Korean foods I can’t live without

Living in Korea, I have access to some of the most amazing cuisine in the world. While Korean food is starting to gain popularity around the world, there are still so many dishes that the average person might not be aware of.

Today we’ll look at a few Korean foods that I couldn’t live without.

Namdaemun Market, Seoul
Fresh dumplings (mandu / 만두) being steamed in Namdaemun Market, Seoul.

BBQ

Ask anyone what is the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Korean food, and there’s a good chance they’ll say Korean BBQ. BBQ comes in countless varieties. From pork to beef to chicken, the options are endless. You also get to customize your meal with a variety of sauces, vegetables, and toppings.

If this doesn’t make you hungry, I don’t know what will!

Perhaps the most popular variety of BBQ is grilled pork belly, called samgyepsal. This cut of pork isn’t necessarily the healthiest, as it’s basically a big slap of uncured bacon. However, grilling it at the table and wrapping it in a lettuce leaf is one of the delights of living in Korea.

Korean BBQ goes ridiculously well with alcohol. A nice cold beer, or a shot of soju is the perfect pairing. Another joy of Korean BBQ is the communal feeling as everyone in the group helps cook the meal at the table, and can enjoy the meal as a family of sorts.

Kimchi

Perhaps the most ubiquitous of all Korean foods. This pickled cabbage dish is a staple at any Korean meal. While Kimchi has a long history, it is now known as a spicy side dish with plenty of pro-biotics and other things that are healthy for your body. Michelle Obama even promoted this health food!

Fresh, homemade kimchi! One of my all-time favorite foods.

While the smell and taste of kimchi can be a bit intimidating to the first timer, it is well worth trying. It is as versatile as it is healthy. It can be eaten cold, fried, stewed, or more. It can be added to a ton of different dishes as an ingredient. Basically, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t eat kimchi in some way or form.

If you’re unable to find kimchi at a local grocer, you’re in luck! It’s an easy (and forgiving) recipe that you can customize to your liking. Check out this video to see an easy way to make kimchi at home.

Ramen

When you think of ramen, do you think of cheap, tasteless instant noodles packed full of sodium and MSG? Do you consider this a food you ate in college, and wouldn’t touch as an adult?

Well, Korea has taken what we think of ramen and turned it into a true treat. Ramen(라면) can be found in dozens of flavors. New flavors are continually released. The most common, shin ramyeon, is spicy, and enjoyed by Koreans in a cup, or by cooking on the stove.

So much ramen, so little time.

What sets Korean ramen apart is how they cook it. Packs can include 3 or 4 different sets of flavorings and toppings. It’s normal to add other toppings as well, such as egg, cheese, green onion, or fish cake. The sky is the limit when it comes to customizing your bowl of ramen.

I have eaten Korean ramen in convenience stores, unstaffed restaurants, and even in Business class of Korea’s major airline Asiana Airlines. While the dish might sound simple, it is something that I always keep in my cupboard.

Check out this unstaffed Korean ramen shop in Seoul! Everything is self-serve AND unlimited! Eat all the ramen you want!

Want the perfect recipe for Korean ramen? Check out this video! Chef Roy Choi has perfected the recipe, and luckily, it’s easy to re-create! What’s the secret ingredient? Watch to find out!

Jokbal (Korean pig feet)

Right off the bat, you might be thinking “Pig’s feet? That’s nasty! Ain’t nobody got time for that!” And you’d be…wrong. Jokbal (족발) is an amazing pork dish. It’s less of the actual feet, and more of the leg.

Pork trotters are boiled in a variety of herbs and spices. They are sliced, and served with various toppings. I like to make a lettuce wrap with some spicy sauce and raw garlic. The meat is unbelievably soft and moist. It is also full of collagen (which is reportedly good for your skin).

This is another dish that pairs well with beer and/or soju. Don’t be put off by the name. If you’re visiting Korea, you’ll definitely want to check this dish out. Put away any preconceptions you might have, as any pork-loving person (such as myself) will surely enjoy this meal.

However, if you simply can’t get past the idea of eating pig’s feet, then try bossam. This is a similar dish, but made with boiled pork belly. At many restaurants, you can get a combination of both of these dishes. Bossam is a little fattier (it’s the cut of meat that’s used for grilled samgaepsal) but equally delicious.

Don Katsu

This is definitely a foreigner-friendly dish. Thin slices of pork are battered and deep-fried, served with a sauce (ketchup and Worcestershire sauce usually). It can be stuffed with cheese or sweet potato. You can even get deathly spicy versions of this dish!

This dish has Japanese origins, but Koreans are putting their own spin on the dish. This can be found in various restaurants, including the ubiquitous Kimbap Chunguk. This is a dish that many new expats become very-well acquainted with as it is an easy way to introduce yourself to Korean food.

While one serving of donkassu (the romanization is up for debate) is often enough, I enjoy checking out some of the places offering free refills. You can sit and enjoy all the deep fried pork you heart desires.

Ddeokbokki

No trip to Korea would be complete without trying ddeokbokki. This is a food that is loved by every generation in Korea. Rice cakes are stir-fried in a spicy sauce, bubbling away with fish cakes and boiled eggs.

This food can often be found being sold on the street, and is especially delicious on a chilly evening. For those of you who might not enjoy spicy foods, don’t worry! You can often find this in different varities, including a soy sauce base, or even a cream base!

There’s nothing like standing outside a busy street food vendor enjoying a plate of spicy, chewy rice cakes. The sauce is especially delicious, and you can dip various fried foods in it.

Ddeokbokki Town in Sindang Dong is a great place to try this dish. A street is lined with sellers selling the dish. Best of all, you can cook it right at the table! Feel free to customize the taste by adding various ingredients including cheese or fried dumplings!

In general, food in Korea is an interesting journey. Depending on your taste, you’ll find things you love, and things you despise. There are certain foods I can’t live without, and others I hope to never try again. But the only way to find out is to try them! Let your taste buds lead you on a culinary adventure the next time you’re in Korea!

What Korean foods can you not live without? Comment below!

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