I had to choose, my choice of last meal would be a Korean BBQ feast. And I still stand by that choice to this day.

Where to eat Korean Barbecue in Seoul

7. Dak Galbi (닭갈비)

Aside from grilled beef and pork belly, there is also a South 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, but you’ll see this in other parts of South Korea as well. (A little Korean trivia for you: “dak” means chicken!)

South Korean Food - Dak Galbi
Dak Galbi in Chuncheon

Where to eat Dak Galbi in Seoul

8. Beer and Korean Fried Chicken (Chimaek – 치맥)

Humankind has been drinking beer for a very long time. Likewise, humankind has been deep frying chicken and consuming them for a very long time as well. Somewhere along the way, some very smart Koreans figured out that fried chicken and beer go really, really well together and made this an actual drinking tradition.

South Korean Food - Chimaek

The name is ‘Chimaek‘ is a combination of ‘chicken’ and ‘maekju’, which means ‘beer’ in Korean. Chimaek fits right into the Korean drinking culture (and Koreans drink, A LOT) and it became a popular food item to be delivered. You can even have it delivered to a park if you happen to be out picnic-ing with your friends! So smart.

9. Korean Sparkling Rice Wine (Makgeolli – 막걸리)

Everyone knows soju, but do they know Makgeolli? This rice wine is so light and sweet tasting. Easy to drink, but still quite potent – making it a dangerous beverage to drink if you are a lightweight. I personally can’t get enough of Makgeolli. Too bad it gave me the worst hangover the next day.

South Korean Food - Maekgolli
Korean Sparkling Rice Wine (Maekgolli

Where to find Makgeolli in Seoul

  • Any Korean restaurant, convenience store, or grocery store

10. Korean Shaved Ice (Patbingsu – 팥빙수)

Shaved ice is not a unique thing here, but in South Korea, it just seems to taste so much better. Well, that’s because for Patbingsoo, the ice used is not just any plain shaved ice made from water – it’s actually made from milk!

The milk ice is shaved so thin that it feels like you are eating a milk-flavored (clean) flurry of snow. Usually, Patbingsoo is served with red beans and rice cake as pictured above, or powdered sesame seeds and rice cake.

South Korean Food - Korean Shaved Ice
Traditional Korean Shaved Ice

(Yes, there are tons of rice cakes used in South Korean cuisine.)

Where to try Patbingsu in Seoul

11. Banana Milk (바나나맛 우유)

Loved by many Koreans for its nostalgic value and adored by visitors for its delicious taste. My friend told me specifically to get this drink when I arrived in Seoul, and I almost dismissed her. Why would I be trying a store-bought packaged drink when I’m in Korea?

But, I kept seeing this unique bottle packaging everywhere I went. I finally gave up and gave it a try – And I’m so glad I did. I can see why this drink is so popular. I never thought banana and milk would be a good combination, but it really works.

For South Koreans, this drink often reminds them of childhood since it’s a popular choice for kids.

South Korean Food - Banana Milk
Korean Banana Milk

Where to find Banana Milk in Seoul

  • Any convenience store in Seoul will carry this beloved drink!

12. Korean Knife-cut Noodle Soup (Kalguksu – 칼국수)

Kalguksu is a traditional Korean soup noodle, where the noodle is often handmade from wheat flour and cut with knives. Kalguksu noodle is very unassuming and it looks quite plain, but packs a punch! The handmade noodle has that perfect slippery bouncy texture and the broth is very flavorful.

South Korean Food - Kalguksu at Myeongdong Kyoja
Kalguksu at Myeongdong Kyoja

Where to eat Kalguksu in Seoul

And that’s all my favorite, must-try food and drinks while you are in South Korea! If you want more recommendations on Seoul, I have these posts you might want to check out:

Where to stay in Seoul

I’ve been to Seoul twice and both times I stayed in Myeongdong. And I would definitely stay in this area again!

Myeongdong is convenient for so many reasons: it’s easy to get to from the airport, it’s where all the shopping is, and it’s one of the major stations in Seoul so it’s easy to get around.

Here are the two places I’ve personally stayed in Myeongdong:

  • 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 is really cheap, clean, and right in the middle of Myeongdong (3-minute walk from the station!)
  • Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel – This hotel is located in one of the few high-rises in Myeongdong. The lobby is located on one of the upper floors and you get an unblocked view of the entire district from your room. The location is also hard to beat, it was less than 3-minute walk from Myeongdong station.

Do you have any Korean dishes you love that I didn’t mention? Comment below and let me know!

Until next time 👋🏻

Links in this post may generate small commissions that keep this website running for free, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support.
Filed under: Food, Korean Food, South Korea

Written by Melissa

Hi there! 👋🏻 I'm the "Girl" in Girl Eat World. I love eating, traveling and sharing my travel experiences in this blog. During the day, I work as a designer in tech. More about me →


  1. I’m so excited to try some of these traditional Korean dishes when I visit Seoul! Thanks for sharing this informative post on the best food to eat there.

  2. mahi patel says

    I go to many places in the world in search of delicious food but I loved that food more until I saw your post I saw your post and I tasted the food you made so, I want to say that my best Good experience now I can taste your post better now I don’t need to go around for taste.

  3. Jae says

    Most of this is not “traditional” Korean food at all, it’s mostly fairly modern fare with some of the older stuff (like gimbap) being from the early 20th century. Susprisingly, patbingsoo may be one of the older foods on this list. Although many parts of Asia have something very similar, and no doubt the dish has changed somewhat, just like the kalguksu has.

    I suggest leaving Seoul if you want better food. Dakgalbi should be eaten in Chuncheon (but not on the actual Dakgalbi street). Even something as a great as Dakgalbi has only been around since the 1960s at best.

    Omarisu is from Japan, not Korea, and began in the 1970s as a fusion food.

    I have lived both in Chuncheon and Seoul (not as an English teacher 🤣), have travelled throughout Korea multiple times, and my partner of nearly a decade is born and bred South Korean.

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hey jae, true that, but even though a dish has not existed for long, if it becomes widely consumed in recent modern time and in family setting, i would still think of it as “traditional”. I did mention some of the dishes were new (see the korean BBQ portion). while not korean myself I’ve had Korean roommates all my life and have benefited from them cooking for me!

  4. Brenda says

    I was in Seoul Aptil 2019 and lived it tremendously. I enjoyed the food and shopping. I can’t wait for a return trip.

  5. JRussel says

    Thanks for the mouthwatering article! Now i really want to visit South Korea 🙂

  6. Rowena says

    My sister dated a Korean and the food they made was so good. I am thinking that one day I will have to Korea.

  7. Nyasha says

    Out of everything on this list, I totally agree. I’ve never tried Kalguksu however but Ddukbokki is the one! I’d also add Jjimdak from Wicked Jjimdak as it is a great dish to share with your friends. Inside the dish, there are glass noodles, chicken, cheese and ddukbokki which was a nice surprise to have.

    • Melissa Hie says

      I’ve never heard of Wicked Jjimdak! I’ll have to look for it!

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hotteok is sort of on the list under the Street food category 🙂 If i add all the street foods I loved in Korea, this list is going to be endless! 😀

  8. Shabita chathoo says

    I wish I could visit all the countries that u visited, by looking at all the food posting that u posted, I was like wow, I love travelling too,not as much as You 😀thank you for posting such mouth watering food from all over the world, it’s so interesting to visit, see and last but not least eating all those delicious foods. Thank you once again👍👍

    • Melissa Hie says

      Thank you so much for your comment! It is very encouraging to hear from who appreciates this little project of mine 🙂

  9. Yiting tan says

    Melissa, I am so happy to see u doing great and having lots of fun ! I am so proud of you. Your old friend, tina

  10. Cass says

    God ! I just want to go back in Korea and eat all those amazing dishes ! 🙂

    By the way, I love your watch~ Which brand is it ? ^^

  11. elly cho says

    Your korean food posting is very interesting! Are you in korea now? I’m korean. ^^
    Your instagram is introduced by huffingtonpost korea, today. So I can see your pictures.

    • GirlEatWorld says

      Hey Elly, no I was in Korea back in October last year 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.