Great Korean food can be found virtually everywhere in vibrant Seoul, from street vendors along narrow alleyways to classy restaurants within 5-star hotels. Many of these delicacies have existed for more 2,000 years, and were only consumed by royal families in Korea.
Today, Korean food has become so popular that locals and tourists alike describe them as savoury, spicy, hearty and nutritious delights that can be enjoyed at any time of the day. With that being said, we’ve compiled a list of top Korean foods in Seoul you must sample during your stay in South Korea’s capital city.
This signature Korean dish has been around for more than 2,000 years, dating back to the Shilla Dynasty. Kimchi consists of Korean cabbage, radish, pumpkin, onion, ginger, and scallion with chili powder, crushed garlic and salted seafood, which is then left to ferment.
With more than 200 variations available in Seoul, this traditional cuisine is eaten on its own or with white rice, and added into porridges, soups, and rice cakes. Kimchi is also the basis for many derivative dishes such as kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae), kimchi pancake (kimchijeon), and kimchi fried rice.
Another must-try during your visit to Seoul is bibimbap, a filling and nutritious dish that’s widely available in restaurants, food courts, and street markets. Depending on region and ingredients used, bibimbap can be served as a meat-based or vegetarian dish.
The most common bibimbap consists of warm rice topped with mixed vegetables, beef or chicken, and raw egg, as well as soy sauce and a dollop of chilli pepper paste for seasoning. Ideal for seafood lovers, there’s a variation of this Korean mixed rice dish called hoedeopbap, which replaces meat with raw seafood such as salmon, tuna, or octopus.
Red Rice Cakes (Tteokbokki)
Tteokbokki is a traditional Korean street food that’s made with thick slices of garaetteok (boiled rice cake), fish cake, onions, diced garlic, salt, sugar and assorted vegetables that are stir-fried in sweet red chili sauce. Distinguished by its bright red-orange ensemble, this popular snack is usually sold at street vendors and independent snack bars.
Bulgogi consists of thin slices of marinated beef sirloin that are cooked alongside sliced onions, green peppers, and garlic using a charcoal burner, resulting in a distinctive smoky flavour. Prior to grilling, the meat is marinated between two and four hours in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper, garlic, onions, ginger, and sugar to enhance its flavour and tenderness.
This dish is also served with a side of leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach, which is used to wrap a slice of cooked meat, often times along with ssamjang (spicy paste) and kimchi.
Korean Stew (Jjigae)
There are many different varieties of jjigae in Seoul, but this Korean stew usually contains meat, seafood or vegetables in a broth seasoned with hot pepper paste (gochujang), fermented miso (gaenjang), soybean paste, or salted fermented shrimp (saeujeot). Usually served as a palate cleanser between heavier dishes, jjigae has a similar consistency to a western stew.
One of the most popular jjigae dishes in Seoul is budae jjigae (army stew), which incorporates bacon, sausages, and Spam meat as well as ramyeon noodles and rice cakes mixed with gochujang paste for a spicy flavour.
A Korean-Chinese fusion dish, jajangmyeon uses thick handmade wheat noodles topped with raw cucumber slices and a mixture of salty black soybean paste, diced pork and vegetables. Priced from 5,000 won onwards, this hearty noodle dish is great for when you need a quick meal that doesn't break the wallet.
It s also usually eaten by singles on Black Day, which takes places each year on April 14th. Those who do not receive gifts during Valentine’s Day wear black attire and gather to consume black-coloured food such as jajangmyeon.
Samgyeopsal is another staple Korean dish that requires little culinary skills, where chunky slices of pork belly are cooked on a grill at the diners’ table. It's then wrapped in lettuce or sesame leaf with dipping sauces and accompaniments such as button mushrooms, green chili peppers, green onions, raw onions and garlic, as well as kimchi.
A popular dish among young working adults in Seoul, samgyeopsal is usually paired with a shot (or 2) of soju liquor.
- Opening Hours: Daily 11:00 – 23:00
- Address: 18, Baekbeom-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul
- Tel: +822 719 4848
Korean Fried Chicken
Korean fried chicken takes on the quintessential American fast food with its own unique flair. Unlike its American counterparts, the chicken is coated with a sweet and spicy sauce (some restaurants add green pepper inside the batter for a spicier kick) before double frying it in vegetable oil.
As a result, the meat is very juicy on the inside, while the lightly battered skin is crunchy with very little grease. It is a popular late-night snack that’s typically served with beer.
Spicy Cold Noodle (Bibim Nengmyun)
Bibim nengmyun is served in a stainless steel bowl with a cold broth, julienned cucumbers, Korean pear slices, boiled egg, and slices of cold boiled beef. The long and thin noodles are made from flour and buckwheat or sweet potatoes, though seaweed and green tea are also used for other variations.
Symbolising longevity of life and good health, the noodles are traditionally served without cutting, but diners can request for waiters to cut the noodles according to their preference.
Gingseng Chicken Soup (Samgyetang)
Locals believe that the body’s energy must be replenished during summer, so it is a common practice for them to consume a piping hot bowl of samgyetang (chicken ginseng soup) between the months of June and early September.
This nourishing soup consists of a small spring chicken stuffed with chestnuts, garlic, dried jujubes, ginseng, glutinous rice, and gingko nuts. The ingredients are then slow-cooked until the meat is very tender and the thick broth permeates a slightly bitter yet fragrant taste.