Everything We Ate in South Korea


This is (almost) all the food we ate during our 2 weeks in South Korea.

The absolute number one thing we were looking forward to in South Korea was the food.

It did not disappoint.

We were introduced to new dishes we had never had before, and some old dishes that we had eaten bastardized versions of.

This post consists of photos (some of which lack quality because they were taken on my phone – or maybe because I was all like “screw these photos, I just wanna eat this!”), videos, and information that will help you find the perfect meal in South Korea.

Note: This list has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to hide our McDonald’s shame.

Incheon


Koren Fired chicken in Incheon

Hold. Hold! HOLD!

Chicken and Beer

Chicken and beer is popular in South Korea because it’s awesome and Koreans aren’t dumby-dumbs. KFC in Korea stands for Korean Fried Chicken, and let me tell you something. It’s better than the chicken that old crusty colonel is serving up. When ordering, you have to keep in mind that you’ll be getting a whole chicken chopped-up into standard drums, thighs, breast, even the head. When you take this into consideration, it’s not really that expensive of a meal. Well, that depends on how many beers you need to wash it all down.

Our first meal in Korea had to be fried chicken and beer – not because it’s what we wanted most, but because it would always be in the back of our minds when deciding what to have for dinner. We needed to get it out of our system.

Korean fried chicken is usually double-fried so it’s incredibly crispy. You can get it with a sweet and spicy sauce on it, or plain. Better yet, make like me and order the banban (반반) – half sauced, half not.

Sinpo International Market – 신포국제시장

Address: 11-5, Uhyeon-ro 49beon-gil, Jung-gu, Incheon
인천광역시 중구 우현로49번길 11-5 (신포동)

Sinpo International Market has a lot of amazing food. Unfortunately, their must-try snack is Dakgangjeong (닭강정) – boneless chicken pieces fried and covered in a sweet spicy sauce. It’s popular all over Korea, but Sinpo is known for it. We shouldn’t have blew our chicken wad the night before, cause this chicken looked amazing.

A cook coats some chicken in sweet and spicy sauce

Dakgangjeong being sauced up.

Here’s what we did eat at the market:

jeon in Sinpo Market, Incheon, South Korea

Bindaetteok (빈대떡)
One of the first of many bindaetteoks that we would take down on this trip. This one was unfortunately served to us cold, so it wasn’t great. More on bindaetteok below.

hot bar in Sinpo international market

Hot bar (핫바)
Kind of like a corn dog but it’s wrapped in a sort of fish cake. We tried the hotdog version but they also had crab, cheese, and lots more.

doughnuts in Simpo Market, Incheon, South Korea

Kkwabaegi (꽈배기)
Who would have thought that South Korea would have a strong doughnut game? We had a fresh hot Korean twisted doughnut. It was honestly one of the best doughnuts I ever had.

The Korean Drinking Culture

That night we went out for Korea’s most popular alcoholic drink, soju (소주). While I’m sure many of you are aware of soju, I’m not sure you know how deadly this stuff is. The name translates to burned alcoholic drink. While the first one might burn, it eventually starts going down pretty smooth. A typical bottle sits at about 20% alcohol and costs a couple bucks.

We watched a neighboring table take down 3 bottles a person. We stopped at 2 each plus a couple beers (not that we were counting), drinking it down with a very tasty Korean pancake.

Kimchi-buchimgae (김치부침개) a korean kim chi pancake

Kimchi-buchimgae (김치부침개)
This kim chi pancake is the perfect companion while drinking. It’s shallow-fried in oil making it crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. There’s a very slight spiciness to it.

The next day we were absolutely devastated due to hungover. There was a lot of vomiting. A lot of headaching. A lot of wanting to die. To make matters worse, we had to checkout of our hotel and head to Seoul that day. Thankfully, the checkout time was 1PM, so we stayed in bed until 12:55 and then slowly made our way to the subway. We got about 10 steps before I puked in front of a street market. We had to stop at a cafe where there was more vomiting and a lot of sleeping like hobos.

Soju is liquid devastation.

Seoul


When our appetites finally made a return, we happened to be in one of the best food cities in the world. Seoul’s food scene is off the fork (and into my mouth). You can find amazing food almost anywhere, but we were on a budget, and it was -1 degrees Celsius (or 30 degrees freezer-balls), so street food was limited. It takes a bit of research to find budget meals in Seoul, but that’s probably why you’re here, so I’ll get on with it.

Mandu – 만두

mandu, korean dumplings

Personally, I don’t like the name mandu (I’m not sure why), but I love the food. They’re Korean dumplings. At first, I thought they’d be similar to jiaozi (Chinese dumplings), but I actually found that their thicker wrappings made them more similar to pierogies. The fillings vary from minced meat, kimchi, tofu, cabbage, and other vegetables. Cooking methods include: pan fried (gun-mandu – 군만두), boiled (mul-mandu – 물만두), and steamed (jjin-mandu – 찐만두).

mandu dumpling shop in Seoul

Where to eat mandu in Seoul
42-5, Insa-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul – 서울 종로구 인사동길 42-5
This place was amazing and it’s conveniently located off an alley in Insadong. We ended up spending about $7 for a filling platter of unforgettable food.

Myeongdong Shopping Street – 명동

While Seoul’s most famous shopping street is popular for its clothing and accessory shopping (pfft, you can’t eat those things), the street food is what will keep you coming back.

Click an image to get more info

As I said before, it was bloody cold while we were there, so we didn’t get to sample as much as we would have liked, but this girl does a great job documenting the amazing food available in Myeongdong.

Curry at Seoul's Tokya Udon restaurant

Curry in South Korea
Tokyo Udon – 서울 중구 을지로3가 344-15
Most of the curry you will find in South Korea is similar to the Japanese style of curry. This small place located down a back alley, has tasty bowls of vegetarian curry – vegetables and potatoes with rice – for only 5000 KRW ($4.30).

Around Myeongdong

We stayed in the Myeongdong area because it was central to most things. In hindsight, I think one of the smaller, less touristy neighborhoods would have been better. A big part of this is the cost of food. Restaurants in the Myeongdong area mostly cater to tourists, and the prices are often higher than what you’d pay in a typical neighborhood. We found some cheaper restaurants, across from the pedestrian street, on this narrow street.

Sundaeguk - blood sausage soup

Sundaeguk (순대국)
When Sara ordered sausage soup, I had a feeling that she would regret it. Korea is known for its blood sausage (sundae). It’s made by stuffing pig’s blood, cellophane noodles, spices, and some organ meats into pig’s intestines. The broth of the soup is milky and peppery. There was more offal (liver, lungs, bits of cartilage) in the soup. Sara was not happy with her choice, so I traded her for my bulgogi. She got the better end of the deal, but the soup was still pretty tasty.

Bulgogi in Seoul, South Korea

Bulgogi (불고기)
One of Korea’s most famous dishes, this roasted beef dish is flavorful and addictive. Thin slices of beef are marinated then grilled. It’s served in a stone pot, sizzling in juices.

Gwangjang Market – 광장시장

This is the oldest market building still standing in Korea. We spent a couple hours sampling some of its specialties. Watch the video below and click here for more information about Gwangjang Market,

3 Must-Try Dishes in South Korea's Oldest Market

Hairtail Alley – 갈치조림 골목

In the heart of Namdaemun Market, the largest market in Korea, are two alleys that are devoted to cooking awesome fish. Hairtail is a type of cutlassfish. They’re long and ugly, which generally means they are delicious. The alley is lined with restaurants that offer fried, steamed, and braised fish. It was a memorable meal, not only because of the food, but also for the atmosphere.

Serious Eats in Seoul, South Korea – Hairtail Fish Alley

Hongdae – 홍대

If we go back to Seoul, I think we would stay in the Hongdae area, where there are several universities and a young local crowd. It’s lively, authentic, and packed with restaurants and bars. The narrow winding streets offer a vibe that is more my style. We only spent one day in the area, which wasn’t nearly enough time to try all the amazing food, but we did have some incredible pork cutlets that were a steal.

Donkkaseu pork cutlets in south korea

Donkkaseu (돈까스)
These fried pork cutlets are actually a Japanese dish (tonkatsu), but the Koreans (and we) love it because it’s cheap and delicious. Cochon Tonkatsu is hidden down an alley but is still always packed with savvy eaters. The meal in the photo was one of our cheapest in South Korea (3000KRW or $2.60) and it did not disappoint.

Jeonju


After a few days in Seoul, we traveled to the hanok village of Jeonju.

Jeonju is known for two things: the largest collection of traditional hanok houses, and food. The food is somewhat unique there, but they also do traditional Korean dishes better than anywhere in Korea (arguably). In fact, the very famous Korean dish bibimbap was invented there. The area is very fertile, so all the ingredients are very fresh and top-quality.

The first night we arrived, we immediately headed to one of the most famous restaurants for bibimbap. It’s called Hankookjib, and they’ve been making bibimbap for over 65 years. Three generations have had a hand in crafting the dish. In 2011, Michelin named them the best bibimbap restaurant in the world.

It was goooooood.

I tried the raw beef version, which had chunks of raw beef and a raw egg – similar to a steak tartar. It was the first time I had ever had raw beef and I loved it, but the real star of the show is the supporting cast. The fresh vegetables are top-notch, and both the red pepper paste and the soy sauce are made in-house.

I’ll be honest, when the hot bowl arrived I quickly jumped in and started shoving food in my face. That’s right, I forgot to take a photo of the most famous Korean dish in the world.

But I did manage to get a shot of all the amazing banchan that Hankookjib serves.

Banchan – 반찬

If you’ve ever been to a Korean restaurant you’ve probably had banchan. It’s the small starter dishes that are served before the meal. They’re free and usually unlimited. A kind of kimchi is always present (I could write an entire article about the varieties of kimchi). Often a soup, or guk, is served. Out of all the banchan I had (pretty much every meal included some), Hankookjib’s was the best.

banchan in south korea

Hankookjib’s Banchan
From top-left to right: Deep-fried whole crabs covered in chili paste. The crunchy texture with a blast of crab juice made this one my favorite of the group; Kimchi made the traditional way – with napa cabbage; Geotjeori or Korean salad with a spicy and tangy dressing; Sigeumchi-namul – a blanched spinach with soy and sesame flavors; Kongjaban or Korean black beans are actually made from fermented soy beans (that’s right, that black bean sauce that you love is basically rotten soy beans) these are so tasty and addictive. Once you pop, ya can’t stop; Kongnamulmuchim are bean sprouts that have been blanched and lightly seasoned with salt, garlic, and sesame; On the very bottom left is kongnamul guk, or soybean sprout soup. The very light broth is made with anchovies; The red soup was a cold dish. I never came across this banchan anywhere else, but it was tangy and a bit sour; The bowls of brown liquid are actually makgeolli, a Korean alcoholic drink. Hankook jib makes their own makgeolli. This version tasted like an apple pie with cinnamon.

The next day we went absolutely food-nuts. We spent an entire day walking around and sampling all the incredible dishes.

The Best City for Food in South Korea – A Food Day in Jeonju

Busan


Busan is on the southern coast of the country, so it’s great for seafood. In fact, the largest seafood market in South Korea is located in Busan. Of course, we had to pay it a visit, and when we got there we realized that we’d have to squeeze in an extra meal that day.

Jagalchi Fish Market

Raw rock fish and a plate of vegetables on the main floor of the market. This was actually one of our most expensive meals in South Korea, but it was an unforgettable experience. Watch the video to see the amazing atmosphere, and click here for more information about visiting Jagalchi Fish Market.

Eating Raw Fish in South Korea's Largest Fish Market

Bibim naengmyeon in Busan, South Korea

Bibim naengmyeon
This is a cold noodle dish. We had it at a restaurant called 원산면옥. I wasn’t too sure about it at first – I’m not a huge fan of cold meals – but when everything was mixed up and I started delving into it, I really enjoyed it. The chewy buckwheat noodles present a different texture. The spiciness was perfect (you can get it less spicy if you want). It was extremely flavourful.

The next day we took the Metro to the very end-of-the-line and started walking along the coast. The views were fantastic, but eventually we needed to warm up with a bowl of Busan specialty – a pork soup called duechi guksu (돼지국수). It’s eaten with rice and the milky broth turns pink after you stir the spicy paste through it. The slices of pork are tender, and it gave us a boost in much-needed energy.

After that, we stopped at Haeundae Market to grab a ssiat hotteok (씨앗호떡). This is another specialty of Busan. Earlier you may have watched a video about a hotteok that is filled with brown sugar (see the Jeonju food day video) – this version of the stuffed pancake is filled with sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, and more. It was quite buttery, but pretty damn tasty.

Watch the video to see both meals.

Exploring Busan, South Korea's Coast // Off the Tourist Trail

Korean Chinese food or Junghwa yori – 중화요리

The cuisines in China and South Korea are very different. When Chinese immigrants moved to Korea, they brought some of their dishes, but changed them slightly using Korean ingredients. I actually found that Korean-Chinese food is more similar to American-Chinese food than actual Chinese food. In fact, like in America, it’s a very popular take-out item in Korea. We tried a few dishes in one of the more popular junghwa yori restaurants in Busan.

Jajangmyeon - Korean Chinese food

Jajangmyeon – 자장면
Probably the most popular Korean-Chinese food. I referred to this dish as ‘garbage food’. It’s wheat noodles in a black bean sauce with bits of pork. The Chinese equivalent would be Zhajiangmian (which of course is much better). The sauce was a bit bland, the noodles slighty overcooked, and it just felt like filler-food.

Tangsuyuk - Korean version of sweet and sour pork

Tangsuyuk – 탕수육
The Korean version of sweet and sour pork. This was pretty good, but didn’t have the complexity that the Chinese version has. The sauce was tangy with a fruity pineapple-like taste.

The last day in Busan I went out in the morning looking for breakfast. I stumbled upon a market and found a lady making egg sandwiches. She beat a couple eggs and fried them with cabbage. While that cooked, she smeared butter on two slices of bread (on both sides) and fried one side up. Then she put it all together and squirted ketchup all over it. It was kind of ghetto, but it really hit the spot.

Daegu


Our first meal in Daegu happened to coincide with a night of drinking. We had daeji bulgogi, which is grilled pork marinated in spices that can be wrapped in a lettuce or other leafy vegetables. It was very tasty and went well with the beer. We also had another potato pancake, this time with cheese melted on top of it. To wash it down, we tried some strawberry makgeolli. It was like an alcoholic milk shake – dangerous stuff!

That night wasn’t just a great food night, we were on a mission. We wanted to test Korea’s hangover cure soup, which leads us to our next meal.

After our booze-filled night of debauchery, we got up and carefully brought our hangovers to a haejang-guk restaurant, where we tried a shredded pork hangover soup. It was incredibly tasty. Sara called it the best soup she ever had.

Did it cure our hangovers?

Well, you’ll have to watch the video, which features both of these meals, to find out.

We Put Korea's Hangover Cure to the Test

For our last meal in Korea, we kind of ef’d up and went to a place that served Japanese food. Admittedly, I wasn’t thinking about an epic ending to this blog post at the time – I just saw the food and went for it. It turned out to be a great meal, and it also showcases the growing influence that Japan has on Korea. One person I talked to said that Koreans used to dislike Japanese brands, but now the younger generation is embracing the country – both its products and its dishes.

donburi in Daegu at Aloha

Donburi
It’s a bowl of rice topped with meat and vegetables. I had fried chicken cutlet and tiger shrimp. They cook it in the bowl and crack an egg on the whole thing. A very tasty meal by Daegu’s shopping street, Dongseong-ro.

Well, I hope you’re hungry. I certainly am.

At the end of our trip, Sara and I both agreed that South Korea was one of the best food countries we had ever been to. For good reason, their cuisine is becoming popular worldwide, and it’s actually pretty authentic in most restaurants across the globe, but to really experience it you should go to Korea. Like, now. Pack your bags, and don’t forget to bring your appetite.