Guide to Seoul: Korean Food – all the food you need to try while visiting South Korea! Everything from Korean classics like kimchi and bulgogi, comfort foods like tteokbokki and doenjang-jjigae, to popular street favorites like hotteok.
James and I expected to eat a lot more Korean food while we were here 6+ weeks but that quickly proved to be difficult if we also wanted to feed our picky kids. I’m proud of them for trying several new things but I’m also eternally grateful for a McDonalds on every corner. We ate more McDonalds on this trip than I have in the past three decades of my life combined.
There are no “kid’s menus” at Korean restaurants (that we saw anyway) and there is no customizing; partially because of the language barrier but mostly because what you see is what you get. For these reasons we found it easier to just seek out American restaurants in Seoul or buy groceries and cook at home. James and I would occasionally fill the kids up at home first and then eat out whatever we wanted or order in after putting them to bed.
Here are a few of our favorite Korean food recommendations:
Obviously, this one needs no introduction and can be found everywhere. Kimchi, a sour/spicy dish made of fermented cabbage and other vegetables, is one of the oldest and probably the most essential dishes in Korean cuisine.
Where to find kimchi in Seoul: Anywhere. We liked the flavor of these little individually sealed packets we found at Homeplus (and that they didn’t stink up the fridge).
Probably our favorite Korean dish, and one of the most popular, bulgogi is grilled marinated beef. It is often grilled with green onions and mushrooms in an Asian pear marinade and then wrapped in lettuce to be eaten with ssamjang (a thick, red spicy paste).
Where to find bulgogi in Seoul: We ate bulgogi at two different restaurants. At Butcher Bulgogi located in the Hyundai department store on the 10th floor and at The Kim’s White Horse located across the street from the Seoul Family Court in Gangnam. You can also purchase individual pre-marinated packages from Homeplus.
I attended a cooking class with Sobaan Cooking and learned to make it myself!
Hotteok (also: hoddeok) is a popular Korean street food, especially during the winter season. Loosely referred to as a pancake, it is essentially fried dough that is filled with a mixture of cinnamon, brown sugar, and crushed peanuts. After making my own at home, this was the one food I was most looking forward to.
Where to find hotteok in Seoul: I found sweet and savory (vegetable filled) hotteok in Namdaemun from a few different street vendors. Make sure you find the stalls that are making them fresh right then and don’t be surprised if they sell out while you’re in line! Get my recipe for hotteok to make them yourself at home.
Other street foods worth mentioning:
- corn dogs- the breading is thicker and they’re sometimes filled with mozzarella
- chocolate poop bread– they’re delicious, trust me
- subway cakes- aka manjoo, a custard filled cake shaped like a mini ear of corn (Sophia’s favorite)
- tornado potato-a deep fried spiral-cut whole potato on a skewer
- fruit on a stick- candied fruit like strawberries or grapes (think: candy apple)
Bibim= mixing various ingredients and bap= rice. This dish varies by region, but generally consists of rice, seasoned and sautéed vegetables, mushrooms, soy sauce, and gochujang (chili pepper paste); sometimes there is beef or egg. We ate bibimbap with Eli’s foster family at a restaurant in Bucheon. James also tried pajeon (seafood pancake) and nakji-bokkeum (spicy stir-fried octopus) there!
Japchae is a traditional Korean sweet and savory noodle dish made up of stir-fried glass noodles (sweet potato) and thinly shredded vegetables. The noodles are soft but slightly chewy and the dish can be served hot or cold. (It was cold every time we had it.)
Tteokbokki (also: ddukbokki) is like Korean comfort food. Made of cylindrical rice cakes and gochujang chili paste, this is another sweet, savory, funky, chewy dish.
Where to find tteokbokki in Seoul: You can find this dish from various pojangmacha (street vendors)- we found some in Namdaemun served with chicken. We also had some from Gcova in Hongdae but it wasn’t my favorite.
Doenjang=soybean paste and jjigae= stew. One of Korea’s most popular jjigae; Doenjang-jjigae is made with soybean paste and various ingredients such as vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, seafood, or meat. Often, a small amount of gochujang is added for a hint of heat.
Where to find doenjang-jjigae in Seoul: Our favorite was at the White Horse restaurant near the courthouse in Gangnam. The broth was rich, silky, and spicy! (Isabella’s favorite)
Aka Korean dumplings. Mandu can be steamed, boiled, pan-fried, or deep-fried and come with a variety of fillings (like pork or kimchi).
Where to find mandu in Seoul: Our favorite was from a tiny restaurant in Insadong named Bukchon Son Mandu. The fried mandu are the BEST (crispy, warm, filled with pork, japchae, and veggies) but you can also opt for the mandu sampler (9 dumplings/ 4 different kinds for 9,000 KRW) or the kid’s mandu (smaller, pork filled- Isabella loved these).
Bukchon Son Mandu is located in an alley near the Ssamziegil shopping center. It is a small shop that sits about 15-20 at a time and typically has a line as the dumplings here are famous throughout Seoul. The line moves very quickly and you can also grab food to go (which is what we did).