The wide variety of delicious local cuisine on offer in South Korea is a great reason to visit the country. Typical Korean meals are largely based around rice, vegetables, and meat served alongside a number of banchan (side dishes), but ingredients and dishes vary by province and certain foods are reserved for special holidays.
Many visitors to the country may know about famous South Korean foods such as the national dish, Kimchi or the ‘Korean pizza’, Pajeon, but there are a number of lesser-known delicacies to try. Read on to discover comprehensive South Korea travel advice for typical food to sample in the country.
What Is Typical South Korean Food?
Most typical meals in South Korea, consist of a bowl of soup or stew accompanied by a bowl of rice and a range of side dishes. This model for meals even extends to breakfast. It is also common to serve various kinds of grilled meat as a main component of a meal.
One basic accompaniment which you are likely to encounter alongside most meals is Kimchi, South Korea’s national dish. This is a fermented vegetable side dish which can be made in a number of ways, but the most common variety is prepared with cabbage, cucumber, and radish. As it is usually quite spicy, those unaccustomed to the taste are advised to first try it in small quantities.
Other common condiments in South Korea include Jeotgal, made from fermented salted seafood, Doenjang (fermented soybean paste), and Gochujang (a paste made from chili peppers). These popular side dishes are often preserved in traditional clay containers and commonly found for sale at local markets.
One of the most popular ways of cooking food in the country is Samgyeopsal, or Korean barbeque, and there is an innumerable number of restaurants where you will be able to sample some. The custom is for diners to prepare the meat themselves directly at their table, which usually has a centrally-placed grill and even comes with a smoke extractor.
If you visit the country during Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving, make sure to try the traditional delicacies of the holiday. Typical South Korean food for Chuseok includes Songpyeon rice cakes, jeon pancakes, and Korean pears.
What Food Should I Order at a Korean Restaurant?
All meat-loving travelers to South Korea should sample a meal in a Samgyeopsal barbeque restaurant at least once, even though they tend to be quite expensive. Foreign tourists who travel to Seoul will also find a variety of restaurants open 24 hours a day where they can sample traditional Korean fare, as well as more international offerings.
The most typical Korean dishes visitors to the country should try in restaurants include:
- Bibimbap – An extremely common food named for the word “bibim” which means mixture, this dish is made up of a combination of boiled rice, vegetables, and marinated meat served with gochujang sauce and an egg on top. One of the least spicy typical dishes in Korea
- Bulgogi – Thin strips of veal marinated in a mix of soy sauce, chopped garlic, sesame seeds, sesame oil, onion and ginger. Bulgogi can either be grilled, cooked in the oven, or fried, and it is most commonly eaten alongside rice and vegetables
- Jokbal – A popular meat dish made of pork legs boiled alongside vegetables and served with shrimp sauce. There are a number of restaurants in South Korea exclusively dedicated to Jokbal
- Pajeon – A type of Korean tortilla made from a wheat flour and rice-based paste, and usually served with leeks and generous amounts of garlic. Pajeon is often commonly accompanied by seafood such as octopus, cuttlefish, mussels or prawns and often known as Korean Pizza
- Mul Naengmyeon – A cold broth made with noodles, zucchini, sesame and egg, and served with ice cubes, this unique dish is both tasty and refreshing
- Ssiat Hotteok – A common dessert sold at street stalls and which originally hails from the city of Busan, Ssiat Hotteok consists of a rice-flour bun filled with a mix of nuts, seeds, brown sugar and cinnamon.
Drinks to Accompany Traditional Korean Food
When enjoying a traditional meal in South Korea, you may want to consider one of the following common alcoholic drinks as an accompaniment:
- Soju – A distilled clear rice wine often compared to vodka, but much sweeter. It can either have a natural taste or be complemented with fruity flavours
- Makgeolli – A milky-coloured, low-alcohol sparkling rice wine normally drunk in metal containers. Makgeolli is usually quite thick, sweet and compared to the taste of apple cider
- Maehwasu – A refined plum wine made from freeze-processed green plum extract. Sweet and mild, it is often marketed as a softer version of Makgeolli geared towards female consumers.
Those who prefer something milder still may want to consider trying a typical South Korean beer. The most common brands are Cass and White, which are both inexpensive and can be found in most bars. South Koreans also love coffee, and visitors to the country will find a wealth of cafés where they can try flavorsome local blends.
Before planning to visit the country and sample the range of typical South Korean dishes and beverages, foreign citizens should check the visa policy of South Korea to see whether they are required to obtain a travel document for entry.
A number of nationalities will soon be able to apply for an electronic visa for South Korea through a simple online application, eliminating the need to apply for a visa from an embassy or consulate.