Tourists visit Seoul and South Korea for many reasons, but one common pull is the delights of Korean food. Seoul is a superb destination for foodies, with an array of restaurants, markets, and street stalls to get yourself stuck into.
Koreans love to eat and you will find restaurants serving local food everywhere. With so much to choose from, it can feel a bit confusing to know where to start. Our guide will help you make sure you don’t leave Seoul without trying to main stars of Korean cuisine.
It is impossible to write a list of foods to try in Korea without mentioning Korean BBQ. This is one of the dishes that is available in most countries today, although it rarely lives up to those offered in Korea.
BBQ restaurants are everywhere in Korea, and each will have its own take on the classic dish. Some will serve a selection of meats, while others will specialize in just one. Pork is the most traditional meat to BBQ but you can find other meats like beef and lamb.
Obviously, it goes without saying that the BBQ is the star of the show, but the side dishes deserve a mention. These differ between restaurants but there are usually beansprouts, kimchi, and tofu.
Mandu has been a part of Korean cuisine for a long time, and they were a popular menu item in the Korean court way back in the 14th century, so they have been a firm favorite for a long time.
These dumplings come in a vast range of fillings, so they are a great thing to keep exploring around Seoul and South Korea. Some of the most traditional flavors are minced pork, kimchi, and bulgogi.
Another great thing to seek out is mandu soup (known locally as mandu-guk). This is a wholesome broth flavored with anchovies and kelp. Omelet, carrot, Shitake mushrooms, and rice cakes (tteok). The light broth and the plump dumplings are comforting and nourishing all in one bowl.
Koreans love their desserts so no list of Seoul’s best food is complete without something sweet. One of the most popular Korean desserts is Bingsu.
Bingsu is a milk-based dish made of shaved ice. The most traditional version is flavored with red bean paste, which is EVERYWHERE in Seoul. If red bean isn’t to your taste, there are lots of different flavors on offer, such as strawberry, caramel, and green tea. Seasonal flavors are a big deal in Seoul, so expect to find cherry blossom, mango, and ? depending on the time of year you visit.
Bingsu is such a popular dish that there are cafes that serve only this. They are a great place to go to find some more interesting flavors, perfect on a hot Seoul day.
If you don’t know much about Korean food, chances are you have come across bibembap. In the last couple of years, it has become very popular, popping up on trendy menus around the world.
If you want to know what bibembap is, you just need to look at what the word means. ‘Bibem’ translates simply as mixing, and ‘bap’ is rice, so this dish is a rice bowl that is mixed with a selection of toppings.
The most traditional and common toppings are sliced cucumber, carrot, courgette (zucchini), and pickled radish. There is then either cooked meat, which is usually needed, or tofu if you are vegetarian. It is finished off with sesame oil, the obligatory kimchi, and a kick of gochujang.
If you don’t love spicy food, you might worry that you will struggle to find anything to eat in South Korea. Luckily, there are lots of great dishes that won’t leave your mouth burning. One of these is gimbap. It is a loose relative to sushi but definitely has its own flavor and thing going on.
In basic terms, it is a rice dish rolled in a sheet of seaweed. You can get it with a variety of things in the middle. Unlike sushi, it is rarely raw fish. Instead, some popular options are tuna, bulgogi, kimchi, and cream cheese.
Gimbap is perfect for grabbing on the go and you will be able to find it almost everywhere. You can even find it in 24-hour convenience stores, although this isn’t the best quality.
A popular street snack, Tteokbokki is everywhere in Seoul. It is a simple dish, made up of cylinder-shaped rice cakes, cooked in a spicy sauce flavored with the Korean staple, gochujang.
Although cheese is traditionally Korean, it is everywhere in Seoul! You will see ‘snow cheese’ on lots of menus, which is a mild cheese that melts WELL, making great cheese Instagrams. Cheese tteokbokki is common and definitely something to look out for if you are a cheese lover.
At most of the street stalls, you will find the traditional tteokbokki made with spicy gochujang. If spicy isn’t too much for you to handle, don’t panic! Some of the more modern restaurants sell other versions of tteokbokki. Some reimaginings of the dish include cream tteokbokki with a carbonara-style sauce, curry tteokbokki, and rose tteokbokki, which is a mixture of cream and the classic sauce.
This delicious dish isn’t that well-known outside Korea, which is such a shame! Dak galbi translates to chicken rib, although it isn’t actually ribs. Everyone sits around a large pan, and then chicken, rice cakes, and cabbage are cooked in a spicy sauce. Other elements can then be added, such as ramen, rice, and cheese. It is essentially a spicy Korean chicken stir fry. It can be a little spicy so it is not a dish for the faint-hearted!
To start, you choose what you would like in your dak galbi. Once you have decided, the chicken, sauce, cabbage, and rice cakes are added to the big dish. As far as I have experienced, it is cooked by the staff and not by you. This takes off some of the pressure.
Similar to BBQ, you will be brought a selection of side dishes. These differ between restaurants but generally comprise kimchi, seaweed soup, and perilla leaves.
Korean food is some of the tastiest food you can find, and what’s more, it is all relatively healthy. Wandering around Seoul tasting all the city has to offer is one of the best ways to spend a day if you ask me!