You say ‘South Korea’, people say ‘kimchi’. This isn’t actually so bad. Kimchi is Korea’s national dish, so why shouldn’t it be a popular, well-recognised dish? Whether you like eating kimchi or not, there is a whole span of other Korean dishes to try that just don’t get the press they deserve! Who’s hungry?
떡볶이 (ddeok-bokk-i) is a popular dish, best served on the streets! If your ddeokbokki was swimming in a huge vat like the one pictured here, you’ve gone to the right place. Street ddeokbokki is the best way! You’ll get your chewy rice cakes smothered in the spicy sauce, accompanied by cocktail sticks to eat it with. Every vendor makes it differently, but you can be sure that it will be hot. For those of you who aren’t phased by a little spice, you can find a special ‘fire ddeokbokki’, famous for being even hotter. Westerners have been turned away from these stalls because the owners have rendered their tastebuds too soft for the flaming rice cakes… You might find variations of the dish, sometimes with sesame seeds, maybe a few herbs etc. Ddeokbokki is definitely worth it!
갈비탕 (gal-bi tang) is Ox Rib Soup. You’ll need chopsticks as well as a spoon for this dish, unless you want to eat the bones..! Thankfully, the meat is usually so tender that it literally falls off the bone. The soup becomes a delicious broth, infused with the flavours of any vegetables and, of course, the beef. Every ingredient benefits another. Galbitang is often accompanied by a bowl of rice, which is an interesting addition, considering in the West we don’t tend to have anything other than bread with soup. The rice is there to eat with the beef and offers another texture to the already dynamic meal.
호떡 (ho-ddeok) are pancakes with a sweet syrup that oozes from the middle as the pancake is bitten into. Mostly sold by street vendors, these pancakes are fresh and hot – perfect for a nippy winter day, but delicious enough to eat all year round. The syrup is made from the filling of brown sugar and cinnamon that melts when the pancake is cooking. Sometimes vendors will add walnuts or fruits to their pancakes for more filling. It’s madness that these pancakes aren’t standard in the UK! Imagine waking up to these on a frosty and drizzly winter morning…
불고기 (bul-go-gi) is marinated beef. It sounds simple and perhaps even boring, but there is nothing dull about the flavour of this dish. There are so many ways to eat and marinade bulgogi, but the usual end result is a sweet and somehow savoury thin slice of meat. If you go for Korean barbecue, you’ll likely eat bulgogi. One popular way to eat bulgogi is to put it in a large lettuce leaf with rice, a few vegetables (eg. beansprouts) and a drop of hot pepper paste (go-chu-jang) and fold it up into a parcel. (While delicious, this can actually be very tricky when the lettuce parcel is far too big to actually fit inside your mouth. The Koreans manage to stuff them in more graciously than I can ever hope to.)
(Photo: as tagged.)
If you weren’t hungry already, this will surely be the deal-breaker. 닭강정 (dak-gang-jeong) is Korea’s sweet, crispy, golden bites of chicken heaven. (Sorry, vegetarians.) You might be aware of the way chicken joints are heralded in Korea; you don’t have to look far to find the next chicken restaurant or vendor. The ‘Korean Fried Chicken’ phrase was not coined for no reason! This dish is by far the best way to eat chicken, and once you’ve had a taste, you’ll never be able to get enough. It’s not often very spicy, so it’s very accessible to everyone. It’s not exactly classy; street food vendors will often just squeeze the tangy sauce over the top from a plastic bottle. But ‘class’ is not the point. Dakgangjeong is essentially fast food, and once you go with that, you’re on your way to enjoying some of the best chicken you’ll ever eat.
There are so many Korean dishes to try, and we’re very lucky to have a number of Korean restaurants in the UK. The best news is that Korean food is deemed really healthy because of the ratio of little meat to lots of vegetables, so you can get your fill without piling on the pounds (but watch out for that fried chicken!)
Have you tried any of these foods before? Would you eat them again? Tell us about your experiences with Korean food in the comments below!