There is so much more to traditional South Koran food than just kimchi, that famous side dish of pickled and fermented cabbage and other vegetables. By the way kimchi is often mistaken as being a Chinese dish since it is quite often seen as a standard condiment on the tables in Chinese restaurants.
As with most of the Asian and Far East Asian cuisines, South Korea also has a rich culinary heritage and food is serious business in terms of the religious and cultural significance of each ingredient, dish, colour and cooking style and of course the health benefits.
Take a look at our guide to some of the most exciting dishes that South Korea has to offer. They are available in restaurants and also as delicious and cheap street food, where the latter may well be serving the tastier and more authentic version of traditional South Korean cuisine. You should definitely give these dishes a try when you make a trip to Seoul or to any other part of South Korea.
One of the first food items you will discover in South Korea is red rice cakes. It is a commonly eaten dish, most popular as a street food, so you are sure to come across this everywhere you go in South Korea. Thick cylindrical pieces of boiled rice cake, triangle-shaped fish cake, assorted vegetables, onion and garlic, with a pinch of salt and sugar are stir-fried in a sweet red chilli sauce that lends the preparation its distinct appearance. Tteokbokki is a dish that is easy to spot and recognise from a distance because of its bright orange-red colour. Be adventurous we say, and try this traditional South Korean food at least once to enjoy its unique spicy sweet flavours and slightly chewy texture.
Japchae is another well loved South Korean staple. It is essentially a very tasty, quick and easy to eat stir-fry noodle dish consisting of translucent sweet potato noodles, carrots, cucumber, onions and mushrooms. You get a lovely fragrant sesame flavour, both from the oil in which all the ingredients are tossed and the toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top as a garnish. Japchae is definitely the go-to dish for you if you are one of those who prefer to play it safe even while keen to experiment with a new cuisine.
Rows of neatly arranged little gimbap or Korean-style sushi rolls makes for a very pretty and inviting sight if you are looking for a quick on-the-go bite. Gimbap is made much the same way as Japanese sushi, with sushi rice, tiny bits of spinach and other pickled veggies and ham, all hand-rolled together tightly in an edible seaweed sheet, cut into small rounds and plated beautifully, ready to eat. What adds the South Korean touch to this creation is the accompaniment of kimchi which lends each bite the perfect zing, when accompanied with the somewhat bland taste of gimbap.
South Korean food is quite famous for its iced desserts. Patbingsu is a dessert made with flavoured crushed ice, ice shavings as the base, piled high with loads of fresh fruits and the entire tower is bathed liberally in a sweet syrup or condensed milk. Decorative toppings are the traditional red beans (bingsu), sesame and peanuts. Patbingsu might even remind you of a cross between a simple roadside ice gola and the more sophisticated gelato but you just have to try this to know how unique this dessert is, if you happen to be in South Korea. Patbingsu is a colourful sweet treat and is available in many exciting flavour choices.
Exploring South Korean food is quite a unique and memorable culinary experience. To know more about the food culture of South Korea and tips on the best places to savour the most authentic dishes go through our South Korea travel guide.
Before you pack your bags and set off on your South Korean adventure, make sure that you buy travel insurance. Having travel insurance for South Korea is equally important and necessary as applying for your South Korea visa. Overseas travel insurance is a necessary safeguard to protect you financially during your travel. Just in case you find yourself in an emergency situation, such as an accident, your luggage or passport getting lost or misplaced or even if your trip itself gets cancelled, your travel insurance policy will kick in to cover the losses and cushion you from the financial impact.