What to eat in South Korea? 25 Traditional South Korean foods to try

In this article, we will analyze the various typical dishes and explore what to eat in South Korea. Plus, explain everything about South Korean cuisine, street food, main dishes, soups and stews, and desserts.

Eating Korean food was a fascinating and strange experience for us. First of all, we never had Korean food before our trip. So, many of the ingredients and flavors were new. But besides that, we didn’t even know how to eat most of the dishes (and we are not talking about eating with chopsticks).

Many Korean plates are served on top of a hot grill, and you must cook them slightly. We didn’t know what to mix with what, how to cook something, and what is supposed to eat. Yet, it is such a fun experience. Now that we have tried Korean food, we are fans.

We aren’t experts on Korean food, and we are not even close. We gathered a list of dishes we ate in Korea that were either our favorite or very interesting. It is an amateur guide that will help you choose what to eat in South Korea.

Information about South Korean cuisine

The base of Korean cuisine is Banchan, which means small dishes and are a must-have at every meal. Banchan is a small side dish of vegetables or protein accompanying a meal. A normal dinner has 2 or 3 Banchan; on formal dinners, the table can have a dozen. They are the heart of Korean cuisine.

A typical Korean meal is elaborated with several side dishes, grilled meat, bowls of rice, and kimchi. Rice is the only item served individually, the rest is meant to be shared.

Breakfast is a complete meal in South Korea. Traditional breakfast often includes a combination of rice, soup, side dishes, and possibly some protein. Usually, Koreans don’t eat desserts at the end of the meal. They simply eat a sweet thing with coffee or tea in the afternoon.

Rice and Kimchi are vital in Korean cuisine and are eaten at all three meals. South Koreans also love fish and seafood. They are abundant and eat them frequently. Dairy is mainly absent from the traditional Korean diet, although Koreans love to put cheese on noodles and stews nowadays.

Koreans love to eat, which is an essential part of their cultural heritage.

busy street in South of Korea with several people eating street food
Street food in Seoul, South Korea

Korean Ingredients

Korean cuisine uses a few humble ingredients to make a variety of dishes. The essential ingredients are chili paste, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and seasonal vegetables combined in slightly different ways.

Below, we will explore some ingredients in-depth to help you understand and learn more about South Korean cuisine.

  • Kimchi – is South Korea’s national dish. It is referred to as a fermented vegetable dish, frequently made with napa cabbage, Korean radish, or cucumber. But you can make kimchi with any vegetable. It is seasoned with chili pepper, garlic, ginger, and other spices. In the past, Koreans used to bury kimchi jars in the ground during winter to preserve them. Nowadays, there are special kimchi freezers. It is a very healthy dish due to the high concentration of dietary fiber. It can be served as a banchan or cooked into soups or rice dishes.
  • Sweet Glutinous rice – is a short grain rice that can be steamed, cooked into porridge, or used to make various rice cakes and snacks. This rice is slightly different from Thai sticky rice.
  • Tteok – is a rice cake that comes in various shapes and flavors. It is used in the famous street food- Tteokbokki, but it is also used in stews and soups.
  • Gochujang – is a red chili paste made with red pepper powder, soybean powder, and rice flour. It is added to nearly every dish.
  • Perilla Leaves – are leaves with a minty flavor used in South Korean cuisine. Frequently in Korean BBQ.
  • Doenjang– is a type of fermented soybean paste made from ground soybeans and brine.
  • Small dried Anchovies– Used to cook some Banchan dishes or to do stocks
  • Asian Pear – originally from Korea, it is a fruit widely appreciated in South Korea and other Asian Countries. It is also used in many marinades and sauces.
Street market full of ingredients of South Korea
Food market in Seoul, South Korea

Typical Korean Street food (Bunsik)

South Korea, like in other Asian countries, has a vibrant street food culture. Streets and markets are packed with street vendors that sell everything from pancakes to fish to sweet bits. But it is much more than just the food; it is a social event to gather at a plastic table in the middle of the market or the street to eat with your friends and co-workers before heading home.

Bunsik literally means food made with flour and is the base of Korean street food. Besides food made with flour t, it includes spicy rice cakes, gimbap, and blood sausage; basically, it is snacks you eat on the go. There are so many, and each region has its specialty. We tried to include the most popular and our favorite.

Eomuk Tang or Eomuk Guk

Eomuk Tang Fish cakes are a famous street food. You will find them everywhere. They are made from a mixture of fish (typically white fish like pollock or cod), starch, and other ingredients. They are molded into rectangles and boiled in a fish broth.

They are served on a skew in a cup with some fish broth. They have a silky texture, are light and fishy, and have a pleasant taste. Normally, you buy a cup with broth and the fish skew and eat them with your hand, and if you wish, you can drink the broth. You can also find Eomuk tang with other dishes like tteokbokki or stwees.

Fish cakes - South Korean street food
Eomuk Tang – Fish cakes are a famous street food in South Korea


Tteokbokki is the most popular South Korean street food. It is made with long-cylinder rice cakes, fish cakes (Eomuk), and sometimes with blood sausage. The rice cakes are cooked in a sauce made with chili paste and Korean stock. Be aware that it is pretty spicy, but there are non-spicy versions for tourists.

The rice cakes have a soft texture and are chewy, and the sauce is packed with flavor. It is super hot, good for a cold day.

famous South Korean dish
Tteokbokki- The most famous South Korean dish

Corn Dog

It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Korean street food. But the fact is that they are everywhere. They are even referenced in many K-dramas.

Corn Dogs are sausages in a crispy, deep-fried dough. Its exterior is crunchy, but the inside is soft. They are served on a skew and topped with mayonnaise and ketchup.

There are other versions of corn dogs; some have fried chips in the butter, and others have cheese. It is just a matter of trying them all.

Best street food in South Korea
Corn Dogs are sausages in a crispy, deep-fried dough – South Korean street food.


Buchimgae are South Korean pancakes, and they are a staple street food. They can be made with various ingredients like kimchi, zucchini, scallion, or mung beans. When the pancake is made with scallions, it is called pajeon. But there are a dozen different kinds of pancakes.

The pancakes are made of batter or flour and may have eggs involved with a vegetable or protein of your choice. They are fried in a hot oven or deep fried. We loved them, especially hot. They aren’t crunchy; they are soft like omelets with a strong flavor from the ingredient of your choice.

You can find buchimgae in most food markets.

street food- what to eat in South Korea - Buchimgae
South Korean pancakes with an onion sauce on top – Buchimgae


Gyeranppang is a fluffy mini loaf with an egg on top. It is very comforting and straightforward but so satisfying. It is made with pancake batter and a whole egg in the middle. They are cooked in specific molds that look like little loaves. It is slightly sweet, savory, soft, and melts in your mouth.

One of the best things about them is their smell; it will entice you. It is a popular street food, but you can easily identify it by the smell. When you are walking through a street and smell something delicious, don’t forget to stop and try Gyeranppang.

mini loaf with an egg on top - Korean street food
Gyeranppang is a fluffy mini loaf with an egg on top it is so delicious

Gilgeori Toast

Gilgeori Toast is a toast made with cabbage, carrots, chives, and eggs cooked on a hot grill. Placed on top of bread with cheese, ham, ketchup, and mayonnaise. It is so good. This is a humble toast, but it is so delicious. Besides the great toasts, seeing them done so fast and precisely is mesmerizing.

It is a breakfast street food. Normally, you will see the street food vendors only in the morning. We ate this in Seoul on the famous Myeongdong Street. But several very good street vendors are very popular.

Best street food in South Korea - Gilgeori Toast
Breakfast street food – Gilgeori Toast


Gimbap is a sushi roll but much bigger than your normal sushi roll and filled with various ingredients. It is a popular picnic food in Korea; it is an easy meal and something to eat on the go. You can normally find it everywhere in the street food stalls or even in convenience stalls.

Some of the most common fillings are kimchi, bulgogi, egg, pickled radish, sausage, carrot, and tuna salad, but you can fill it with your favorite ingredients.

what to eat in South Korea? Gimbap
Gimbap is a sushi roll but much bigger – South Korean street food

Banchan – Traditional South Korean Dish

Banchan are small side dishes served with your meal and meant to be shared. There are hundreds of different kinds of banchan. A typical meal in South Korea combines several side dishes, rice, grilled meat, and a hot pot.

When you eat in a restaurant in South Korea, they will offer you some banchan with your meal. You don’t need to order them, as they are usually complimentary.

Kimchi and other Fermented Vegetables

Kimchi is the quintessential Korean food and a staple banchan. There always has to be kimchi. And as we said above, kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish frequently made with napa cabbage. But you can make kimchi with any vegetable.

Besides the traditional cabbage kimchi, radish kimchi (kkakdugi), cucumber kimchi (oisobagi) and green onion kimchi (pa kimchi) are frequent banchan. Just keep your options open and try the most kimchi possible.

Most famous South Korean Banchan- Kimchi
Different types of Kimchi and fermented vegetables sold in food markets

Ganjang Gejang

Ganjang gejang is a beloved Korean banchan, one of the most popular. It consists of marinated fresh raw crabs. Raw crabs are salted and then marinated in a soy sauce brine. The brine is made of soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, scallions, garlic, ginger and chili paste. In the past, this was a way to preserve the crabs for a long time.

This banchan may seem unappetizing, but the savory fresh taste of the crab is addicting. There is a spicy version of ganjang gejang called yangnyeom gejang, which is made with a spicy sauce.

what to eat in South Korea -  banchan
A meal with different Korean banchan, including Ganjang Gejang, on the left close to the perilla leaves


Gyeranjjim is steamed savory egg custard, like scrambled steamed eggs. Traditionally, it is cooked in a thick clay pot called ttukbaegi and cooked in a double boiler until it is firm and soft. It is a frequent side dish. It tastes like a savory pudding and has a residual broth from cooking the eggs. It looks like cheese. But doesn’t have a strong flavor. It is a surprising dish.

In some restaurants, the eggs are heated in the ttukbaegi on top of a grill on your table. When the eggs start bubbling, you should switch the grill off. Other times, it comes already cooked. Eating and making this dish is a cool experience. And if you love eggs, this is for you.

Delicious South Korean food - Gyeranjjim
Gyeranjjim is steamed savory egg custard being made on a portable gas burner in a restaurant.

Mandu (South Korean Dumplings)

Like other Asian countries, Korea has its own version of dumplings. They can be steamed (jjin mandu), boiled (mul mandu), deep-fried (tuigin mandu) or pan-fried (gun mandu). They have different fillings and can be served as a side dish or in a soup.

They are traditionally cooked during the Lunar New Year when the family gathers to cook them. But they are eaten all year round. The most commonly used ingredients are cabbage, ground pork, chives, mushrooms, glass noodles, and even kimchi.

They are delicious, and if you like dumplings, you will certainly enjoy them. We didn’t find any differences between Korean dumplings and other Asian dumplings besides kimchi dumplings, which are typical Korean.

What to eat in Korea
Different types of South Korean Dumplings and a dumpling soup we had in a restaurant in Seoul

Rice /Noodles dishes in South Korea


Bibimpap is made with mixed rice with various ingredients, vegetables, and proteins and served in a hot pot or a bowl. The ingredients are served on top of the rice, and you are supposed to mix all of them. Some bibimbap comes with a raw egg yolk on top that you mix with the rest of the hot food and cook, making the food silky and delicious.

Bibimbap is one of our favorite dishes in Korea; maybe we were fortunate to eat in a good restaurant that serves a tasty bibimpap. You can order the ingredients that most suit your palate, such as vegetables and/or meat. Whatever your heart desires. So it is a very versatile meal.

One of the most delicious South Korean dish is bibimbap
South Korean rice- bibimbap; the rice is under the ingredients, and you should mix everything together.


Mul-Naengmyeon is one of the most unique and surprising dishes in the world. We never had any dish like it. Although it might not seem like your kind of dish, it is seriously delicious and worth trying for its distinctive flavors.

It is a seasonal dish to be savored in Summer during the hot months. It is a cold soup made with buckwheat and potato or sweet potato starch noodles. The noodles are served in a delicious cold broth with ice. It is served with sliced cucumber and half a boiled egg on top. The taste of the soup is acidic and sweet, and the combination of flavors works so well.

Mul-Naengmyeon is traditional in North Korea, from Pyongyang, so the dish is also known as Pyongyang naengmyeon noodles. There is also a brothless version of Naengmyeon called bibim naengmyeon, made with a spicy sauce.

Traditional noodle in South Korea - Cold noodles.
Mul-Naengmyeon cold noodle soup in the photo above is done with wheat noodles, not traditional buckwheat noodles.

Jjigae – Stews and soups in South Korea

There are so many stews in South Korea. They combine different ingredients, sauces, and textures. But they all have to be pipping hot. Koreans love hot food, not just spicy but served hot. They cook the stews in claw pots that retain heat and keep them warm by using a portable burner while still eating.

There’s even the tradition of eating hot ginseng chicken soup on the hotter summer day. In Korea, there is a saying, “Fighting the heat with heat.” Which they follow literally when it comes to food.

Samgyetang (Ginseng chicken soup)

Samgyetang is Korea’s version of chicken soup. It is made with chicken and ginseng and is typically eaten on the hottest summer days due to its restorative properties and help fight the summer heat. It is also traditional to eat in the festivities of Sambok.

This chicken soup has a surprising twist; each bowl of soup is served with an entire chicken stuffed with rice and ginseng, dates (jujubes), and chestnuts. The soup is very satisfying. It doesn’t have a strong flavor when compared with other dishes here. There is a slight scent of ginseng and the dates. This is the ideal when you want something light but very fulfilling.

Stews and soups in South Korea - Samgyetang- chicken soup
Samgyetang is Korea’s version of chicken soup this plate is just for one person, so it is a mouthfull.

Kimchi Jjigae

Kimchi jjigae is a stew made with kimchi and other ingredients like meat, tofu, and several vegetables. It is one of the most common stews in South Korea. It is a spicy and savory dish beloved by all.

Like other stews, a pot is placed on a portable burner/oven in this dish, and you continue cooking it on the table to remain hot. When the stew is boiling, add the ramen, stir for a while, and switch off the fire. It is a spicy hot dish but very tasty and satisfying to eat. It can be served with ramen and rice ( rice is a fundamental ingredient for every meal).

Even if you don’t appreciate the taste of Kimchi, try this stew. Combined with all the other ingredients, the kimchi taste becomes less intense, resulting in a hearty dish.

best stews in South Korea - Kimchi Jjigae
Kimchi Jjigae, a stew made with kimchi and noodles, is so comforting


Sundubu-jjigae is similar to kimchi Jjigae but uses soft tofu (sundubu) and other vegetables. Other ingredients, like seafood, fish, beef, and pork, are added along with the tofu. A raw egg is served right before eating and served with white rice.

It is served in a thick clay pot called ttukbaegi and is served very hot. When you eat this dish in a restaurant, there is a portable burner, so you continue cooking this dish while you eat it. We ate a seafood version known as Haemul Sundubu Jjigae and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Best South Korean dishes -Soft tofu and seafood stew
Soft tofu and seafood stew called Haemul Sundubu

Meat typical dishes in South Korea

Korean BBQ

South Korean barbecue is Korea’s most famous dish worldwide. There are even several restaurants throughout the world that serve Korean BBQ. Besides being a tasteful dish, it is an event per se, as it is fun to gather around a grill with your friends and family and grill your own food. It is a dish to be delighted with.

Korean BBQ involves three essential aspects: the meat marinade, the grill, and the ingredients to wrap the meat called ssam. The marinade is made with soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger, and fruit like Asian pear. You must leave the meat in the marinade for at least 3 hours.

As for the grill, Korean BBQ restaurants have a gas burner in the middle of the table so you can grill the meat. After you grill the meat, dip it in the dipping sauce and wrap it in a perilla or lettuce on top of a bit of rice. You can also add some grilled garlic, onion, and other ingredients. Make sure you don’t pile too much.

There are several meats used in Korean BBQ:

  • Samgyupsal – Pork belly (this cuts of meat are served without being seasoned or marinated)
  • Bulgogi – is thinly sliced beef marinated in a sauce made with onion, ginger, Asian pear, garlic, soju, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil.
  • Galbi – ribs are marinated in the same sauce above.

But in the end, do it your way and have fun.

One of Korea most famous foods- Korean BBQ
Eating Korean BBQ in a restaurant is a fun experience, you get to grill your meat.


Dakgalbi is a dish made with stir-fried chicken and cabbage. It is served with rice or with perilla leaves or lettuce. It is a very spicy dish, and in South Korea, that means a lot.

This dish is served in a big frying pan and served on a cast iron on top of a grill for you to stir-fry it slightly as it is already cooked. It is made with chicken, sweet potatoes, rice cakes, cabbage, and chili paste. Some versions of this dish come with cheese on top, making it extra delicious. It is a fun dish to eat; like Korean BBQ, you are meant to nib it slowly with other ingredients.

An interesting fact about this dish is that galbi in Korean means ribs. Yet, this dish doesn’t use ribs but chicken. This is because chicken was used instead of ribs after WWII, and the dish became known as dakgalbi.

Dishes you mus try in South Korea - Dakgalbi (stir-fried chicken and cabbage)
Dakgalbi (stir-fried chicken and cabbage) made on a portable burner in a restaurant.

Chimaek (Korean Fried chicken)

Chimaek is fried chicken, Chi means chicken, and maek means bear in Korea. Fried chicken is intended to be eaten with bear with friends and family. Or known as KFC, Korean Fried Chicken (KFC), smart, isn’t it? No, I didn’t invent it; I heard it in a K-Drama.

Korean Fried Chicken is so good; it’s crunchy and tasty. And besides the classic fried chicken, you have fried chicken with a sweet and spicy sauce that is finger-licking good. Fried chicken feet or fried gizzards also exist. If you have the opportunity, try to eat a mixture of them. Normally, it is served with crispy “soy crackers crisps.”

You will find fried chicken restaurants all over Korea. But in Suwon, about 30km from Seoul, there is a street specializing in fried chicken called Chicken Street. And it is totally worth the trip; you also have the opportunity to visit the fortress of Hwaseong.

Popular meat dishes in South Korea - Korean Fried Chicken
Korean Fried Chicken: fried chicken with a sweet and spicy sauce, fried chicken feet and fried gizzards

South Korean fish and seafood

South Koreans love fish and seafood. The streets in Korea are packed with fish restaurants, and their fish markets are out of this world. Full of big aquariums with weird creatures and fishes that can be eaten raw straight out of the tanks. The markets are also spotless and so clean. It is impressive.

Koreans eat all kinds of fish. They consume raw fish and seafood, like the famous octopus called San-nakji, which is eaten still alive. They eat cured seafood called jeotgal. Rotten state fish, like Hongeo, is fermented in its own uric acid. There is also plenty of dry fish. And even if it isn’t a fish dish, it probably has some fish due to the broth or the use of fish sauce.

But don’t be alarmed if this seems hardcore; there are fish dishes for all tastes and some that are simpler and more common.

fish market in Busan in South Korea
Fish market in Busan – everything is impressively clean and fresh


Nakji-bokkeum is a spicy, stir-fried octopus with vegetables. It is made with chopped octopus, onions, garlic, ginger, green onions, cabbage, and carrots. All the ingredients are marinated with gochujang (red pepper paste), gochugaru (chili flakes), soy sauce, garlic, salt, rice vinegar, and sugar the night before.

The octopus is only slightly stir-fired. Koreans like their octopus nearly raw. Unlike in Portugal, our home country, where the octopus is cooked for a long time, with the meat almost falling apart. In Korea, the octopus is chewy and al dente. It is served with rice.

Octopus is widely appreciated in Korea for its health benefits. Normally, you stir-fry it in restaurants on a portable gas burner in the middle of the table. It is a tasty and very spicy dish.

Fish South Korean dishes - Nakji-bokkeum is a spicy, stir-fried octopus with vegetables
Nakji-bokkeum is a spicy, stir-fried octopus with vegetables done on a portable burner in a restaurant.

Jeonbokjuk (abalone rice porridge)

Jeonbokjuk is an abalone rice porridge made with rice and pieces of abalone cut in small pieces. It is a specialty of the island of Jeju and is the best place to eat it. Several restaurants serve this specialty, and the abalone is fresh.

In South Korea, rice porridge is very beloved. There are sweet and salty porridges. It is easy to eat and digest, ideal for children and the elderly. There is a wide variety of porridge, but if you plan to visit Jeju, we highly advise you to try it; it is an excellent way to taste abalone.

Jeonbokjuk has a mild taste, isn’t very seasoned, and has nearly no salt, if any. Maybe you have to season it at the end when you are eating; when we ate it, we were uncertain. It is very filling.

what to eat in South Korea - Jeonbokjuk (abalone rice porridge)
A traditional dish from the island of Jeju in South Korea – Jeonbokjuk (abalone rice porridge)

Sweets and Desserts you must try in South Korea

In South Korea, eating desserts at the end of a meal isn’t traditional. Commonly, sweets are consumed in the afternoon with a hot drink or when you grab a bit in the street. Usually, the traditional sweets and desserts in South Korea involve rice cake, red bean paste, or chestnut paste. There are also some sweets that are traditional in certain holidays like the songpyeon in the festivities of Chuseok.

Sweets and Desserts you must try in South Korea - pasteries of Paris baguette
Pasteries from the famous bakery chain of South Korea – Paris Baguette


Bungeo-ppang is a traditional Korean sweet made with sweet batter and filled with a sweet red bean paste. It is molded in the form of a fish. This sweet was introduced by the Japanese when it was under their rule, and it is basically the same as the Japanese taiyaki.

It is very good, especially hot. The sweet filling with the light pastry will melt in your mouth. It can have other fillings like pastry cream, sweet potato, and chestnut paste. It is a famous street food, and you will find street stalls with Bungeo-ppang all over South Korea.

Bungeo-ppang best sweets form South Korea
Traditional South Korean and Japanese desserts are made with sweet batter and filled with a sweet red bean paste.

Soboro Ppang

Saboro ppang is a soft bun with peanut butter crumbs on top and a delicious filling, like fresh cream. It may not be the most famous sweet pastry, but it was one of our favorites. Indeed, you will find similar pastries like buns with cream, doughnut-like cakes, and French-type pastries like canelé, cream puff bread, castella cake, and egg tarts; they have it all.

All over South Korea, you will find a chain of French bakeries like Paris Baguette or Tous les Jours with a wide variety of sweet pastries and cakes. We loved these French bakeries, particularly the Paris Baguette. It has delicious desserts, pastries, and sandwiches. It was always tricky to choose only one thing, and you will find soboro ppang there.

best dessers of South Korea - Soboro Ppang and other pastries from the bakery Paris Baguette
Soboro Ppang and other pastries from the bakery Paris Baguette


Hotteok is a popular sweet street food in South Korea. You will find it everywhere and thank god because it is so good. It is even more delicious, freshly done, and eaten hot with the melting filling.

This traditional sweet in Korea is a pancake made with wheat and rice flowers and is filled with sugar, cinnamon, and crushed nuts, like peanuts, walnuts, or pine nuts. Sometimes, it can have honey, red beans, or even cheese. It is sold in the market or street food stalls. This is definitely a sweet you have to try.

sweet that you must eat in South Korea Hotteok
One of the most popular sweets in South Korea – Hotteok made in a street food stall

Dalgona or Bbopki

Dalgona is a traditional Korean sugar candy made with sugar and baking soda. It is light and sweet but a bit smoky and bitter. It has a round shape with a stamp in the middle, with the format of a heart, star, etc. Street vendors sell this candy.

The vendor uses a cookie cutter to mold the candy. They are very popular with children who would try to trim around the outline of the inner stamp without breaking it. If they succeed, they receive another candy for free.

This candy became famous in recent years due to the TV show Squid Game, where it was featured. And it has gained traction. There are several street vendors in South Korea selling this candy. And trying to eat the stamp without breaking it is really fun.

Dalgona or Bbopki - Popular south Korean Sweet
Famous sweet features in the popular South Korean series – Dalgona or Bbopki

* Some of the information in this article was obtained from the book: Cook Korean!: A Comic Book with Recipes. It has useful information about Korean cuisine, and the recipes are very good and easy to follow. Plus, it is part memoir, so it is also an interesting read.

Pin for later

26 Dishes to try in South Korea

Sharing is caring!