10 Unique Korean Local Cuisine You Must Tried

Have you wondered what to dine while in South Korea? I have prepared 10 unique Korean dishes that you must tried while you are there, and they are all local cuisine.

Be aware that most Korean do not speak English, especially seniors, so I have also attached the Korean Characters of the food which might probably be a good help for you while doing order. Make sure you tried them all!

Remember to say 잘 먹겠습니다 (Jal moke get sum nida) before you have your meal.

1. Kimchi 김치
kimchi
Picture taken from source

All of us definitely have heard about Kimchi, it is a fermented korean dish made by various of vegetables. There are over 200 varieties of kimchi recorded according to my source while I attended my class in Kimchi Academy, but the most common kimchi are made from radish, napa cabbage and cucumber. Restaurants will always serve various of Kimchi for complimentary, so don’t bother to order.

The taste of Kimchi depending on the vegetables and seasoning itself, some are spicy, and some taste sour. However, the most favorite kimchi is this napa cabbage kimchi, you could find this Kimchi in almost every restaurants in Korea. How does it taste then? It has a sour and little spicy taste. Kimchi is not only eaten with rice, but some also mix Kimchi in their cookings, such as in pancakes or even soup.

You might find the taste a little weird if you have never had Kimchi before in your life, because Kimchi is not served while hot, mostly are kept in refrigerator, so many exclude kimchi in their meal because they are not used to having cold vegetable dishes. Every restaurants kimchi taste slightly different, so it is worth a try!

2. Tteokbokki 떡볶이
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Tteokbokki sold in Myeongdoeng

Tteokbokki is a popular Korean food made from soft rice cake, fish cake with sweet red chili sauce, and you could easily find tteokbokki sold in stalls and street foods. FYI, tteokbokki was a part of royal cuisine in Joseon Dynasty, and the older type of tteobokki is savory, while latter version was much spicier, which then becomes more popular than the traditional tteobokki.

3. Japchae 잡채
japchae
Picture taken from source

The name japchae means “a mixture of vegetables” (jap means “mixed and stirred”) and (chae means “vegetables”), and may be served hot and cold. However, Japchae is usually cooked with sweet potato noodles, it was stir fried in sesame oil with vegetables (sliced carrots, onion, spinach) and served with beef, and cooked with soy sauce and sugar.

There are also Japchae without noodles according to source, they are:
Gochu japchae (고추잡채), made with shredded fresh green chili pepper and vegetables
Buchu japchae (부추잡채), made with Korean chives
Kongnamul japchae (콩나물잡채), made with kongnamul (soybean sprouts)
Haemul japchae (해물잡채), made with seafood and vegetables
Beoseot japchae (버섯잡채), made with mushrooms

4. Bibimbap 비빔밥
bibimbap
Picture taken from source

Bibimbap is usually served in a hot stone bow white rice topped with sautéed vegetables, egg, sliced meat, chilli paste, soy sauce, or a salty soybean paste. You will need to stir everything until it evens, then you can start tucking in! The taste might be a little strange to you due to the chilli paste, so I suggest you to have a taste of the chilli paste before you stir them all.

5. Bulgogi 불고기
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Combination of Red Chilli Paste Squids with Bulgogi Grilled

Bulgogi means Fire Meat, it usually made from thin slices of beef and marinated before cooking (soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, pepper, ginger). Bulgogi sometimes are served with lettuce, so you could wrap them together with sliced onions, and whole cloves of garlic and eat them all together. You could add chilli sauce or sesame oil if you would like to have more flavors.

6. Budae Jjigae 부대찌개
Budae Jjigae is also known as an Army Stew, due to food scarcity in Seoul after the Korean War, and the surplus foods from U.S. military bases, such as hot dogs and hams, the food were then being consumed together with Korean traditional flavor and cooking style, and this was how Budae Jjigae was ‘invented’ accidentally.

army stew
Kimchi is added in this Budae Jjigae

Budae jjigae is often served with instant noodles, ground beef, sliced sausages, baked beans, onions, tofu, chili peppers, macaroni, garlic, mushrooms, and sliced American Cheese. The Stew taste differently depending on the seasonings and flavor added, but my favorite Army Stew is definitely the one with Kimchi.

7. Samgyeopsal 삼겹살
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Samgyeopsal is commonly served as an evening meal consists of thick slices of pork belly meat that could be marinated or not seasoned. We could grill the meat ourselves and eat directly from a grill in the diner’s table. You will need to dip the grilled meat into sesame sauce for a better taste of Samgyeopsal!

8. Galbitang 갈비탕
galbitang
Picture taken from source

Galbitang is a soup from beef short ribs with stewing beef, onions, and other ingredients. Galbitang has a clear soup, the beef rib is cooked in water for a long time and is eaten as a meal. Galbi and Galbitang are different, galbitang is beef short ribs ‘soup’ while galbi is a marinated or nor seasoned grilled beef short ribs.

According to source, “historical records on galbitang are found in records on table setting for Korean royal court banquets held in the 1890s. However, galbi, was assumed to have been eaten since the end of the Goryeo Dynasty (918 – 1392).”

9. Seolleongtang 설렁탕
seoll
Picture taken from source

If Galbitang is soup from beef short ribs, then Seolleongtang is a broth soup made from ox bones (mostly leg bones), brisket and other cuts. The process of Seolleongtang making is not different with galbitang, which is to simmer the ox bones for over a period of hours and even entire day in a low flame. The simmering process is to ensure the flavor from the bones could be gradually extracted.

Usually Seolleongtang is not seasoned in the process of cooking, so you will need to add salt or any flavors according to your taste. It has a cloudy and milky appearance on the top of the soup, and is eaten with rice (the rice is sometimes added directly to the soup)

10. Samgyetang 삼계탕
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Samgyetang means chicken ginseng soup and usually refered as an energizing soup. Samgyetang is extremely popular during summer days, as nutrients can be easily lost in summer due to excessive sweating. In the making process, a whole young chicken filled with garlic and rice, scallion and spices is boiled in Korean Ginseng Broth.

Also you will need to add some seasoning according to your own preference, such as salt, white pepper. Samgyetang taste slightly the same with our home made chicken broth, only Samgyetang has a distinct ginseng flavor. The dish is also usually accompanied by side dishes and sometimes a small complimentary bottle of insamju will be served in some restaurants.

You could save the names of meat in Korean to help you in ordering the other dishes:
Fish 물고기 mulgogi
Beef 쇠고기 chwi gogi
Chicken 닭고기 dalq gogi
Pork 돼지고기 dwaeji gogi

And don’t forget to say 잘 먹겠습니다 (Jal moke get sum nida) after you finish your meal!

Photos mostly credited to Susi Chen, thank you dear.

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10 Must Go Destinations in Seoul, South Korea

1. Myeongdong
Yes, Myeongdong is No.1 Tourist Destination in Seoul, over 1 million shoppers pass this street each and every day. If you are a shopaholic, then you should come to Myeongdong for shopping. Tony Moly, The Face Shop, Etude, you can name all of the Korean Beauty Products easily spotted on Myeongdong Street.

Thousand of brands are sold in Myeongdong, you could also find two anchor department stores there, which are Lotte and Shinsegae. Myeongdong’s history significance as well as the attractions have made it becomes a top attraction for tourist destination.

2. Namdaemun Market
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Picture of Namdaemun Market from the 2nd Floor Local Store

Not only shopping, but visitors can also check out the Namdaemun Market with over 600 years of history. Namdaemun Market is located in the east of Namdaemun and in the area between Seoul Station and Myeongdong. Namdaemun Market is quite large, and the streets could a little bit tricky, so I suggest you to go to Tourist Information Center, around three-minute walk from Namdaemun Market Gate #6 for maps or information.

According to source, Namdaemun or formerly Sungnyemun refers to the southern gate of the four gates leading to the castle town during the Joseon Dynasty. As the oldest remaining wooden structure in Seoul and National Treasure No. 1, Namdaemun symbolizes the history of Seoul from the past to the present. The opening hour is 07.00am to 05.00pm, and closed every Sunday, make sure you come at the right time.

3. Itaewon
Itaewon Street is full of stores, restaurants, and stalls. Different from Myeongdong, the fashion shops in Itaewon specialize in various imported clothes, leather goods, fur goods, and antique furniture. According to source, after the Korean War, American soldiers began to stay in the Yongsan Garrison and over the time, numerous businesses and housing complexes were formed here; Itaewon is in the middle of Yongsan-gu.

Itaewon
Picture of Itaewon Street at night from source

Not only that, Itaewon is also popular with its night life. The clubs, bars, and pubs come alive when the sun goes down and the lights turn on. Itaewon is the heart of many clubs, pubs, and why not having a try here?

4. Hongdae
Hongdae’s name is derived from Hongik University; therefore, it is no surprise seeing many students and youth in the area. Many clubs and cafes could be found in the street, which is why Hongdae is regarded as the heart of the club culture.

The streets around Hongdae are home to shops, cafés, and bars that express the artistic talents of the area’s youth, starting from selling handmade clothes to artistic creations and luxury goods. It is also very common to see students perform and sing on the street as Hongik University is regarded as a top fine art college in South Korea.

5. The Blue House
It is named as The Blue House because of its signature blue tiles that could catch one’s attention upon entering the premises. ‘The blue tiles and the smooth roof blend beautifully with Mt. Bugaksan in the backdrop’ according to visitkorea.or.kr

BlueHouse
The Picture of Blue House from eastasiaintel

The buildings all have distinctive shapes, which are unique, beautifully designed, and built in the Korean traditional style. There are approximately 150 thousand tiles compose the roof of the Blue House, and each were baked individually so that these tiles are strong enough to be used for hundreds of years.

A walk around the path just outside the Blue House grounds is a pleasure as the surroundings are beautiful, and the path would lead us to Gyeongbokgung Palace as well. The Blue House closed every Sunday, Monday and National Holiday, the admission is free but you have to register online as a foreigners or even natives. It is strictly guarded by plenty of MIB (Man In Black) and these guy have a great look btw, so it’s worth a visit! You could click here for more information about tours and other details.

6. The National Folk Museum of Korea
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Picture taken from source

This museum is located in 37, Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu, inside Gyeongbokgung Palace. The National Folk Museum of Korea presents over 4,000 historical artifacts of Korean people.

gyeongbokgung
The opening hours taken from source

The museum exhibits Korea previous domestic and agricultural lifestyles, also cultural beliefs. It is free to enter the museum, but an admission is needed if you wish to enter Gyeongbokgung Palace (ticket sold in Gyeongbokgung Palace).

7. Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1395 and commonly referred as the Northern Palace, and is furthest north compare to Changdeokgung (Eastern Palace) and Gyeongheegung (Western Palace) Palace.

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Picture of Gyeongbokgung Palace

The palace were once destroyed by fire during the Japanese Invasion in 1592-1598, but the buildings were then restored under the leadership of King Gojong in 1852-1919. At the present time, Gyeongbokgung Palace is the most beautiful and the largest of all five palaces. The operating hours of each season would be different, so I suggest you to click here for more information and details.

8. N Seoul Tower
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The picture is a courtesy of onedaykorea.com

The N Seoul Tower is commonly known as the Namsan Tower or Seoul Tower. It was built in 1971 and is a communication and observation tower located on Namsan Mountain in central Seoul.

View_from_N_Seoul_Tower_at_night
Picture taken from source

Visitors usually ride the Namsan cable car up the Mt. Namsan, and walk to the tower in order to enjoy the beautiful Seoul cityscape. In here, you would find museum, cafe and restaurants, N Seoul Tower Lovelocks, also observatory.

9. Kimchi Making School
One, Two, Three, Kimchiii. Kimchi is Korea’s signature dishes, and there are hundred kinds of Kimchi you would find in Kimchi Making School. There are plenty of Kimchi Academy, I recommend you to find it in the local tour travel, because usually they only teach lesson in groups.

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Picture of Kimchi Making Session

They will provide you to the ingredients and utensils, so all you need to do is to be here and learn how to make Kimchi. The time would be short, around 30 minutes, and as far as I know, we can not bring the Kimchi back home. Usually after the end of the session, they will introduce you the products they are selling, and yes the academy is just a part of their marketing strategy.

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Picture of Wearing Hanbok

Not only that, usually they will provide Hanbok (Korean traditional costume) in the academy. Visitors are allowed to take on the costume, have some pictures, before the class started.

10. Lotte World
Lotte World is located on 240, Olympic-ro, Songpa-gu, Seoul, and is the perfect spot for entertainment and sightseeing. The theme park is filled with thrilling rides, ice rink, parades as well as a folk museum, a lake, and many more.

Lotte-World-Seoul s
Lotte World Picture is the courtesy of explorerguidebook

According to source, about 6,000,000 visitors are welcomed every year, and about 10% of them are foreigners. Lotte World is open for visitors all year round, regardless of the weather, but closing time may vary, so I suggest you to check on the website for more details upon your arrival http://www.lotteworld.com

There are several kinds of day pass to enter Lotte World, but the normal adult admission fare costs around W48,000. If you use train to visit Lotte World, then get off in Jamsil Station (Seoul Subway Line 2 & 8), Exit 4, the park is directly connected to the station.

There are plenty to do while in Seoul, and you just need to have research, research and more research!