*WARNING* This post contains content that will make your mouth water and stomach grumble. I recommend that you read this while within close proximity to a Korean restaurant*
My parents had a difficult time with me as a child because I was an extremely picky eater and I have food allergies. Turns out, I just have more of an Asian palette. When my mom came to visit, she was surprised to see the all of the different kinds of food I was eating. For example, in America, I don’t eat soup lol. I don’t like creamy things or white sauces and that kind of stuff is prevalent in Western cooking. Imagine her shock to see me downing soups and stews left and right.
Here’s some background info on Korean food. I’m not going to get all historical and whatever, just some basics things that novices should know. .
- Korean food is spicy. It’s nowhere near the level of Thai spicy or Indian spicy, but it has it’s own unique flavor. You can find red pepper powder/고추가루 in almost every Korean dish. To be quite honest, I don’t find Korean food to be that spicy, but people with low spice tolerances might struggle a bit.
- Fresh vegetables aren’t a huge part of the diet. Don’t get me wrong, vegetables are huuuge part of every meal (much more so than back home), but they’re usually fermented! Apparently fermented food is quite good for you, but sometimes I just want to eat a fresh cucumber instead of one covered in stuff.
- Being a vegetarian/vegan is really hard. If you plan to eat out a lot while in Korea, eating a plant-based diet is super rough. People do it, but I have no desire to go through all of the effort and discomfort in Korea. Even food that looks vegetarian usually has some sneaky meat broth or fish sauce that you can’t really ask to be removed.
OKAY. Let’s get to the point of this post – what to eat in Korea! I’m going to start with food that shouldn’t be too offensive to a non-Korean palette. Also, I don’t want to be super basic with this list, I going to give you food options other than kimchi and bulgogi.
- Korean BBQ – Stop right there. Korean barbecue is nothing like American barbecue. It’s not smoked for hours and slathered in sauce (which I absolutely love and miss, btw), instead it’s given to you raw and you yourself (usually) cook it at your table! I could honestly write a whole post about Korean barbecue (Good idea, Christina. You should do that.) so I won’t go into too too much detail. Just know that Korean barbecue is exquisite and is more of an experience than just a meal. I haven’t met a single meat eater who didn’t like it.
- Jjimdak/찜닭 – This translates to steamed chicken but that doesn’t capture the magnificence of this dish whatsoever. I mean, just look at that picture! It screams so much more than “steamed chicken”. If I were to describe the flavor, I’d say sweet soy sauce chicken and veggies with chewy noodles? A lot of prep goes into the making of this dish (trust me, I tried and failed) and you can definitely taste all of the effort. The sauce/marinade permeates each separate component beautifully.
- Dak (Chicken) Kalbi/닭갈비 – This dish is probably the spiciest one on the list, it’s another meal that is cooked in front of you (however, you don’t have to do any of the cooking). Dak kalbi is a beautiful mixture of chicken, cabbage, sweet potatoes, chewy rice cakes, chewy noodles (jjolmyeon), spicy sauce, and if you ask for it, CHEESE. Once you try cheese dak kalbi, there’s no going back to the regular kind. Pro Tip: When you’re just about finished with the dish, leave a little of the sauce and bits and pieces behind. You can ask the waiter to make you fried rice (볶음밥) in the same pan. It’s sooooo good.
- Pajeon/파전 – One of my absolute favorites, this dish literally translates to green onion pancake. There are several varieties of jeon, however, and my favorite is kimchi jeon. Because it’s surrounded by delicious “pancake” dough, it’s not spicy at all, just super flavorful. You can also find potato (not so good, imo) and seafood versions of this dish. Sidenote, jeon is meant to be eaten while drinking Makgeoli, which is traditional Korean rice wine and comes in many flavors.
Okay, that’s all for today, folks. Next time, I’ll tell you about more amazing Korean foods. I’ll just be here chilling and drooling as I wait to get off work. What’s your favorite Korean food?
Stay beautiful ❤