Do you know what the best traditional Korean dishes are? You might be thinking about Korean BBQ, or maybe you’ve seen kimchi and ramyeon for sale in some places. These are just the tip of a culinary iceberg that covers a wide range of dining options. You can plumb the depths of an ocean of exquisite tastes, incredible eating experiences, and a variety of flavours, textures, smells, and sights while enjoying Korea’s awesome traditional foods.
In this article, I’m going to introduce you to 20 of the most mouth-watering traditional Korean dishes that you will be craving long after you return from your trip to Korea. If you have the time, be sure to check them all out as they are very varied and offer unique tastes, some of which you won’t find outside of Korea.
A meal in Korea is like a window into the local culture, where sharing is core to a harmonious society, and meals are typically designed to be enjoyed by many people at once. This makes eating out not only a stomach-pleasing experience, it’s also a soul-warming event that can be lots of fun and lead to some amazing nights out.
Because eating a traditional Korean meal can sometimes be a spectacle, it’s best shared with friends or family. Meals often come with an array of small dishes to sample, a large pot of something yummy boiling or frying away in the centre of the table, and food that has been lovingly prepared by chefs who specialise in this one dish.
Any trip to Korea would be wasted if you didn’t try out at least a handful of these amazing traditional Korean dishes. The hardest part of visiting Korea is having to choose which ones to eat and when! There often isn’t enough time to try them all, so take a look at the list below and see which ones should be on you shouldn’t miss.
If you’re already hungry for more Korean food, then check out my other articles about Korea’s delectable delights below:
Now let’s begin this culinary journey through the top 20 traditional Korean dishes. Make sure you’ve got something to nibble as you read, as you’re going to feel hungry by the end of this!
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Tips For Enjoying Traditional Korean Dishes
I’ve eaten out in Korea way too much. It’s hard not too for many reasons. The food is cheap, delicious, and there is so much variety, a lot more than people realise before visiting Korea.
Before heading into the top 20 dishes, I’ve put together a few tips to help you get even more out of your trip and the delicious Korean meals you’re going to enjoy.
1: Korean food is cheap. Don’t be surprised by how much you get. However, food can get expensive, especially if you want to eat foreign foods. You’re in Korea and so I’d really recommend trying the local foods before looking for something more familiar. If you want to know more about the cost of food and other items when you travel to Korea, check out this detailed guide below:
2: Some meals will be for two or more people and will be indicated on the menu with – 2인 (2 people in Korean). If you see this, then the price is for the whole meal, not per person. This is a big sharing meal and are often much better than individual meals – check them out!
3: Sharing meals (like those found in tip 2) usually come in 3 different sizes, which are represented by traditional Chinese characters. These are as follows:
- 小 – small portion
- 中 – medium portion
- 大 – large portion
A small portion is usually enough for 2-3 people. Remember, the meal will usually come with side dishes, too.
4: Korea’s traditional markets and street food stalls offer some of the most amazing traditional food and are often cheaper and fresher than in a restaurant. Be sure not to miss them when you visit Seoul and other cities. Find out more about where to get great authentic Korean food in Korea below:
5: Traditional Korean meals typically come with side dishes, called banchan (반찬). These are included with the meal and if you ask for more, you can often get free refills for most of them. Don’t be surprised if you order a simple meal and end up with 10 or even 20 side dishes!
6: If your meal comes with a bowl of lettuce leaves (or cabbage), you’re probably meant to use it to wrap the other parts of the meal. Eating a Korean BBQ is a really fun experience and one of the times it’s ok to get your fingers dirty. Pick up some meat, garlic, kimchi, and whatever else you fancy, and wrap it inside the lettuce leaf and pop it into your mouth.
7: Restaurants in Korea always give you free water (sometimes iced tea). This is a great way to get free liquids during the day and is a great way to stay hydrated. Make the most of it as Korea can be hot, especially in summertime.
As with many cultures, Korean meals often come with their own set of rules that you probably won’t be aware of before visiting in Korea. If you want to learn more about these, and avoid embarrassing yourself in front of the locals, then check out my fun and useful guides to Korean etiquette and what to know before travelling to Korea.
Now let’s get to these best traditional Korean dishes. Make sure you take notes for what not to miss.
Top 20 Traditional Korean Dishes You Shouldn’t Miss
Here they are, top 20 traditional Korean dishes you really shouldn’t miss out on when you visit Korea. There’s something for everyone here, even if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, spice-lover or seafood-addict. Read on to learn which delectable traditional Korean dishes you want to add to your Korean travel plans.
1: Samgyeopsal 삼겹살 (Korean BBQ)
A list of the best traditional Korean dishes wouldn’t be complete without Korean BBQ – usually referred to as samgyeopsal. I have to admit, this is my favourite Korean food. Whilst it may be very different from a British or American BBQ, this certainly gives you the same fix and will leave you feeling stuffed.
There are numerous options for BBQ in Korea, with different cuts of meat, but the definitive experience comes from eating samgyeopsal (literally – three layered pork).
Wrap a piece of meat in a lettuce leaf with kimchi, garlic, and whatever else you want to stuff inside. You will be provided a wide range of side dishes with this meal. You can even order all-you-can-eat options in some places. If you’re worried about how to eat this meal, here is some great advice about eating Korean BBQ.
Why you should try it: The iconic Korean meal that is more of a social event than a simple meal. Eat, drink, laugh, and end up in a meat coma with a smile on your face.
Cost: from 10,000 KRW per person, but can vary a lot. Average price per meal is 20,000 – 30,000 KRW. Beef can be a lot more expensive than pork. Typically served as a sharing meal for a minimum of 2 people.
Where to try it: You won’t have a problem finding Korean BBQ restaurants throughout Korea. Here is a list of some of the best BBQ places to visit in Seoul.
2: Kimbap 김밥 (Seaweed Wrapped Rolls)
This simple dish looks like a sushi roll, but is actually one of the most popular traditional Korean dishes. Kimbap (also spelt gimbap) is extremely versatile and can be bought as a snack from a convenience store, or the main part of a meal in a traditional Korean restaurant.
I personally love kimbap as it is light, healthy, and comes in a range of mouth-watering fillings, such as cream cheese, bulgogi (fried beef), lobster, and lots more.
This is a great meal option for those who want to cut their costs while travelling to Korea. It’s also great when you want to go hiking and need to pack a filling snack for the journey.
My favourite kimbap chain is Teacher Kim – Kim Seon Saeng (김선생). You can find them throughout Korea by their simple, distinctive branding. Try the deep-fried shrimp with wasabi, it’s amazing!
Why you should try it: A lot healthier than Korean street food, lots of great fillings, and it’s so cheap and convenient.
Cost: from 1,500 KRW in a convenience store and around 5,000 KRW in a restaurant
Where to try it: Some great kimbap chains in Korea include Kim Seon Saeng (김선생), Kim Ga Ne (김가네), Go Bong Min (고봉민), and Kimbap Nara (김밥나라).
3: Kimchi Jjigae 김치 찌개 (Kimchi Stew)
If you’re visiting Korea during the winter time, then any jjigae (stew) is going to be perfect to recover from the cold. Kimchi jjigae is a delightful mix of cabbage kimchi, tofu, cellophane noodles, pork or tuna, and vegetables, served with a portion of rice.
When the kimchi is sauteed, it becomes softer and releases all its flavour into the stew, creating a hearty broth. You can even add more kimchi as it comes as a side dish, too.
The best way to eat it is to put a bit of rice on your spoon, dip it in the broth, then top it with the other ingredients.
Why you should try it: The perfect Korean winter food. Heart-warming and filling on a cold winter’s day. Cheap and delicious and found in many places.
Cost: about 8,000 KRW per person. You can also get sharing sizes for 2 people (as pictured above).
Where to try it: You can find kimchi jjigae served in many places, even as an extra option when ordering samgyeopsal. This list will guide you to some of the best kimchi jjigae places in Seoul.
4: Chuncheon Dakgalbi 춘천 닭갈비 (Spicy Stir Fried Chicken)
Chuncheon dakgalbi is another of those traditional Korean dishes for those people who love fried meat. This dish combines marinated chicken with a bunch of vegetables, rice cake (tteok 떡 ), chili paste sauce, and other spices. You can also add in noodles and cheese to make it more filling.
These ingredients are all chucked in a large pan and stir fried at your table. A waiter will come to your table every few minutes and mix it all up for you. This makes it a great food to experience, not just eat. Be careful, though, this is also a very messy dish and you’ll want to wear an apron.
Although dakgalbi has spread throughout Korea, it first started in Chuncheon and this is the best place to try it. Head to Chuncheon and visit Chuncheon Myeongdong Dakgalbi Street to sample the finest examples of one of Korea’s best traditional Korean dishes.
Why you should try it: A quintessentially Korean dish that mixes meat, vegetables, and spices together and fries them in a big metal pan. Chuck on some cheese and you’ve got a greedy, satisfying meal.
Cost: a portion of Chuncheon dakgalbi costs around 10,000 – 15,000 KRW per person. Typically served as a sharing meal for 2 or more people.
Where to try it: There are some popular Chuncheon dakgalbi chains in Korea, such as 5.5 Dakgalbi and Yoogane Dakgalbi. For the most authentic meal, head to Chuncheon City and the aforementioned Chuncheon Myeongdong Dakgalbi Street.
5: Tteokbokki 떡볶이 (Spicy Stir Fried Rice Cakes)
This is one of the traditional Korean dishes that you shouldn’t pass up if you’re exploring traditional markets in Korea. Best eaten fresh from the market vendors, this spicy, salty mishmash of classic Korean ingredients is perfect as a snack or meal.
Tteokbokki is a blend of steamed and sliced rice cakes (tteok 떡), fish cakes (odeng 오뎅), and scallions in a sweet and spicy sauce with plenty of chili paste. If you’re eating in a restaurant, then add in some cheese and noodles for a filling meal.
As you can tell from the red colour of this and many other traditional Korean dishes, it’s going to be spicy! Spiciness and the ingredients in the sauce can vary between vendors – everyone has their own secret recipe. Try it more than once and see which is the best.
Why you should try it: You can’t miss it when you’re travelling around traditional markets in Korea. A popular snack for tourists and locals alike, it’s a must-have on your South Korean bucket list.
Cost: As street food, tteokbokki costs about 3.000 – 4,000 KRW. As a full meal expect to pay from 5,000 -10,000 KRW in a restaurant, with cheese and noodles as extras.
Where to try it: Here are some of the best places to get tteokbokki in Seoul.
6: Bibimbap 비빔밥 (Mixed Rice With Vegetables)
If you’re visiting Jeonju, then make sure you try the most beloved and well known of all traditional Korean dishes – bibimbap. Literally meaning ‘mixed rice’, this dish is a jumble of vegetables, rice, chili paste, and is topped off with a fried egg.
This meal is not only healthy, it is also fun to make. You’ll get a bowl of all the ingredients (above) and then get to mash it all up yourself. Add as much gochujang 고추장 (chili paste) as you can handle.
Bibimbap is served either cold, in a metal bowl, or heated up in a hot stone bowl. The hot version is known as dolsot bibimbap 돌솥비빔밥 (hot stone bowl mixed rice). This is the best version in my opinion as the egg and rice stick together and become crunchier.
Why you should try it: Another one of Korea’s national dishes. This meal has gained popularity in Korea and overseas. It’s a healthy mix of vegetables and spices that is perfect in winter or summer.
Cost: A bowl of bibimbap should cost you around 8,000 – 12,000 KRW. The dolsot bibimbap can be more expensive.
Where to try it: You can find bibimbap restaurants in Seoul and all over South Korea. For the most authentic bowl of bibimbap, head to Jeonju and try it in its birthplace.
Jeonju is a historic city south of Seoul that is a great day trip from Seoul. Experience the birthplace of bibimbap whilst exploring the Jeonju Hanok Village – a historic area that shows Korea how it used to be hundreds of years ago. A fun place to dress up in hanbok, eat traditional Korean dishes, and experience Korean culture.
Want To Try Making Your Own Traditional Korean Dishes?
There are loads of great opportunities to experience cooking traditional Korean food in Seoul. Why not try your hand at making some of these delicious traditional Korean dishes and create some fun memories on your travels?
7: Samgyetang 삼계탕 (Ginseng Chicken Soup)
This meal in a bowl includes a whole small chicken packed with rice, garlic, jujube, and ginseng. The thick soup absorbs all of this whilst cooking, leaving a soft, tender chicken and an aromatic, hearty broth. Perfect!
Ironically, this hot, healthy, and delicious ginseng chicken soup is most popular in the summer time. Koreans have a saying that you should fight heat with heat, meaning that you should eat hot food when it’s hot outside. As strange as it sounds, it actually works.
Samgyetang is enjoyed by many people in Korea during the 3 hottest days in summer (sambok 삼복). These are known as chobok 초복 (beginning), jungbok 중복 (middle), and malbok 말복 (last) and during these days everyone eats samgyetang. There are no set dates for these each year, but they’re usually around July and August.
There are some traditional Korean dishes that have to be eaten at the right time. Naengmyeon is the perfect example. This is definitely a summer food and once the temperature starts rising, you’ll find this appear on menus across South Korea. If you plan to visit Korea during summer, be sure to check out my really useful guide to summer in Korea.
As with most traditional Korean dishes, you’ll find the best samgyetang in a traditional Korean restaurant. You can sit on the floor at a long table and indulge in the soup with a wide range of side dishes.
Why you should try it: This is a filling meal that is worth the cost. Perfect during winter, and (if you believe the stories) also great in the heat of summer. Healthy and full of ingredients you might not find in your own country.
Cost: A bowl of samgyetang normally costs between 10,000 – 15,000 KRW.
Where to try it: There are some great samgyetang restaurants in Seoul that will give you an authentic Korean dining experience.
8: Haemul Pajeon 해물 파전 (Seafood Pancake)
If you’re hiking in Korea, you’ll find a lot of restaurants all selling pajeon 파전 (Korean pancake). This is a delicious, salty treat that Koreans love after hiking. Korean pancakes come with a variety of fillings, including seafood with spring onions, beef, pork, and shellfish.
The best of these is haemul pajeon 해물 파전 (seafood with spring onions) and this is a great treat when you’re tired and hungry. They’re fried up on a hot plate and served fresh to hungry hikers who are craving something filling after a long trek.
Dip the haemul pajeon in a bowl of spicy soy sauce and wash it down with another specialty found mostly out near the mountains – makgeolli 막걸리. Makgeolli is a rice wine that is quite creamy and comes in a range of interesting flavours, including chestnut (my favourite), corn, and even banana.
Why you should try it: If you really want to embrace Korean culture, and you’re out on a day trip to Seoraksan National Park or one of the other national parks, you should grab a pajeon and makgeolli and see what the fuss is about. The perfect reward for a long day of hiking or sightseeing. The salty flavours leave you satisfied and ready to sleep.
Cost: A large haemul pajeon costs around 15,000 – 20,000 KRW and can feed 2 people. You might find smaller ones for 12,000 KRW that would be fine for 1 person.
Where to try it: There are many places to get pajeon in Korea, the best ones are usually out in the mountains or away from the city centres. If you’re hiking in Korea, definitely try it.
9: Naengmyeon 냉면 (Cold Noodles)
There are some traditional Korean dishes that have to be eaten at the right time. Naengmyeon is the perfect example. This is definitely a summer food and once the temperature starts rising, you’ll find this appear on menus across South Korea. If you plan to visit Korea during summer, be sure to check out my really useful guide to summer in Korea.
This simple dish of cold buckwheat noodles might not look like much, but it is as refreshing as an ice cream on a hot summer’s day. There are two main varieties of this dish – mul naengmyeon 물냉면 (ice-water cold noodles) and bibim naengmyeon 비빔냉면 (spicy cold noodles).
I prefer the mul naengmyeon (pictured above) as the noodles are drowned in icy-cold water and become so refreshing. It’s topped with thin pieces of radish, cucumbers, and a boiled egg and seasoned with vinegar and mustard.
Bibim naengymeon is mostly the same but instead of icy-cold water, the noodles are splashed with spicy chili paste and form an often deadly bowl of spicy noodles. This dish can be super spicy and so I’d only recommend it for the brave (or foolhardy)!
Why you should try it: So refreshing and uplifting during summertime. The cold noodles give you back lost energy from exploring Korea during the hot days. Simple yet delicious.
Cost: This dish is cheap and can cost as little as 5,000 KRW, but normally you’ll find it for about 8,000 KRW.
Where to try it: There are many great naengmyeon places in Korea and you’ll find the dish on sale from May until the weather gets colder in October.
10: Budae Jjigae 부대찌개 (Army Stew)
I don’t know if budae jjigae really belongs in a list of traditional Korean dishes as the most important ingredient is Spam.
If you’re wondering how such an obviously foreign food item made it into a traditional Korean dish, the answer goes back to the Korean War. Meat was hard to come by then and the American soldiers provided the locals with food aid.
Based on a traditional kimchi jjigae (see 3), this dish was created by adding in the various items from the American army bases. This included Spam, sausages, American cheese, as well as some local items, such as instant noodles and tteok 떡 (rice cakes). You can even find baked beans in some versions.
This unique fusion of American and Korean foods created one of the best dishes in Korea to eat on a cold day. This bright red stew is packed full of meat, noodles, rice cakes, and lots of other rather unhealthy foods, which makes it taste great! Because of this, budae jjigae has spread across Korea and become a regular for group meals and family dinners out.
Why you should try it: Sample some of Korea’s other unique ingredients, including rice cakes and fish cakes, mixed up and in a salty, spicy stew. Great in cold weather and a guilty treat that’s not just for soldiers.
Cost: A big pot of this spicy, hot dish will usually cost around 10,000 KRW per person, with extras available. This is another sharing meal that is best for 2 or more people.
Where to try it: You can find budae jjigae anywhere in Korea. Here are some of the best budae jjigae restaurants in Korea.
11: Maeuntang 매운탕 (Spicy Fish Stew)
Another spicy dish for those who love their food with a kick. This hot, spicy fish stew is made with a range of different fresh fish. How do you know that the fish are fresh? You can choose the fish you want to eat from an aquarium outside the restaurant. That’s what makes this one of Korea’s most loved traditional seafood dishes.
The fresh fish are cut into a number of chunks and then boiled with an assortment of vegetables and a bit of ground beef. To give this dish its signature spiciness, generous helpings of red chili paste (gochujang 고추장) and red chili flakes (gochugaru 고추가루) are added. You can find extras in here, such as shellfish, garlic, and more to give it an unforgettable taste.
Why you should try it: Spice-lovers who want a dish without meat will be pleased with this. Full of fresh ingredients, tastes, and pretty healthy, too. A great combination.
Cost: A serving should cost about 10,000 KRW per person.
Where to try it: Some of the best places to try this dish are at the traditional markets in Korea, including Noryangjin Fish Market in Seoul, and Jagalchi Fish Market in Busan.
12: Sundae 순대 (Blood Sausage)
One of the oldest traditional dishes in Korea, sundae might make people squeamish at first but shouldn’t be missed. Sundae is kind of a cross between haggis and black pudding. It is also really delicious and a wonderful, cheap snack.
It traditionally contained pig or cow’s intestines mixed in with rice and vegetables and was a regular family meal. However, sundae became more of a street food after the Korean War, with cellophane noodles added inside to bulk it out.
You should eat sundae by dipping it into a bowl of salt or other seasoning. It goes well with cold beer, too.
If you think this might be a bit weird, you’re not alone. That’s why I included this meal in my list of strange Korean dishes. Certainly not a bad meal (I eat the soup version all the time), but maybe not what you’re used to.
Why you should try it: Because it’s unique and cheap. One for people who want to indulge in Korean dishes. Live like a student and have a lively meal out with sundae and beer.
Cost: A plate of sundae with a few side dishes can cost as little as 3,000 KRW per portion in cheap restaurants. Sundae in a meal, such as sundae-gukbap (stew with sundae inside) costs around 7,000 KRW with rice and side dishes.
13: Kalguksu 칼국수 (Noodle Soup)
There are many kinds of noodle soups in Korea, but kalguksu is definitely one of the best. Perfect during winter, this hot, steaming broth is simple but can refresh any weary traveller. It is also deceptively filling and hard to finish.
Literally meaning knife-cut noodles, kalguksu has chunky noodles because they are cut by hand and not spun. This gives the noodles a rich taste and make them the star of the dish. Indeed, there isn’t much else in a bowl of kalguksu. You might find shellfish, ground beef, chicken, some vegetables, or cilantro in it, but that’s not a given.
You can find these noodles being cut fresh in some traditional markets in Korea and one of the best portions I had was at Seomun Market in Daegu. Watching the chefs hack up the noodles in front of you, throw them violently into the broth, and serve them directly to you, fresh and spongy, is a culinary experience in itself.
Not only are the noodles some of the best you’ll find, but the broth in some kalguksu restaurants is on par with what you’d find in little old Japanese ramen restaurants where they’ve spent decades perfecting the taste. That’s one of the things I love about Korean food – often they have a limited menu and what they do make has been perfected over generations.
Why you should try it: Very filling. The broth is thick and the noodles are thicker. If you find a kalguksu place with a lot of people in it, don’t miss the chance to try it, it’s bound to be great.
Cost: A bowl of these amazing noodles can cost as little as 5,000 – 8,000 KRW. The noodles in the picture above are about 7,000 KRW and I can only just finish a whole bowl!
Where to try it: Here’s some of the best kalguksu restaurants in Korea. They’ll be busy in winter, and that’s a good sign that they serve a great dish. If you want to try the version above, come down to Daejeon – where kalgusku is one of the local specialties.
14: Manduguk 만두국 (Dumpling Soup)
Korean dumplings (mandu 만두) can be found in a wide range of Korean dishes, but are best when they’re in their own soup. Squeezed in with the dumplings, you might also find tteok 떡 (rice cakes), sliced vegetables, ground meat, or egg.
Mandu come with a variety of different fillings, including kimchi (kimchi mandu 김치만두), meat (gogi mandu 고기만두), shrimp (saewu mandu 새우만두), and vegetables (yachae mandu 야채만두). You usually get kimchi or meat dumplings with manduguk, but good restaurants will have various options.
As with some other traditional Korean dishes, there is a special day that people eat manduguk, and that is New Year’s Day. Start the New Year with a bowl of manduguk if you’re in South Korea at the time. Families work together to make the dumplings by hand.
Why you should try it: For the chance to try spicy dumplings (and non-spicy) with a whole lot of other ingredients. Chew and munch on this hot dish during winter, trying each of the different types of mandu to find your favourite.
Cost: A bowl of manduguk is about 8,000 KRW per person. You can also get large pots of manduguk for couples or families with lots of extras inside from 20,000 KRW.
Where to try it: You can find many great mandu restaurants across Korea. These places will mostly serve manduguk, as well as regular mandu.
15: Hwareo-Hoe (활어회) (Raw Fish)
Hwareo-hoe is one of the best traditional Korean dishes to eat if you’re visiting Busan or any other seaside town or city. This is more than what you’d expect from Japanese sashimi, hwareo-hoe has other options beyond the normal thin slices of fresh fish.
Dip the gentle slices in soy sauce and wasabi and indulge as if you’re in Tokyo, or grab some lettuce or cabbage to wrap the raw fish in. Take a lettuce leaf and place the fish inside, along with some garlic and whatever else you like. Add in some of the dozens of extra side dishes and the result is more like a Korean BBQ, but with fresh seafood.
Not only are there slices of raw fish, you’ll find a medley of colourful, and sometimes more alive than expected, other types of seafood and shelffish. Additional side dishes could include more seafood, kimchi, garlic, soup, soft crabs, fried fish, and more. You’ll certainly never leave a hwareo-hoe restaurant still hungry!
If you’re feeling really brave (and it’s on the menu), why not try some hongeo-hoe – raw fermented skate. Not for the faint hearted, that’s for sure!
Why you should try it: You’ll find lots of essential nutrients in this juicy traditional Korean dish. If you’re by the coast (not hard in Korea), then you shouldn’t miss out on some of the seafood caught fresh from the seas surrounding Korea.
Cost: Meals can vary in price and start from an average of 15,000 KRW per person, up to 50,000 KRW for a wider range of fish. They typically come in set meals priced per person with various courses. Expect wave after wave of fresh fish and associated dishes at the best seaside restaurants.
Where to try it: Seafood fans should check out these great seafood restaurants in Busan. You can find good hwaroe-hoe anywhere by the beach in Korea.
16: Yangnyeom Tongdak 양념 통닭 (Sticky Fried Chicken)
Yangnyeom tongdak might not seem like the most authentic of all traditional Korean dishes, but its popularity means that it deserves a place on this list. With more than 20,000 fried chicken restaurants in Korea, this is definitely one of the national dishes.
Yangnyeom tongdak stands out above other flavours and types of chicken due to its finger licking qualities. This bold mix of sweet, sour, and spicy sauce lavishly spread over regular fried chicken just works. Topped off with crushed nuts, it’s irresistible.
You can find this as a snack at a Korean baseball game, as a meal on its own, or anywhere selling Korean street food. Grab a cup of it and dip your fingers in if you don’t mind getting messy, or use some chopsticks if you do.
Koreans love fried chicken so much there is even a chicken and beer festival in Daegu.
Why you should try it: Finger licking good is more than just a saying, it’s the reality of eating Korean fried chicken. The combo and chicken and beer is one enjoyed around the world, but few countries do it as well (and as reasonably priced) as Korea. Definitely try the yangnyeom flavour!
Cost: Served as street food, this will cost around 3,000 – 5,000 KRW. As a main meal in a restaurant, expect to pay about 10,000 – 15,000 KRW per portion. One portion can be enough for two people sometimes.
Where to try it: This is one of Korea’s most popular traditional dishes, so you’ll find fried chicken restaurants everywhere Here are some of the best places in Seoul.
17: Ojingeo Bokkeum 오징어볶음 (Spicy Stir Fried Squid)
I’ll admit I didn’t expect to like ojingeo bokkeum when I first tried it as I’m not a massive fan of squid. However, the soft, tender texture of the squid in this meal makes it surprisingly delectable. You should definitely add it to your list whether you like squid or not.
The sweet, spicy sauce adds a lot to the taste of squid and goes great with the vegetables, too. Stir frying the lot together leaves a fresh, crisp, sweet, spicy, and not too fishy dish that you’ll want more and more of.
Why you should try it: This is one of the most popular traditional Korean dishes and Koreans eat this at home or at restaurants all the time. It’s easy to make and served quick and fresh.
Cost: A plate of this usually costs around 8,000 – 10,000 KRW per person.
Where to try it: Look for the pictures of friendly squid outside restaurants and they’ll probably serve ojingeo bokkeum. As this is a quite simple dish, you could even try making it at home.
18: Bossam 보쌈 (Wrapped Boiled Pork)
Koreans love to wrap their food in lettuce and cabbage and bossam takes this to another level. This is a meal all about dipping and wrapping slices of boiled pork – which is more appetising than it sounds. It’s also healthier than fried alternatives.
If you’re going to order bossam, you usually need at least two people. That’s to cover the wide range of extras that comes with this meal. A typical bossam meal comes with a big plate of sliced boiled pork, at least 3 types of kimchi, raw garlic, dipping sauces, and several different things to wrap all of that in.
Choose your favourite ingredients, select one of the dipping sauces or salt, wrap them all up in a lettuce leaf, cabbage leaf, or even a sesame leaf (perilla), and then eat in one go. The best part of this meal is experimenting with combinations of all of these separate options.
Why you should try it: As much fun as eating samgyeopsal, but less smoky and probably a lot healthier. This is also a great dish to enjoy whatever the weather. Try the various types of wraps and find your favourite taste.
Cost: A set meal will usually cost around 15,000 KRW per person with a minimum of 2 people eating. If you visit these restaurants at lunch, you can sometimes find smaller lunch sets for around 10,000 KRW per person.
Where to try it: Bossam isn’t as common as some of the other meals on this list. It’s best to check out some of the best bossam restaurants in Seoul and plan your trip to one.
19: Bulgogi 불고기 (Korean Grilled Beef)
Bulgogi is one of the oldest traditional Korean dishes you can find in Korea. Literally translated as fire (bul 불) meat (gogi 고기), this dish is very adaptable and bulgogi can be found in many different meals. You will usually find it barbecued though.
The sliced beef is marinated and then grilled to give it a wonderful smoky, rich meaty taste. Wrap the freshly cooked meat in a lettuce leaf (like samgyeopsal), add extras, and then shove it into your mouth in one go. This style of eating might seem strange to foreigners, but is completely normal to Koreans.
You can find bulgogi in many parts of Korean cuisine, including bulgogi burgers, bulgogi kimbap, and many more dishes.
Why you should try it: A nice alternative to samgyeopsal, especially if you can’t eat pork. You’ll get all the same side dishes and have fun wrapping up the meat, but this time it’s thin slices of beef.
Cost: Bulgogi can be surprisingly cheap, starting from as little as 10,000 KRW per person. You might pay more depending on the place. This tends to be a sharing meal, so make sure to bring some friends.
Where to try it: Check out some of these great bulgogi restaurants in Seoul for the original fried bulgogi dish. You’ll find bulgogi served in lots of other meals, too.
20: Doenjang Jjigae 된장찌개 (Soybean Paste Stew)
You might be thinking that all traditional Korean dishes are unhealthy after seeing lots of fried and barbecued foods. Don’t worry, there are also many healthy foods to try, including doenjang jjigae.
The basic list of ingredients – doenjang 된장 (soybean paste), tofu, mushrooms, peppers, scallions and a strong broth – might make you think that this is a simple meal. Served with rice and kimchi though, you’ll certainly feel full afterwards.
You’ll fall in love with the complex mix of flavours and the unique taste that doenjang provides.
Why you should try it: This dish is perfect on a cold day and will revive and restore you when you’re not feeling well. An innocent treat with no guilt.
Cost: A bowl will cost under 10,000 KRW with all side dishes included.
Where to try it: Doenjang jjigae, as well as other types of jjigae 찌개 (stew), can be found throughout Korea. Here are some awesome jjigae restaurants to try out.
Bonus – Kimchi 김치 (Fermented Vegetables)
Of course, no list of traditional Korean dishes would be complete without mentioning kimchi. Although this isn’t a dish in itself, you probably won’t eat any of these dishes without it.
There is nothing as ubiquitous as kimchi in Korean cuisine. It is served with every meal of the day (yes, even breakfast!), and every type of meal. It makes a great side dish to snack on, goes great in a stew, fits nicely in a wrap with BBQ or boiled meat, and even belongs in a taco.
Koreans also believe that it has miraculous health benefits, including reducing cholesterol and stopping stomach cancer. It can even keep you young! Whether or not these all work, you certainly can’t travel to Korea without trying kimchi.
My personal favourite is aged kimchi, which has a stronger taste but also isn’t as spicy. If you want to learn more about kimchi whilst visiting Seoul, why not check out the Kimchikan Kimchi Museum?
Why you should try it: It’s healthy, sooo Korean, and goes well with a whole load of dishes.
Cost: Usually free with any Korean meal.
Where to try it: Everywhere
Any Traditional Korean Dishes To Recommend?
If you want to recommend any other wonderful Korean dishes, then please feel free to share in the comments or start a discussion in the friendly Korean Travel Advice & Planning Group on Facebook. What’s the unmissable traditional dish that you can’t live without in Korea?
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Here are some other great articles that you might want to read about travelling in Korea. Remember, if you have any questions about anything, please feel free to post a comment or join the Korea Travel Advice and Planning Facebook Group.