If you are heading towards Korea then, you are one of the awesome, the brave and open minded. Korea is an undiscovered country that is currently trending. While I was growing up, I would eat kimchi in secret since many thought it was a pungent and unrefined dish. Now Kimchi can be found at gourmet grocery markets such as Whole Foods. However, the so-called Korean foods you have been having overseas is nowhere close to what you would find in Korea. Koreans have a particular palate and a different perception of what constitutes a snack, a meal, and drinking food. We’ll get into all that later, but if you make into Korea, here is my list of 5 must eat Korean dishes.
5. Dakgalbi: Spicy Chicken Stir-fry
What was once considered a plebeian, college kid’s meal has gone mainstream and become a favorite among the masses. The name of the dish is laughable since it translates to chicken ribs (dak=chicken galbi= rib meat). The dish is made with the whole chicken that is then marinated in a spicy, red chili paste sauce (gochujang) and then stir-fried at the table with cabbage, sweet potato, rice cakes and onions. The finished dish is a filling, complex dish covered in a spicy, sweet sauce. The leftover bits of chicken, veggies and sauce are then used to make a fried rice dish or mixed with noodles.
Jongno-gu Insadong 136 bonji
4. Dolsot Bibimbap: Korean Stone Bowl Mixed Rice
One of my favorite aspects about Korean food is the cookware which is often made from thick pottery or even stone. The food should be served hot and kept hot throughout the meal and the cookware, which is also used as servingware, helps with this. Dolsot Bibimbap is a perfect example of what Korean food is: it is balanced with variety of ingredients, made with a multitude of textures and the food cooked using various methods. The stone bowl is heated on the stove and then topped with rice, vegetables, meat, egg, and then mixed with a fermented red chili paste sauce. This dish is often served with soup and various side dishes.
Namsangol Sanchae Jip
Jung-gu, Yeajang-dong 8-16
3. Haemul Soondubu Chiggae: Seafood Soft Tofu Stew
In Korea, soups are a meal when served with rice and some side dishes. Koreans are masters of soups and these come out bubbling hot in ceramic bowl called a ttukbaeggi. Seafood Soondubu is made from uncurled tofu in a broth made from chili oil; a light seafood broth; veggies like garlic, squash and onions; seafood like clams and shrimp and a raw egg dropped in just as it arrives at the table. It's sunshine in a bowl and perfect with a bowl of steamed rice. The best places make the tofu on site and it resembles cottage cheese rather than the silky blocks of tofu many are familiar with.
Seoul, Jongno-gu Jaedong 84-11
2. Bingsu: Shaved Ice Dessert
In Korea, skip the ice cream and go for the snowflake shaved ice topped with various toppings. It’s light in flavor and it takes on the characteristics of its toppings. My favorite is injeolmi powder which is a roasted nut and bean powder, almonds and rice cake. You can also get more sweet toppings like strawberries and cheese cake, honeydew, green tea powder and sweetened red bean, coffee and chocolate and even red wine. The possibilities are endless and each year cafes compete to create finer, lighter shaved ice and more creative bingsus.
Mapo-gu Seogyodong 358-37 2nd Floor
1. Sutbul Galbi: Korean Charcoal Barbecue
If you come to Korea and you don’t have barbecue, I don’t think they let you leave the country. You have to do Korean barbecue for the smells, the flavors, the heat encapsulates what Korea is. The most prevalent style is pork belly or samgyeopsal barbecue. Koreans love pork and you can have the different cuts and have it marinated or just fresh. One of the recent food trends is super spicy pork ribs that you dip in melted cheese. If you like beef, then you have to try the marinated beef ribs that are cut laterally around the ribs, scored on both sides and then grilled over charcoal. If you don’t eat meat, there are still seafood options. My favorite is grilled shellfish. The shellfish is grilled in their shells and then topped with kimchi, butter and cheese. Amazing.
Located in B1 of the Gran Seoul Mall
Jongno-gu Jongno33 (Cheongjindong)
Bio on the Guide Daniel Gray
Daniel Gray is a Korean-American Adoptee that returned to Korea in 2005 to rediscover his roots. He started writing on his blog, Seoul Eats, as a hobby and then ventured into food related projects. He is a Korean food expert that has worked on and appeared on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain, the Kimchi Chronicles, Gourmet Diaries of a Foodie, Unravel Travel, and much more. He was the marketing and tour manager of a leading tour company from 2010-2015 where he started the first food tour programs in Korea. He is currently the president of Delectable Travels (www.delectabletravels.com) and owns two restaurants: Brew 3.14 and Brew 3.15 in Seoul.