The Korean cuisine that we see today is actually an amalgamation of centuries old traditions and cultures. This cuisine is renowned world over for the beautiful manifestation of nature in every dish. The food not only is delicious, but each dish is a meaningful balance of so many abstract aspects, that one is forced to introspect into each dish and trace out the colourful history of each dish that traverses through merging traditions, beliefs and a love for gastronomy. As it is true to most Asian countries, Korean cuisine gives rice a very important position. One can only understand the beauty and the variety in Korean cuisine by experiencing it. So, whenever you have a chance of trying Korean cuisine, here is a list of 10 Korean dishes you must try. Rest assured, you will walk out raving about how wonderful the entire experience was. Of course, it needs to be understood that this compilation comes from personal experience and therefore, subjectivity does enter the picture. However, I can promise you that you will not regret trying the following dishes.
10. Tteok guk or Rice-based soup
In Korean tradition, it is a custom to eat tteok guk on New Years’ eve. Tteok is a rice preparation, which involves the steaming of rice containing gluten. Tteok can be made in numerous different ways, but Tteok Guk is one of the more prominent ways of making Tteok and using it in a dish. Tteok Guk is considered to be the bringer of good-luck and good-fortune, which is why this dish forms a pretty important part of celebratory cuisine. It is believed that this dish can add a year to the life of the person who consumes it. It is also topped with ingredients such as cooked eggs. Meat that has been marinated also finds its way into this dish. This delicious soup preparation should be on your list; perhaps it could bring you good luck!
If you have the time in Korea you must always give Korean snacks a try because they are so different and novel compared to the snacks you normally tend to eat back home. Korean snacks can be a healthy bite too and if you find yourself hungry, but not hungry enough to gorge on an entire meal, a snack is what you should ideally reach out for. Now Hoppang is a well-known Korean snack that is pretty simple looking and simple to make as well. It is essentially a rice wheat flour dough that has a filling inside. Now this filling could range from having a curry or a vegetable or even red bean paste. You could experiment with this preparation and look at the available variants and perhaps try one of each. You could even head back home and try to emulate this dish as it’s ingredients and it’s preparation is not too complicated or difficult.
8. Dooboo Kimchi
Dooboo Kimchi is a side dish that is served with alcohol in Korea, usually soju. Kimchi is a preparation of vegetables that is traditional and unique to Korea. Dooboo, that is tofu is placed around the kimchi which forms the center of the dish. The dish in itself is a delicious delight that acts as a perfect side dish to any alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage. However, if you do have the chance, you are recommended to try soju along with Dooboo Kimchi. The Korean cuisine is as much about these small delights that are rich in taste as much it is about the big dishes that involve various elements. There are meat variants of this dish too, with pork strips or beef. However, this dish works brilliantly even if had completely vegetarian.
7. Naengmyon (Naeg Myun)
The name of this literally means cold noodles. This dish is a favourite among Korean food lovers during summers as it is a cool dish that contains a cool ice broth. The noodles are thin and are made from buckwheat among other ingredients. This dish also predominantly contains beef. The beauty of this dish lies in the plethora of different flavours that it has in it. It is spicy and is garnished with a Korean spicy chilli paste. There are variants of this dish that contain chicken or pork instead of beef, so if you are not the biggest fan of beef, there are other options you could go for. Watch out for the lovely slices of cucumber that feature in this dish, among other salad-like elements, including pear. If you are looking to take in the essence of the Korean cuisine on a hot summer day, this should undoubtedly be your pick.
6. Gaejang or Crabs in soy sauce
It would be redundant to try Korean cuisine without trying out their crab based dishes. Gaejang should be on your list as it is one of the most popular Korean crab preparations. Marinated crabs occupy the limelight of this age-old Korean dish that has evolved over time to become what it is today. Gaejang, the term itself means crabs marinated in soy sauce. It is prepared with the assistance of many ingredients that are rich in flavour like ginger, garlic, sesame seeds and the quintessential feature- the Korean pear. Needless to say, soy sauce is a prominent feature in this dish as raw crabs are first marinated in soy sauce repeatedly to retain and enhance it’s flavour.
5. Dae jil bul gogi
Trying Korean cuisine is not about sticking to your comfort zone and eating what you would usually go for, you must also have the nerve to try out their unique preparations. Octopus meat is not usually eaten world over and now that you have the chance to try it, I suggest you don’t let it go. Dae jil bul gogi is a spicy octopus preparation that infuses the traditional spices and cooking methods of Korea. Essentially, octopus meat is chopped into small pieces and fried with red chilli paper paste and red chilli pepper flakes along with chilli peppers, onions, ginger, garlic, green vegetables and carrots. However, you may find this dish too spicy if you are not used to adding a lot of spice in your food in which case it would be ideal to add a small quantity of this dish to a fairly large quantity of rice to dilute the spice and balance it to sit on your taste buds with ease.
4. Bul dak
Bul dak is a chicken preparation that is essentially spicy, if you are wondering why so many spicy dishes have made it to this list, now would be the time to tell you that I love my spices. I love my dish to be laden with spices. Those of you out there who love spices should go for Bul-dak, hands down, when you are looking to chicken it up some day. This is becoming a favourite among Korean youngsters (Koreans have quite the tolerance for large quantities of spice in their food). This is a comparatively newer dish in the Korean cuisine and several restaurants serve this dish with varying levels of spiciness so that people who are not accustomed to high levels of spice can opt for something that has little spice or medium spice. This dish is served with fresh items like freshly cut cucumbers and salads and onions. Though the range of the hotness of this dish might differ, the constant factor is that it is served in a hot-sweet sauce base.
3. Kong guksu
Now, there are several options when you are scouting for a noodle soup in Korea. Contrary to popular belief, there are several options for the vegetarians out there too! Kong guksu is predominantly a vegetarian, summer noodle soup. It has a large number of ingredients of a variety of flavour base that come together in this lovely vegetarian delight. The name of this dish literally translates to ‘bean noodle’. The texture of this soup is chewy and milky as it includes soy beans, wheat flour and pasted ground nuts. The noodles are usually submerged in ice to add to the cool quotient of this dish. This is perfect for one of those days when it is really hot outside and you have to cool your insides down. It would be advised to have this dish without any meat in it (yes, there may be meat variants available!) as the essence of this dish lies in the fact that it can bring together a delightful dish with simple yet really tasty ingredients. For those of you who are allergic to groundnuts, you should stay away from this dish as it infuses a large quantity of groundnut paste.
2. Soondooboo Chigae
The Korean cuisine has some really interesting tofu dishes that will surely reward you if you try. It is a stew of sorts and it usually has some sea-food, pork strips or beef to go with. The meat ingredients of this dish are usually laced with a lot of spice, which also add to the somewhat spicy nature of this dish. However, the tofu can neutralize the spiciness of the dish providing your palate a nice balance of contrasting tastes. There are variations of this dish that you could order depending upon your preference of spice intake. The dish could have a light dint of spiciness, or a medium balance of the spice, however if you are a lover of spices you should go full hawk and try the spiciest variation of this dish available.
1. Hae-Mul-Tang or the seafood stew
Sea-food is understandably an important part of Korean food and plays the protagonist in this stew. This dish is an important traditional Korean dish. It is a perfect balance of sweet and spicy and includes many members of the sea-food family like squids, scallops, crabs, shrimps and many more. It has generous amounts of red peppers and other ingredients like mushrooms, onions, garlic, bean sprouts and other such items. You should give this a shot when you are in an experimental mood as this is guaranteed to be starkly different from the kind of food that you normally eat. Also, make sure to eat the food with your eyes too as the rich, fresh, ingredients of this dish come together in a bowl to be a visual treat too.