Korean Street Food (Plus Bonus Traditional Food Guide)
if you’ve been even a little inclined to international cuisine or have been consuming any south Korean media, you know that food plays a huge part in South Korean culture. Korean Street Food is typically a good mix of food on the wok, fried food or sweets. Whether it’s high-end restaurants, barbeque joints or authentic street food in the middle of the night, Koreans have food and drinks steeped in every aspect of their day.
If you’re heading to South Korea soon or looking to get as much Korean food in your diet as possible, here’s a handy (yet exhaustive) checklist that you can follow to taste as many of the staples as you can.
Traditional Food of South Korea
Even those who can’t make out traditional ramen from instant noodles would’ve heard of this Korean staple. Kimchi is one of the most famous and healthy dishes that is served in various ways in South Korea. There are many ways in which you can have Kimchi, starting from the traditional fermented cabbage soaked in pepper, garlic, ginger and scallion. This is often served as a spicy side dish in restaurants. If you’re not one for spice, you can try the Yeolmumul Kimchi, which has a tangy taste. You can also have kimchi rice, kimchi stew and consume its broth as part of many dishes.
There are 100 different types of Kimchi that you can try out!
Gimbap (South Korean Style Sushi)
Gimbap is a South Korean dish influenced by the Japanese star dish- Sushi. Gimbap uses the same technique as sushi and is made of beef, radish, vegetables and rice, rolled in seaweed (called Gim) and cut in picture-perfect pieces. Gimbap vendors are a dime a dozen on the streets of South Korea, so there’s no way that you will miss them if you do go looking for a treat.
Tteokbokki (Rice Cake)
If you want something spicy and sweet and absolutely delicious, this staple is for you. Tteokbokki is a starter dish made of chewy rice cakes with a sweet and spicy red sauce made of chilli and soy paste. Depending on where you eat it, you will also see a range of veggies, and we can assure you that you’ll want seconds of this flavourful dish.
Chimaek (Chicken and Beer)
Chimaek, a mixture of chicken and maekju (beer), is a pairing you cannot miss in South Korea. Fried chicken and beer as separate entities may be good, but together they’re unbeatable. Chimaek is a famous Korean fast food and you can enjoy it best at KFC or Korean Fried Chicken outlets.
Haemul Pajeon (Seafood Pancakes)
You’ve heard of savoury pancakes; now get ready for Haemul Pajeon. This twist to pancakes is essentially the addition of seafood and veggies. The dish has a crispy outer layer and is made of rice and egg batter. It resembles a veggie omelette more than anything and has a selection of items such as shellfish, oysters and shrimp.
Korean BBQ is a lively fete for university students and working professionals. We’d recommend this even if you don’t like barbeque much so that you can immerse yourself in the atmosphere of BBQ restaurants. Head over to the crowded, noisy restaurant buzzing with the sizzle of the BBQ plates and clinking of soju shots and order a Samgyeopsal (pork strips) or Bulgogi (beef BBQ) for your table. If you want something a little more special, you can also order a Gopchang or intestines to go with your soju and feast all night long.
Soondae (Blood Sausage)
Soondae or blood sausage is famous amongst street vendors and high-end restaurants. The dish is made up of a covering of pig intestine with cellophane noodles, veggies and meat and wrapped like a sausage. If you want to eat it as a quick bite or are on a budget, you can have the street food version that replaces the intestine with a synthetic version but still retains the taste.
Galbi or rib is a sophisticated dish made of a slab of meat slathered in soy sauce, garlic and sugar and grilled to perfection. You will also find versions with stews, soups and steamed Galbi, but sticking with the original version is the best experience unless you switch to Chuncheon dakgalbi.
This dish is cheaper and therefore preferred by students who often live on a budget. It’s a wok tossed version of the original dish with slabs of chicken, veggies, sweet potato and chilli paste. If you go for the latter, don’t be surprised if you’re handed a bib to go with your dish, as it’ll come in handy when you begin eating the messy bowl.
End your meal with a traditional Korean dessert of Patbingsu. The sweet dish is made of ice shaving and condensed milk, topped with your pick of fruits and red beans. Don’t forget to take a few friends with you, as it’s generally served in a bowl large enough to serve multiple people on the table.
SOUPS AND STEWS
Seolleongtang (Ox Bone Soup)
What’s better than a warm bowl of soup on a cold winter day? This clear white soup is a staple during the winter months and made from the broth of ox and beef bones. It’s rich in protein and a perfect addition to a comfort meal. You can also season it with salt and pepper or garlic to enhance the flavour.
Sundubu-jjigae (Soft Tofu Stew)
This spicy broth is a traditional Korean dish that differs from region to region. However, each of the recipes includes tofu that is broken to bits in the chilli paste, with clams and a raw egg. The egg is cooked inside the hot bowl once broken. To retain the heat, this stew is traditionally served in a clay pot alongside rice or Kimchi.
South Korean culture includes drinking till the wee hours of the morning, and if you too get carried away with your soju, settle down in one of the quiet 24-hour restaurants and sip on some hangover stew to subside the headache. The stew is made up of beef broth with a little bit of oxblood alongside cabbage, radish and bean sprouts to give you energy before a long day.
RICE AND NOODLES
Bibimbap (Rice Bowl)
If you love burrito bowls or ramen, you are sure to love the sight of Bibimbap. The bowl is essentially a mixture of rice, with fried egg, chilli paste, beef, mixed veggies and a dash of soy or sesame. While this hearty bowl is available in most cities, having it at Jeonju, its birthplace, is a must.
Japchae (Glass Noodles)
Japchae refers to cellophane or glass noodles which are made from sweet potato. These soupy noodles are dipped in sesame oil or soy sauce and served with beef, mushrooms and other assorted veggies. They can be a great course in a feast or a quick late-night bite before heading to bed.
Jjajangmyeon (Black Bean Noodles)
Jjajangmyeon is a staple, easy to cook food. While the dish itself is adopted from Chinese culture, the Koreans have managed to twist it with their own style of using fermented ingredients. The Korean version has a thicker black bean sauce which is made of fermented black beans (these are not the same as your everyday beans) and has a rich taste. If you don’t enjoy spice in your cuisine, you will love this rendition of noodles.
Naengmyeon (Cold Buckwheat Noodles)
This dish is adopted from North Korean culture and is often used as a palate cleanser between meals or after a BBQ. You can also make a small lunch out of it. The cold buckwheat noodles are served with meat or kimchi broth along with shredded cucumber, radish, egg, vinegar and a sliver of mustard. You can also have it sans broth and with a chilli paste instead (Bibim Naengmyeon).
DRINKS ON THE HOUSE
Shots of soju are favored with food at any time of the day. It’s not sophisticated, but the low alcohol drink served in green bottles is a popular choice, especially for the working class and youth. Soju is made from distilled rice, barley or wheat and is served with a shot glass.
Makgeolli is an age-old liquor that had become a farmer’s drink up until recently when it has started gaining popularity. The drink is made of fermented rice and has a fizzy yet milky texture and a sweet taste that many enjoy.
Sungyung is a kind of beverage that is often had a digestive as it aids in settling the food you’ve consumed. It is made by pouring water over nurungji, which is the layer of rice left stuck to the pan after cooking. The drink is semi-clear has a nutty flavour with several health benefits.
If you’ve fallen for the lockdown trend of making Dalgona coffee at your home, it’s only right that you know where it originates from. A version of this coffee has been a popular part of Korean street food culture for ages before it became trendy. While you can have it as coffee, the South Korean version takes a solid toffee form which is sweet to have and made with brown sugar.
Cheongju Rice Wine
Cheongju wine is a clear liquid made of fermented rice. The wine is slightly sweet to sip and is often a part of recipes in South Korea. It is also used as a welcome drink for guests and was considered the choice of royals back in the day.
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