30 Korean food we can’t live without

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1. Hangover stew (해장국)
2. Kimchi (김치)
3. Soft Tofu Stew (순두부찌개)
4. Samgyeopsal (삼겹살)
5. Jjajangmyeon (짜장면)
6. Chimaek (치맥)
7. Instant noodles (라면)
8. Kimchi Stew (김치찌개)
9. Army Stew (부대찌개)
10. Soy sauce crab (간장게장)
11. Tteokbokki (떡볶이)
12. Gopchang (곱창)
13. Samgyetang (삼계탕)

14. Bibimbap (비빔밥)
15. Gimbap (김밥)
16. Ppeongtwigi (뻥튀기)
17. Bingsu (빙수)
18. Gamjatang (감자탕)
19. Haemul Pajeon (해물파전)
20. Jjambbong (짬뽕)
21. Sundae (순대)
22. Kongguksu (콩국수)
23. Galbi (갈비)
24. Chuncheon dakgalbi (춘천 닭갈비)
25. Bossam (보쌈)
26. Hobakjuk (호박죽)
27. Gyeranjjim (계란찜)
28. Naengmyeon (냉면)
29. Bulgogi (불고기)
30. Nakji bokkeum (낙지볶음)


The fact that there are over 100 distinct varieties of kimchi should tell you something about Koreans’ pride in their food.

Korean cuisine has altered through time due to cultural changes, yet it remains an important part of the country’s character.

Here are 30 vital Korean foods for the heart, soul, and digestive tract.

1. Hangover stew (해장국)

Given South Korea’s committed drinking culture, it’s no surprise that the country’s hangover-curing culture is as developed, with everything from pre-drinking beverages to post-drinking drinks to a beautiful selection of spicy and steaming stews and soups.

The truly gratifying flavor, made from beef broth, cabbage, bean sprouts, radish, and bits of congealed cow blood, works wonders to jump-start your sluggish brain in the morning.

2. Kimchi (김치)

Kimchi is the cherished spicy partner at every Korean meal, dating back to the Silla Dynasty (approximately 2,000 years ago). It’s created by salting and preserving fermented cabbage in a bed of red pepper, garlic, ginger, and scallion.

Are you feeling daring? Replace red cabbage kimchi with ggakdugi (chopped radish kimchi), a popular side dish at gimbap eateries.

Yeolmumul kimchi is milder kimchi prepared with floating young radish stalks in a sour liquid.

3. Soft Tofu Stew (순두부찌개)

Soft tofu, clams, and an egg in a spicy broth? This famous stew is a great example of unexpected taste combinations producing wonderful feelings.

The soft tofu, which breaks into fluffy bits in the stew, holds the clam flavor and provides a welcome reprieve from the overall spiciness.

Sundubu-jjigae is served in a traditional ceramic pot meant to preserve heat. After serving, the egg is broken into the stew and cooked in the bowl.

4. Samgyeopsal (삼겹살)

Samgyeopsal is the Korean term for pork belly, and it’s a popular dish at what many Westerners refer to as Korean BBQ restaurants.

The best thing about eating at a samgyeopsal restaurant is the atmosphere – a wild party interrupted by soju shots, pig strips sizzling on a grill, and requests for “one more serving, please!”

Ssamjang (a combination of soybean paste called ‘doenjang’ and chili paste called ‘gochujang’) or salt and pepper in sesame oil is smeared on the meat, which is served with lettuce, perilla leaves, sliced onions, and raw garlic.

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5. Jjajangmyeon (짜장면)

Despite being a Chinese dish, Koreans have taken the noodles and produced a fatter, sweeter variant that bears only a passing similarity to its Chinese counterpart. (Think about New Yorkers and their pizza-making prowess.)

It would be an understatement to suggest that Korean diets would be incomplete without this meal; most Koreans eat it on a daily basis and have a favorite jjajangmyeon delivery restaurant on fast dial.

6. Chimaek (치맥)

Chimaek, which translates to “chicken, maekju (beer),” is more of an institution than a food. This exquisite combo combines two unexpectedly ordinary foods: fried chicken and beer.

Neither the chicken nor the beer are especially noteworthy on their own. However, their appeal as a group indicates a magnificent mix that millions of Koreans consume every weekend.

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7. Instant noodles (라면)

Anyone may boil water and sprinkle in the spice packet as directed on the back of the ramyeon packaging, but aficionados will add additions like canned tuna, eggs, and cheese for added flavor.

8. Kimchi Stew (김치찌개)

A lesser-known aspect of kimchi is its adaptability as a component in a myriad of derivative recipes that have their own category.

Red cabbage kimchi is diced, sautéed in oil, and cooked with tofu, pork (occasionally tuna), and other vegetables in kimchi-jjigae.

Despite its connection to kimchi, the stew is at its best when served with kimchi as a side dish.

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9. Army Stew (부대찌개)

This jumbled stew of sausages, Spam, American cheese, quick noodles, tteok, and other veggies dates back to the Korean War’s aftermath.

Because meat was limited, cooks sought inventive substitutes in leftover goods from the American army installation stationed in Seoul, thus the stew’s name.

Although meat has become more available since then, a buddle jjigae without Spam remains unthinkable.

10. Soy sauce crab (간장게장)

Ganjang gejang, or soy-marinated crab, is so addicting that it’s commonly referred to as “rice thief,” with the joke being that you keep eating more rice just so you can have more gejang because it’s simply that amazing.

The flavor is somewhat acidic, tantalizingly bitter, spicy, and chilly, which may surprise first-timers. However, among South Koreans, the gejang has carved out a niche for themselves as a centerpiece rather than a sideshow to other seafood.

11. Tteokbokki (떡볶이)

This classic red-orange street dish is so popular that it has its own neighborhood in Seoul. It consists of steamed and sliced rice cakes (tteok) cooked with fish cakes (oden) and scallions in a sweet and spicy chili paste sauce.

Chefs have been known to include everything from black soybean paste to plain old ketchup in the sauce. Call us masochists what you will, but one thing is certain: the more pepper, the better.

12. Gopchang (곱창)

Gopchang are tiny intestines from hog or cow that may be prepared into soups, stir-fried, or grilled after being sliced into spherical portions.

Another essential component of Korean BBQ culture is grilled gopchang. It’s chewy without being rubbery, and it’s a little more celebratory than samgyeopsal, but it’s still a really earthy cuisine.

And, as numerous office employees in South Korea will tell you, it goes perfectly with soju.

13. Samgyetang (삼계탕)

Continuing along the masochistic strain, Koreans have a saying that goes, “fight heat with heat.” What that means is they love to eat boiling hot dishes on the hottest summer days.

The most representative of these is samgyetang, a thick, glutinous soup with a whole stuffed chicken floating in its boiling depths.

The cooking process tones down the ginseng’s signature bitterness and leaves an oddly appealing, aromatic flavor in its stead – a flavor that permeates an entire bird boiled down to a juicy softness.

14. Bibimbap (비빔밥)

This Korean lunch-in-a-bowl combines a basic salad of rice, mixed veggies, rice, meat, and egg, seasoned with sesame oil and a dab of chili sauce.

Although Korean rulers of old might be surprised at how the regal meal has become so imprinted in the masses’ palates, we adore how inexpensively and swiftly we can consume our favorite lunch.

15. Gimbap (김밥)

The process of making gimbap resembles the Italian glasswork technique of millefiori, and indeed, the finished gimbap often looks too pretty to eat.

Sauteed vegetables, ground beef, sweet pickled radish, and rice, rolled and tightly wrapped in a sheet of laver seaweed (gim), and then sliced into bite-sized circles.

16. Ppeongtwigi (뻥튀기)

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to get stuck in daytime Seoul traffic, you will see the ppeongtwigi sellers emerge from nowhere and park themselves in the center of the highway. Their fearlessness is a sure sign that your car won’t be budging for a while yet.

Ppeongtwiti is onomatopoeic. The ppeong represents the sound that rice makes as it pops, and there really isn’t much else to the snack but that – popping.

If you’re feeling tired of all the greasy, barbecue-flavored, chocolate-covered, and over-packaged snacks that most stores stock today, try a handful of this relatively Spartan treat. It’s unexpectedly addictive.

The best places to find it are at the local seller down the street.

17. Bingsu (빙수)

Sweetened red beans (pat) and tteok are served on a bed of shaved ice (bingsu) in this refreshing summer treat. Condensed milk, misutgaru, syrup, ice cream, and corn flakes will be among the variations.

Then there are the bingsu versions, in which the pat is often fully replaced with ice cream or fruit.

Classic patbingsu, on the other hand, is too popular to succumb to newcomers – by summer, every bakery and fast food restaurant in Seoul will have patbingsu on their dessert menu.

18. Gamjatang (감자탕)

In Korean, gamja means potato, but in the case of this substantial dish, it implies pig bone soup.

Because South Koreans want this stew in the early hours of the morning as an alternative to hangover stew, most gamjatang restaurants are open 24 hours.

This substantial recipe includes gamja potatoes, onions, crushed perilla seed, and pig chunks simmered in a pork bone broth. The major draw of this stew is the distinct flavor of the perilla seed, which may be more vital to the flavor than the meat.

19. Haemul Pajeon (해물파전)

Crunchy and filling, Korean pancake tastes best when it comes studded with shellfish, cuttlefish, and other varieties of seafood, to make haemul (seafood) pajeon.

And with its traditional companion of Korean rice wine, makgeolli, pajeon makes the perfect meal for a rainy day.

20. Jjambbong (짬뽕)

This is the soupier, spicier counterpart to jjajangmyeon, and the two combined constitute the foundation of Korean Chinese home delivery food.

However, while the noodles dominate in terms of volume, the onions and chile oil that flavor the soup are what truly draw your attention. Few are able to complete this meal in its whole, with huge quantities of chile oil-saturated onions and other veggies on top of the noodles, but many attempts.

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21. Sundae (순대)

Another street food, sundae is a type of sausage, similar in content to blood pudding, with roots in Mongolian cuisine. “Real” sundae is a pig intestine with a stuffing of cellophane noodles, vegetables, and meat, but even if you eat the street vendor version, which uses a synthetic replacement for the pig intestine, you will still be able to enjoy the lungs and liver on the side. Yum.

22. Kongguksu (콩국수)

Some may find this seasonal meal uninteresting, but if you learn to appreciate the mild flavor of the bean, you will develop a love for this cool, creamy, textured noodle dish that no other dish can fulfill in the summer.

If the pale, spring green julienne cucumbers atop the hand-ground, snow-white soybean don’t give it away, kongguksu is a highly healthy meal that’s also vegetarian.

23. Galbi (갈비)

Galbi, which translates to “rib,” can be made from pig or even chicken, but when you say “galbi” without any modifiers, you’re talking about broad slabs of meat marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, minced garlic, and sugar then grilled over a decent fire.

Beef galbi may, of course, be used to create soup (galbitang) and steaming galbi (galbijjim). However, while these dishes are great in their own right, they are eclipsed by their grilled boss.

24. Chuncheon dakgalbi (춘천 닭갈비)

On the other end of the galbi range is Chuncheon dakgalbi, which is a favorite among students because it is cheap.

Chuncheon is a city in the province of Gangwon. It has its own special way of cooking chicken that has been marinated.

In this dish, chunks of chicken are stewed in a sauce made of chili paste and other spices, then stir-fried in a big pan with tteok, cabbage, carrots, and slices of sweet potato.

25. Bossam (보쌈)

As is the case with many South Korean meat meals, Bossam’s main ingredient is simple: steamed pork.

But the key to this dish is that the cooked pork is cut into pieces just a little bigger than a bite, lovingly wrapped in a leaf of lettuce, perilla, or kimchi, and doused with a dipping sauce. There are two traditional options: ssamjang, which is made of chili paste and soybean paste (doenjang), or saeujeot, which is a painfully salty pink sauce made of tiny pickled shrimp.

26. Hobakjuk (호박죽)

This thick, yellow-orange juk, or mush, gets its name and main ingredient, pumpkin, from its color and taste. Peeling the pumpkin, boiling it, and mixing it with sticky rice flour makes a bowl of porridge that is so creamy, golden, and sweet that it almost seems more like pudding than porridge.

Hobakjuk is often given as a starter or as a healthy food. It is said to help people who have problems with their intestines. Even if you don’t know much about how medicine works, it’s easy to see how this slightly flavored meal could help heal.

27. Gyeranjjim (계란찜)

This side dish, which is made by beating an egg in a bowl, adding a little salt, and steaming it until it turns into a soft, pale yellow cake, is a must when eating hot food.

Soft tofu (sundubu) and gyeranjjim are both made of tofu, but gyeranjjim has more taste and is sometimes made with diced mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, leeks, and sesame seeds on top.

28. Naengmyeon (냉면)

Every week in South Korea, people can’t wait for summer to start eating naengmyeon. Cold buckwheat noodles are a great light lunch or way to clean your mouth after eating Korean barbecue.

Mul naengmyeon, also called “water” naengmyeon, comes from Pyongyang in North Korea. It is made of buckwheat noodles in a tangy meat or kimchi soup, topped with thin slices of radish, cucumber, and egg, and seasoned with vinegar and Korean mustard (gyeoja).

Bibim naengmyeon, also called “mix” naengmyeon, has most of the same ingredients as regular naengmyeon, but it doesn’t have any soup. Instead, chili paste is used to make a sauce that goes over the noodles.

29. Bulgogi (불고기)

If galbi is like Korean barbecue, then bulgogi is like Korean food in general. During the Joseon Dynasty, this well-known sweet meat dish, which has been around in some form for more than a thousand years, was the height of cooking.

The dish is also a favorite in fusion cuisine. Bulgogi-flavored burgers are on the menu at the fast food chain Lotteria, and the bulgogi sandwich has also been seen.

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30. Nakji bokkeum (낙지볶음)

In this long-time favorite, octopus and veggies are stir-fried in a sauce made of chili paste, chili powder, green peppers, and chili peppers. Each of these ingredients is spicy on its own, but when they come together, they make a dish that is even spicier.

When it’s done right, the chewy, soft octopus swims in a thick, dark red, caramelized sauce that tastes so good that you can ignore the fact that it sets your mouth on fire so you can keep eating.

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