I've been trying out a lot of Korean recipes lately and it really made me reflective about all the delicious food at ate while in South Korea. Korea has such a diverse cuisine and there's so much to try so here's a guide to some of the most common Korean foods and desserts that are a must whenever you go to South Korea or a "Korean Town" in your city.
Keep in mind that a lot of savory Korean food is spicy and their scale of spice is higher than in Western societies - so ask or check spice level whenever ordering if possible.
Tteokbokki is one of my favourite Korean dishes. Being a sweet, but mostly spicy warm indulgent, I can never eat too much of it. Though it has many variations the two main ingredients are rice cakes and Gochujang (고추장), a spicy red chili paste. It's normally served as street food or more gourmet style in a restaurant. But, either way it always has that same, warm Tteokbokki taste. Personally, my favorite kind of Tteokbokki would either have to be one served with Ramen and cheese or traditional street food style with fish cakes.
Curry Rice (카레라이스)
Being that I grew up in the Bahamas, Curry is one of my all time favorite foods and I'm not unfamiliar with it. There are so many styles and kinds of curry worldwide and after trying Japanese curry rice, I assumed I had an idea of what Korean curry might be like. Korean Curry Rice highly surpassed my expectations and I literally went back to the same restaurant twice just for Curry Rice because it was so good! If you're a curry lover, I would definitely recommend!
Cold Noodles~Naengmyeon (냉면)
Cold Noodles were one of the most interesting things I ate while in Korea. It is exactly what the name states; the really long and thin noodles are served in a cold broth or sometimes an icy cold broth. Ice was literally in my noodles. It's normally eaten in summertime which explains why it's cold, but one thing you don't have to worry about is the noodles lacking taste or being watery. Even when or if the ice melts it is just as flavorful as hot noodles. - Also, because the noodles are so long, it's common to eat dish with scissors to cut them.
Desserts & Drinks
Bingsu was really one of the best things I had in Korea. I literally had it about 4 or 5 times while there because it was so good. It's basically a shaved ice dessert with condensed milk and sweet toppings that include different fruits and syrups. One of the best flavors that I had was a Mango and Cheese Bingsu topped with mango syrup, a scoop of vanilla ice cream with extra condensed milk. Soooo good!
Bubble Tea~Coffee Shop
Bubble Tea might just be my favorite thing in the world. I urge everyone to try Bubble tea from both a small coffee shop and chain cafe like Gong Cha (공차). A place like Gong Cha has a wider variety of flavors and toppings that range from different milk teas and coffee to different fruity teas, while local cafes offer pastries and a nicer ambiance though they have less drink options. My favorite combination would have to be either iced green tea with aloe or taro milk tea with bubbles!
**An interesting fact about Korea and Japan compared to Western countries is that most restaurants specialize in one type of dish. So if you want Cold Noodles you would go to a Cold Noodles restaurant and if you want Curry Rice you would go to a Curry Rice restaurant. But, it's highly unlikely that you would find Curry Rice on the menu at a Cold Noodles restaurant. For me, this is enticing because you know that whatever dish is offered at a specific restaurant, it is perfected being that it's basically their only dish (though it's offered with a significant number of variations). But this does make eating in a group a little bit difficult if everyone has different preferences.**
Some other Korean foods that I encourage you to try are Bibimbap (비빔밥) and of course the famous Korean BBQ (고기구이).
Bibimbap is a staple of Korea and Korean cuisine and being that it' s a mix of so many typical yet tasty ingredients it's very easy to find in restaurants.
There's no way that you can go to Korea and not have Korean BBQ. Even if you don't eat meat like me, I encourage you just to go for the experience. The grill is built into the table itself so you get to prepare your meat/dish just how you like it. There's just an unexplainable feeling about this type of dining experience that it's hard to come across in most Western societies.
Other Korean Favorites:
Knife Cut Noodles~Kalguksu (칼국수) || Kimchi Soup~Kimchi Jjigae (김치찌개) || Pan fried Tofu (두부부침양념장)