The first thing that comes to mind for most people when they hear “Korean food” is …. Korean BBQ 삼겹살. However, whenever someone asks me what my favourite Korean food is I find myself thinking of a lot of other Korean dishes before that even crosses my mind. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I crave Korean BBQ but in saying that, I rarely find myself recommending it to others when discussing Korean food.
So that got me thinking about what Korean foods I actually miss eating and for those not living in Korea you might be surprised to see that a lot of the food isn’t the typical “popular” Korean foods we can easily eat overseas like Korean BBQ 삼겹살 , Gimbap 김밥 and Gamjatang 감자탕 etc.
Whether you are going to Seoul or Busan or even just in your local town, I thought I would put together a list of the foods that I really want to eat whenever someone says “Lets eat Korean food!”
낙곱새 – Octopus, Intestine & Shrimp Stew
낙곱새 is arguably my favourite dish in Korea and can be translated to something along the lines of: Octopus, Intestine and Shrimp Spicy Stew. The name gives it away as 낙곱새 combines the words for Octopus 낙지, Intestine 곱창 and Shrimp 새우. I have eaten this dish many times in Busan in the Dongnae area very close to Dongnae Station. It comes with steamed rice which is essential otherwise it would be too salty by itself. Don’t forget with most stews or dishes in Korea you can ask to have rice added to the sauce at the end of the meal to make Bokkeum-bap 볶음밥 (which is in a world of its own).
곱창전골 – Beef Tripe Stew
곱창전골 is essentially beef tripe hot pot and is a spicy Korean stew that contains beef tripe, vegetables, and other seasonings in beef broth.
Gopchang refers to tripe, while jeongol indicates a stew or soup in Korean cuisine.
곱창전골 is one of the best foods to drink soju with in my humble opinion and this has lead me to many nights out in the Nampo-dong district in Busan (very close to the famous Jagalchi Fish Market).
꼼장어 – Spicy Hagfish
For those of you who have visited or plan to visit Busan, you might have eaten or heard of this dish which is essentially Hagfish. Although it has a similar name as eel in Korean which is 장어, it is actually not an eel and rather classified as a marine fish.
Either way, it tastes great when eaten and is a popular meal which I myself have had many times. Yes, it does take a little while to get used to the texture but with any good unusual looking food, once you get past the initial oddity it is actually very enjoyable.
Like a lot of food with spicy Korean sauce, you should always eat bokkeumbap 볶음밥 after with this dish.
돼지국밥 – Pork Rice Soup
If there is one on the list you have most likely heard of it is probably this one, 돼지국밥. It is famous in Busan and almost every foreigner I met while living in Busan had already eaten it or had it on their list to try. In my experience the taste varies quite a lot depending on the restaurant you go to. When a restaurant serves this simple Pork Rice Soup correctly it is hard to beat in terms of satisfying the hunger for Korean food.
While working in Korea I would try to eat this once a week on my lunch break. You could find it for as cheap as 6000 KRW in some non-touristy areas which is a total bargain.
오리 불고기 – Marinated Grilled Duck
Everyone that has even a slight interest in Korean food will have heard of Bulgogi before however almost always it will be Beef Bulgogi. Well, if you haven’t tried Duck Bulgogi yet, you should! I myself can’t get enough of Beef Bulgogi and whenever I get a chance to eat it, I take full advantage of it. So when I tried Duck Bulgogi for the first time, it was an obvious match.
Like a lot of restaurants in Korea, they tend to specialize in only a few main items rather than trying to cater for literally every Korean dish known to man. So if you do want to eat Duck Bulgogi, you should of course do a quick search and see what restaurants serve it.
전어회 – Raw Herring
We have all heard about Sashimi in Japan, and I myself can admit that it is the golden standard when it comes to eating raw fish. One thing I didn’t expect when I came to Korea for the first time is how affordable it is. 전어회 which I have eaten numerous times while in Korea is something you should definitely try as not only is it delicious but it won’t break the bank.
Another plus is that if you are in Busan and are wanting to try it, there isn’t a better place than Millennium Hoetjip. If you want some more detailed information about eating here while looking over at the famous Gwangalli Bridge, then check out this post.
게장 – Soy Sauce Raw Crab
If you have a love for seafood then you should definitely put this one on your list, if not I would probably skip it as the flavour is quite strong. 게장 is definitely an acquired taste and isn’t something you would crave for breakfast (well maybe you do, who knows).
I had this famous dish in Yeosu, which is the city mentioned in Busker Busker’s famous song, Yeosu Night Sky 여수 밤바다. Some of you might have heard it (if not check it out, its a very nice and relaxing song).
Going to Yeosu? or at least interested? You can check out what I ate and drank there in this post.
고등어회 – Raw Mackerel
Raw mackerel isn’t exactly that common and I have only eaten it a handful of times to be honest. I first tried it on Jeju island and ever since then have always taken the opportunity to eat it. In this photo above it was recommended to eat it wrapped in seaweed which was fantastic.
Jeju really does have some of the best seafood in the country and if you get a chance to go please look out for this dish as it is really something different (in a good way).
I have a detailed trip report on my time in Jeju which includes restaurant and food recommendations in both English and Korean.
과메기 – Half-dried Pacific Herring
과메기 is a seasonal food that originates from Pohang. It is known as half-dried Pacific herring and generally is available at most Pojangmachas 포장마차 (Orange Tents generally selling seafood and other street related foods). If you get it fresh it can taste really good however if you buy it from some supermarkets and it looks a little old it doesn’t quite taste like edible food.
해물탕 – Seafood Stew
해물탕 is quite popular in Korea and although some people outside of Korea may have come across it, it isn’t quite the same as it is in Korea. There are many variations of this dish in that it will normally come with different kinds of seafood depending on where you are in Korea. Luckily for me while I was in Jeju, it came with an abundance of Abalone. This is arguably one of my favourite foods in Korea and definitely can recommend this as a must-eat while in Korea.
The best thing I learnt when it comes to eating/trying food in Korea is how to find good restaurants. Yes, you can search on google maps and hope that other travelers know what they are talking about when it comes to Korean food or you can get recommendations from Koreans (who tend to be crazy about delicious tasting food).
The simple trick or method if you like, that has worked for me over many years is using NAVER (for those that don’t know it is the equivalent of Google in Korea) to find good restaurants for the food you want to try.
For example, if I want to find a good restaurant for eating Pork Rice Soup, I simply find out the Korean name of the dish (which after a quick google search is 돼지국밥), along with the city you are currently in and paste it into NAVER along with the Korean words for ‘tasty restaurant’ which is 맛집.
So for Pork Rice Soup Tasty Restaurants in Busan, it would be 돼지국밥 맛집 부산 and you have a lot of results to check out (go to the BLOG 블로그 section as they normally include maps). LINK to my search results.
To be honest, you don’t even need to be in Korea to use it, in that if you live in Vancouver for example simply search on NAVER for Vancouver Tasty Korean Food which is 밴쿠버 맛집 한식 which brings me to a lot of well recommended Korean restaurants in Vancouver (Results).
So that’s pretty much the food I am planning to eat the next time I am in Korea plus I am sure I will think of some others before I am back. Should you have any suggestions of your own please feel free to share them as I am always willing/wanting to try new and exciting Korean dishes. If you like the look of the food above please feel free to check out my other posts about the food I have eaten in Korea HERE.
There are still some many Korean foods which I feel I should recommend like the Jjimdak I had in Andong 안동찜닭 or the Yukjeon Naengmyeon 육전냉면 I had in Jinju.
Also please feel free to leave comments if you can recommend some delicious Korean food or any snacks that you liked while you were there.