Korean cuisine encompasses such a wide range of foods and styles that it’s difficult to know where to start. Even harder still if you’re looking for recommendations while you’re in Korea. That’s where we come in. After traveling the country for over 10 years, this is our list of favorite Korean dishes and where to eat them.
One of the most accessible (not to mention popular) dishes in the world, bulgogi is on most lists when traveling to Korea. Seasoned pork (or beef) is fried in a pan or a wok and served with a bevy of veggies to keep things healthy…ish, but mostly flavorful.
There are plenty of variations on the dish, but we have a soft spot for Royal Tteokbokki with Bulgogi served at Insadong Geujip. We’ve been eating here for the past decade and it’s always a crowd pleaser among visiting friends or family.
- Insadong Geujip (Insadong)
The perfectly grilled pork belly is a thing of beauty. Golden brown and sparkling with oil. The edges have a light crisp on the first bite and they pop with flavor. You might pair it with an order of kimchi jjigae and follow up your main course with a bowl of cold noodles. For the perfect night out, samgyeopsal is a must.
- 2 Billion (Yeonnam/Hongdae)
Tteokbokki is stir-fried rice cake cooked in a spicy sauce. It’s often found at pojang machas (red tend street vendors) but also in restaurants and bars. Tteokbokki is an essential part of any trip to Korea. If live in Seoul long enough and you start to recognize the tteokbokki sauce variations. You can taste the fresh peppers, how much tomato sauce was added in, and even whether the recipe used sugar or honey. There are thousands of tteokbokki restaurants in Seoul serving multiple varieties of the dish. Whether you’re looking to try something traditional, old-school, or a modern take, you really can’t go wrong.
It’s amazing how much a bowl of soft tofu stew can improve your day. The signature red stew with chunks of soft tofu make my heart warm and my mouth water. Whether you’re looking to cure your hangover or just get some comfort food (Korean style), sundubu jjigae really hits the spot.
- Delicious Sundubu Jjigae & Kimchi-jjim (Sinchon)
Baekban is a throw-back to old school Korean meals. Literally meaning “100 side dishes,” baekban restaurants bring the side dishes to the stage as the main course. There’s nothing more impressive than having a small army of side dishes appear on your dinner table. These restaurants are becoming rarer, but the few that still exist are pure magic.
- Sigol Bapsang (Itaewon)
It doesn’t matter where you’re from, you’re bound to have fond memories of pancakes. Just seeing the word pancake on a menu is enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up with excitement. Korean pajeon is a savory dish made by frying a batter with green onions and a variety of toppings.
Make no mistake, while Korean pancakes are enjoyable for all-ages, they pair best with makgeolli (a traditional rice wine). There’s nothing better than watching the rain with a bowl of rice wine and crispy Korean seafood pancake. Or maybe a kimchi pancake. Or maybe you want a potato pancake smothered in cheddar cheese. Maybe.
- Pyeongdaeri Mungseok (Jeju)
Kalguksu is the general term for knife-cut noodles served in a hot broth. When cooked, the noodles are soft with a slight chewy texture very much different from rice noodles or even ramen. Kalguksu comes in a variety of flavors from beef to seafood, but chicken kalguksu is especially delicious.
Gobchang is the short intestine of a pig or cow and it is not an entry-level Korean dish. Typically, it is eaten grilled or fried. Either way, gobchang is known for having a fatty and meaty flavor. And when dipped into salt or garlic-y sauces, it is the definition of savory. The semi-chewy texture takes some getting used to, but it’s a wonderfully beloved dish that pairs well with a late-night beer or soju.
- Jeongob (Jongro 3ga)
Ox-bone soup has its origins in Joseon-era Korea when the king was looking for recipes using widely available ingredients. It makes perfect sense because ox-bone soup is literally made from slow-cooking ox-bones until you end up with the milky broth that is… delicious. Served in stone pots with noodles and rice, it’s literally a dish hundreds of years in the making.
- Wehgojip Seolleongtang (Samseongdong)