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.
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.
Here’s what we did eat at the market:
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
The next day we went absolutely food-nuts. We spent an entire day walking around and sampling all the incredible dishes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.