There are many things that make Seoul, South Korea an amazing travel destination. It has incredible art museums, amazing historical temples, beautiful mountainous surroundings where you can take a nice hike, and a vibrant culture full of warm, friendly locals. But the thing that really made me fall in love with South Korea was the cuisine. Spicy, sour, salty, and sweet, Seoul food packs incredible flavour–and most of it’s healthy!
Here’s 5 dishes that will make you want to stay in Seoul forever:
Bibimbap is the only Korean food that most foreigners have heard of, and with good reason. This one-bowl wonder is bursting with flavor. Cooked in a stone bowl, the dish arrives sizzling with white rice at the bottom, topped with assorted vegetables like sprouts , sesame carrots , garlicky spinach , soy-glazed mushrooms, kimchi, and of course, a fried egg to top it all off. You would be hard pressed to find a more perfect lunch.
2. Kimchi Stew
Kimchi is the most iconic of Korean foods. This spicy fermented cabbage has a very strong flavour and can be divisive, but it’s one of my all time favorites. It’s also incredibly good for you, as most fermented foods are. Kimchi stew comes with a vibrantly red and super savoury broth, powered by sauteed kimchi, and also includes silken tofu, juicy pork, and scallions. You’ll see locals piling on the dried seaweed–a delicious and ultra-nutritious addition. Korean winters can get quite cold, and on a steely grey day, there is really nothing better than a hot bowl of this hot and spicy comfort food.
3. Dak Galbi
This dish is another classic Korean comfort food. Filling, cheap, and super flavourful, it’s a huge hit with students and you can find Dak Galbi shops lining the streets in hip, university areas like Hongdae. As with many Korean restaurants, they cook the dish on the table right in front of you, with a stir fry of chicken, cabbage, and the spicy-sweet Korean pepper paste gojuchang, the secret ingredient to pretty much every Korean food. You can choose to mix this colourful stir-fry with rice of ramen noodles and top it with–no, really–mozzarella cheese. Normally cheese and stir-fry don’t mix, but the ooey-gooey result is really to die for.
4. Korean BBQ
Often imitated, never duplicated, real Korean barbecue is an incredible experience. Much like the dak galbi shops, there’s a grill right in the middle of the table, but this time you get to do the cooking yourself. You choose from the menu which meats you want, and they bring them to you raw, accompanied by about a dozen little side dishes–kimchi, pickled daikon, dried fish, seaweed salad, etc. and lots of incredible sauces. Pair your meal with a bottle of soju (a rice-based liquor that the locals drink like water), and you have the perfect evening of cooking, eating, and drinking with your friends.
Japchae is a real crowd-pleaser, as it is one of the few traditional Korean dishes that is complete mild and is not accompanied by kimchi, a very love-it or hate-it ingredient that can send some foreigners running for the hills. This simple and light dish is made from cellophane noodles, sauteed veggies and a delicious and slightly sweet soy-based sauce. After a vacation full of fiery foods, this is a great dish to cool down with.
There are so many more Korean dishes that are worth a try–salty and sweet beef bulgogi, rich and spicy pork backbone stew, and, if you’re the adventurous type, there’s always live octopus, a local delicacy. No matter what your tastes are, you’ll likely find a Korean dish that will make you fall in love with this beautiful country, its welcoming people, and its incredible chefs.