My Food Adventures in South Korea: What to Eat in South Korea and Where to Eat It!
So I don’t think it is any secret by now that eating local cuisine is one of the main reasons why I love to travel!
I save extra money for travelling because I prefer to eat out as much as I can and splurge on unique dishes that I can’t get anywhere else in the world.
Food, especially when you are forced by budgetary concerns to eat street food or in local restaurants makes you interact with the local people in ways you wouldn’t otherwise do.
It forces you to learn basic parts of the language, to get out of your comfort zone when you suddenly don’t have an English menu and has in the past provided some amazing stories and travel experiences for me.
So upon realising I was about to venture over to South Korea, one of the first things I did was research food and local dishes to try and work out what to eat in South Korea.
Whilst there are quite a few Korean places in Melbourne I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to explore Korean cuisine outside of just generic Korean BBQ at Mrs Kims.
Thus my trip to South Korea meant lots of new and wonderful dishes!
Here is a summary of my eating adventures throughout South Korea!
What to Eat in South Korea- Savoury
Upon arriving in Seoul I met up with a friend that had already been in Seoul for a few days. We went down some little alleyways until we found a little restaurant with absolutely no English menu. He just pointed to the menu on the wall that was all in Korean.
Fortunately Matt’s Korean is pretty good so we were able to list off some dishes until the restaurant owner confirmed that he did have Bibimbap.
Bibimbap consists of a bowl of rice with lots of Korean side dishes on top and a whole fried egg. Every restaurant has their own unique mix.
Sometimes it has meat but in most cases this dish is a really good option for vegetarians, particularly given the lack of vegetarian options in this part of the world.
Bibimbap is a simple, quick and cheap meal and a dish I enjoyed many times in South Korea.
Korean’s love their meat. In fact after three weeks in South Korea the food I was most looking forward to was some fresh steamed vegetables- something that is distinctly lacking in Korean cuisine.
The cheapest options were pork which I had a few ways. The pork belly is the most common option and on average costs around 12,000 won or $15 Australian.
As always every meal in Korean comes with the complimentary side dishes that can be replenished at any time. Every restaurant has their own offerings of sides too- although some typical ones are kimchi (the famous fermented cabbage), rehydrated lotus plant, the samyang sauce and the chive salad.
In Gyeongju we tried some of the thinly sliced pork. It was basically like bacon BBQ but still delicious. It was also very cheap. We drank so much beer and soju but the bill still came to around 16,000 WON each.
And we got to sit in this room full of graffiti!
Whilst pork is definitely the most common form of BBQ meat you can also find beef although it is usually a bit pricier. We ate at a place in Hongdae called Doma that only specialises in beef and had a delicious meal of some fantastic cuts of beef including ribs and wagyu steak.
I found Korean BBQ was a nice simple dish to turn to when I didn’t necessarily feel like anything too rich or spicy.
Seafood is delicious in this part of the world and a fair bit cheaper than Australia. I ate the most seafood at the Noryangjin Fish Market including sannajki (live octopus), hoe (Korean sashimi) and Korean fish soup. You can read about my full experience at the fish market in this post.
When we realised we wouldn’t be getting into Jonymyo shrine without the English tour that was still an hour away we set off to find some lunch.
When I’m in doubt of where to eat I follow my one golden rule of finding good local food. I look for a place that is packed with locals.
We found this cute little restaurant that satisfied this test. Although the language barrier is pretty big in South Korea (for some reason not many people seem to speak English) the restaurant owner made a huge effort to help us order. He looked up the translation on his phone to give us the two lunch specials- pork cutlet or soy bean.
We both went with the pork cutlet. It’s basically a Korean version of pork schnitzel and the sauce it came with was so delicious.
For only 6,000 won we couldn’t go wrong.
When we were speaking to the Korean women on Mt Namsan about the different foods we had tried in South Korea she told us that Beef Bulgogi is one of those dishes that the locals don’t eat very often but seem to be popular with foreigners.
Essentially a marinated beef that is cooked in broth the few times I tried bulgogi I wasn’t a huge fan. It was pretty fatty and the meat never seemed good quality.
Gimbap and Kimbap
Gimbap and Kimbap are Korean versions of sushi. They are quite different and Koreans will get offended if you try and compare it to sushi. They are usually a bit larger than the Japanese nori rolls and have all sorts of fillings from vegetables to ham.
Gimbap is essentially just a smaller, bite-sized version of Kimbap. At the Gwangjang market they serve Mayak Gimbap which translates to ‘drug gimbap’, named for how delicious and moorish it is!
This is also the cheapest meal you’ll find in South Korea- averaging around 2500 won or $3 AUD.
I don’t think I took a picture of this because I was so excited to eat it!
Yukhoe is beef sashimi or the Korean version of beef tartare.
They pile some seasoned raw beef over julienned pears and top it with a raw egg. They only use the best cuts of meat to make Yukhoe.
This is quite an adventurous dish but I thought it was super yummy.
The best place to get Yukhoe is at Gwangjang market in Seoul that has a particular alley dedicated to the dish called Yukhoe alley.
Bindaetteok (Mung Bean Pancakes)
This is a very old Korean dish. It’s made from ground mung beans and traditionally a dish made by poorer people who couldn’t afford meat.
To be honest I wasn’t a huge fan of the pancake and found it quite dry. However my friends really liked it.
If you go to the Gwangjang market which is where we got this dish from don’t order the mini plates of different types of fried vegetable pancakes known as Jeon as they almost always have been sitting there for a while and are pretty gross.
Stick to the Bindaetteok as pictured above!
Koreans love this fermented cabbage so much they basically put it in everything. It always adds another level of spice to a dish!
This is a type of soup that is often ordered after a meal or a BBQ. You order it with some rice which you then dip into the broth and eat. It was super delicious and a great way to end our pork BBQ feast in Gyeongju.
This was by far my favourite dish in all of South Korea and I was lucky enough to eat it twice.
This dish is native to Chuncheon- a city 3 hours north of Seoul. However you’ll find it in almost every major city.
Most Dak Galbi restaurants only specialise in this one dish so we had to seek them out when wanting to try it.
The best way to describe Dak Galbi is basically a Korean version of paella. It consists of a combination of chicken in a chilli marinade, cabbage, rice cakes and sweet potato, which they throw on a hot plate in the middle of your table to cook.
Once you have eaten half of it you order some rice which includes a combination of rice, nori and spinach. The rice caramelises on the hot plate and combined with the leftover Dak Galbi is absolutely delicious.
Dak Galbi is typically served with a cold soup as it’s usually so spicy you need something to cool you down.
However when they see that you are white they are more likely to give you medium spice which was just fine for us. You can also just ask for it to be less spicy!
They pack so much flavour into this one dish and you’ll end up eating so much food because of the generous size of the servings.
Definitely a dish you can’t leave South Korea without trying!
Forgot about the Deep South of America, Korea is one of the best places to get some fried chicken.
We went a couple of times in Daejeon and in Hongdae but the pinnacle of fried chicken in Korea for me was a little dive bar near our guesthouse in Hongdae called Reggae Chicken.
It’s a little, dimly lit restaurant with a very Jamaican theme. You’ll find reggae music (of course), pictures of Bob Marley and hemp flavoured ‘Kannabis’ beer. But don’t be mistaken- the fried chicken here is quintessentially Korean and when you combine it with the amazing sauce that comes with it you have a match made in heaven.
I made an appearance at Reggae Chicken three times during my stay in South Korea including on my first day, last day and one drunken night in between where we stumbled into the restaurant just after midnight. I don’t have any recollection of that night except for the taste of fried chicken!
What to Eat in South Korea- Drinks
Soju is a typical Korean alcohol. South Koreans love drinking so it’s no surprise that one of their most popular drinks is pretty much rocket fuel.
Depending on the flavour you get Soju is about 4-6.5 standard drinks but is deceptively easy to drink. It comes served in basically a beer bottle which makes you first think that it is about the alcoholic content of a beer.
Thus when I first drank Soju I woke up the next morning not having remembered anything! Be careful when it comes to trying this particular part of Korean culture!
What to Eat in South Korea- Sweet
Bingsu is a traditional Korean dessert consisting of shaved ice topped with sweetened red bean.
The taste itself is actually delicious, especially the shaved ice part which has a creamy texture which is probably because of the addition of some other ingredient.
However no matter how sweet the red bean was I couldn’t get over the texture which didn’t seem to belong in a dessert. It was almost like eating baked beans with icecream texture wise!
I think Bingsu is definitely something you need to try while in South Korea but I wasn’t exactly running back to get more!
Soft Tree Soft Serve
We found this amazing ice cream place in Seoul called Softree. They make delicious homemade organic soft serve which they serve with a variety of toppings. My favourite topping was the whole piece of fresh honeycomb.
Softree have stores all over Seoul including in the districts of Itaweon, Hongdae and in the Lotte Mall food court.
I’m sure this, along with Dak Galbi, are the two dishes I’ll be dreaming about long after I’ve left South Korea!
Where Should I Stay in South Korea?
If you are a budget traveller or are just looking to make some friends, I always recommend staying at hostels. I stayed at Pencil Guesthouse and Hostel in Hongdae and it was superb!
AirBnB is also a great option if you are on a budget or looking for a bit of space.
For all of your bookings, whether hostel or hotel I always recommend Booking.com, specifically because most of the time you can make a reservation without a deposit and many bookings are fully cancellable and refundable. I love being able to lock in my accomodation early, but then shift things around if my plans change!