May 19, 2024

My 7 Favorite South Korean Foods And Where You Can Try Them

I have a scandalous confession: I thought French food was the best in the world, but now I think South Korea might have better food than France. I spent a month in South Korea, traveling between Seoul, Jeju Island, and Busan. In my experience, meals in France can either be excellent or leave you sorely disappointed and over-budgeted. However, in South Korea, whether you eat in a food market, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, or an expensive dining area, the food is always tastier than you thought.

It wasn’t just the taste that made me change my perspective on food; the creativity that goes into some of the preparation and presentation is equally impressive. Here are seven of my favorite foods in South Korea and where you can find them.

Pro Tip: When you try to find the places mentioned in this article while in South Korea, Google Maps will not work. You will need to download the Talk and Cocoa apps on your phone. Both take some adjusting to, but if all else fails, ask your hotel for help with directions.

1. Black Pork Barbecue

This is a signature dish of Jeju Island. It is named after the island’s black pigs. Although other meats can be barbecued, pork is a specialty on Jeju. Make sure you find a place where the meat is not too greasy.

Pro Tip: To cook the meat, place the whole piece of pork on the grill. Wait until it is no longer red and then cut off the gristle (which is not edible) attached to the fat. Once the pork is cooked through, cut it into finger-sized strips and enjoy!

Where do I try it

  • Neulbom Heukdwaeji on Jeju Island: The food is delicious, however, the wait staff may try to cook for you and chase you away. Grab the tongs and make it clear that you will be cooking at your own pace and you will be fine.

Korean barbecue waiting to be cooked

Photo credit: Heather Markel / HeatherBegins.com

2. Korean Barbecue

Standard barbecue has red meat, compared to pork. There are many types of meat available in South Korea. You can marinated short ribs, sirloin, and more cuts of meat than you could imagine. As with pork barbecue, be aware that you are expected to order at least two dishes. Some restaurants will not let you in if you are alone. Those who do will expect you to order two dishes. (Happily, the portion sizes are much smaller than American portions.) If you’re a couple, you’re not allowed to split one dish, you have to order two.

Where do I try it

  • Jeju Island: Dae Hyang in Jeju City
  • Seoul: Chic Gub across from Moxy Hotel Insadong
  • Busan: Cheonggiwa or Gaemijip

3. Jeju Green Tea

This is the main reason I went to South Korea in the first place! On a layover at Incheon Airport in 2019, I stopped at Starbucks and ordered green tea. It was so delicious that I ran back to the counter to ask if they sold it and bought a box. Back in New York, when I was quitting, I went to a local Starbucks to get more and found out that it is not sold in America. I searched on Amazon and learned that it was $60 a box! I decided I’d better go to Korea and get it there, and I did! I also visited the home of all Jeju green teas – O’Sulloc Tea Museum. I love their teas too, but the Jeju green tea from South Korea at Starbucks is my favorite!

Where do I try it

  • Any Starbucks throughout South Korea; they run out, even in local stores, so try to try a few or make sure to get a box!
  • O’Sulloc Tea Museum on Jeju Island
Gimbap in South Korea

Gimbap in South Korea

Photo credit: Heather Markel / HeatherBegins.com

4. Gimbap

Like any fan of the Netflix series Attorney Extraordinary Woo, I came to Korea wanting to try some gimpap. I didn’t expect to be obsessed with it. I thought it was a large vegetable sushi roll. I didn’t know there were so many varieties and flavors!

I found a gimpap shop on Jeju Island. When I arrived, I was in front of a hole-in-the-wall store and the smell outside was not good. I gathered the courage to enter. I had no idea there were seven or eight types. I ordered pork and anchovy gimbap then went aside to wait. Within minutes, there was a line out the door and I found out that I had found a very popular place in Seogwipo. Both rolls were so good that I went back to the shop on my last night in Seogwipo only to wait 45 minutes. I ate more gimbap in Busan and Seoul, although not all the Seogwipo varieties were available, it was always prepared fresh and I felt nourished like my mom had just made it for me. Another bonus is that one roll isn’t filling but costs $3–$4.

Where do I try it

Seafood soup on Jeju Island

Seafood soup on Jeju Island

Photo credit: Heather Markel / HeatherBegins.com

5. Seafood Soup

I was hungry after walking to the Jeongbang Waterfall on Jeju. The only place to eat nearby was the waterfall exit. It looked like a tourist cafe where I thought the food would be mediocre, but I was too hungry to go somewhere else. It was full, so I had to wait for a table. When I finally received my order, I got the surprise of my life. I ordered a seafood ramen soup that was complete with scallops in the shell and every piece of seafood was fresh and amazing. And, it was less than $10.

In Seoul, I ordered another version of this soup just in case I had made a mistake. The pot of soup came on a single burner with only a few shells pouring out. I was told to wait for the soup to boil. The experience was like a clown car; the more soup I poured from the pot into my bowl, the more seafood appeared. I’m still not clear how so much could go into the pot. It was one of the best soups I ate in South Korea.

Pro Tips: Save money on alcohol at Insadong Lakuen by sticking with beer or soju. The menu is completely in Korean. You will have to use your phone to translate the soup or ask the server!

Where do I try it

Crab marinated raw in South Korea

Crab marinated raw in South Korea

Photo credit: Heather Markel / HeatherBegins.com

6. Raw marinated crab

A friend told me about this and my first thought was, butwww! Suffice it to say, when I found a place to try it, I gave it a try. It was one of the most delicious foods I have ever tasted. It is usually available in a spicy sauce or marinated in soy sauce. It was my first attempt as an accompaniment to my pork barbecue on Jeju Island. It was so good that I was delighted to find a restaurant in Busan that specialized in raw marinated crab and eagerly dined there one evening. I couldn’t get enough of it either.

Haemul-pajeon at Gwangjang Food Market in Seoul

Haemul-pajeon at Gwangjang Food Market in Seoul

Photo credit: Heather Markel / HeatherBegins.com

7. Seafood Green Onion Pancake (Haemul-Pajeon)

I had never experienced delicious pancakes before this trip, apart from the egg foo young, which I loved as a child. In South Korea, the pancakes are thick and full of so much protein; it’s literally like a meaty pancake. My favorite was on Jeju Island, with Makgeolli, a South Korean alcoholic drink with a relatively low alcohol content. In Seoul, however, I found a food market where stand after stand offered these pancakes in many varieties.

Where do I try it

  • Jeju Island: Seogwipo Olle Market
  • Seoul: Gwangjang Market (various types available)

My advice is, when you go to South Korea, dare to experience every food you can have. Take time to look at the food, because looking at it is an important part of your Korean cooking experience. If it looks like it tastes good, it probably does, so go ahead and try it.

Pro Tip: You will often find your utensils and napkins hidden in a drawer on the side of your table.

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