Among the many reasons for making a trip to South Korea, sampling the array of unique and delicious Korean cuisine is at the very top of the list. Korean food is vibrant, flavorful, and diverse, and there are so many dishes you don't want to miss. Here are 10 mouth-watering fares I recently had the opportunity to try, and recommend that you do the same! 

1.  Fresh Seafood Hotpot (해물 뚝배기, Haemul Dukbaegiand Grilled Sea Bream (옥돔구이, Okdom Gui) from Jeju Island

Don't make the mistake of missing out on a visit to Jeju Island during your Korean vacation. In addition to the stunning natural beauty, Jeju Island is known for its fresh and delicious seafood dishes that often include abalone traditionally harvested by female divers. The seafood hotpot I had the pleasure of sampling included sweet crab, clams, and abalone all freshly caught in the local waters and stewed in a savory broth. 

This was one of my favorite dishes! And isn't it pretty, too?

And the local catch of the day was grilled sea bream, a deliciously mild, white, and flaky fish. 

2.  Stone-cooked Bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥, Dolsot Bibimbap)

One of Korea's most simple and popular dishes, bibimbap is a nutritious bowl of rice topped with bulgogi beef, pickled and fresh vegetables, fried egg, chili paste, and sesame oil. While many people have had what could be considered the "fast food" version, to really appreciate this dish, indulge in bibimbap that has been slowly cooked in a traditional stone pot with ginseng and jujube bean.

 And be sure to sample all of the accompanying banchan, or Korean side dishes including various types of kimchi, noodles, and cooked vegetables. 

3. Five-Layer Black Pork BBQ from Jeju Island (제주흑돼지, Heuk Dwaeji )

During a Korean barbecue meal, platters of fresh meat, typically including pork belly and sweet beef bulgogi, are brought to your table, where either you or your server grill them up to crispy perfection right in front of your eyes. The meat is served with lettuce, kimchi, and various banchan and sauces for creating lettuce wraps. What makes the Korean BBQ on Jeju Island unique is the pork belly from the native black pigs, which consists of five delicious layers as opposed to the three layers normal pork belly has. You won't find this flavorful dish anywhere else, so make sure to add it to your list! 


4. Korean Buddhist Temple Food 

If you're taking a break from meat and want to detox your body, then Korean monastic food is a must-have. While Western vegetarian food often seems limited in variety and flavor, Korean buddhist vegetarian food is robust in flavor with a huge variety of noodle, dumpling, soup, rice, and pancake dishes flavored with intense fermented sauces and pickled and fried vegetables. 

5. Korean Egg Bread (계란빵 Gyeran-ppang)

When you're walking through the streets of Seoul and it's time for a little snack, follow your nose to the nearest egg bun vendor. This delicious street food is the perfect cheap pick-me-up treat. Consisting of sweet pancake-like batter and a whole egg, this savory snack is hard to resist and fun to watch being made. 

6. Sweet Korean Pancakes (호떡, Hotteok

Another street food you should never pass up is a sweet Korean pancake. These thick and crispy cakes are filled with a delectable brown sugar and nut filling that oozes out with every bite. Just be careful not to burn your mouth as you eagerly chow down! 

7. Ox Tail Bone Marrow Soup (소꼬리 곰탕)

On a wintry day in South Korea, nothing warms you up like  a steaming bowl of ox tail bone marrow soup. This savory soup with milky, marrowy broth is simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and green onion, and served with basic kimchi and rice. It often contains chunks of meat and even soup dumplings. Koreans believe this soup has the magical ability to fight off winter illness, and at the very least, it will make you warm and cozy. 

8. Abalone Porridge (전복죽, Jeon-bok-juk) from Jeju Island  

One thing that really sticks out to Western travelers when they visit Korea, or Asia in general, is that there isn't much distinction between the types of food they eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It is very common to see the same savory meat, rice, and vegetable dishes laid out for breakfast as you see at lunch and dinnertime. One dish that does seem slightly more breakfast-y is Korean rice porridge. This porridge comes in many varieties, often garnished with seafood. In Jeju Island, the porridge speciality is made with locally harvested abalone, seaweed, and sesame, and the look and taste are quite unique! 

9. Korean Ginseng Chicken Soup (삼계탕, Samgyetang)

What bone marrow soup is to the wintertime, ginseng chicken soup is to the summertime. Koreans eat this simple dish on the hottest day of summer to fight heat with heat. They believe that eating this protects you from the illnesses of summer, and even prepares your immune system for the winter. The whole chicken is stuffed with rice, ginseng, spices, and jujube bean, boiled in onion broth, and simply flavored with salt and pepper to taste. 

10. Traditional Korean Tea and Pumpkin Rice Cake (호박떡, Hobaktteok)

A lovely way to end a day of site seeing in Korea is to have tea. When visiting one of the Korean palace sites, be on the lookout for a traditional Korean tea house. They are often located in a historic traditional home that has been beautifully renovated. The main thing on the menu is a huge variety of herb, fruit, and flower teas, and some simple tea house desserts. 

The traditional Korean way of pouring tea requires several steps, but the process is relaxing and meditative. 

We enjoyed a pumpkin rice cake, which is a spongy, chewy, and lightly sweetened steamed cake made from rice flower and pumpkin.  

(Images by Colleen Johnson) 


While there seem to be an endless lineup of unique dishes to try in Korea, these were some of my favorite and most memorable. I'd like to thank the Korean Tourism Organization for sending me, and my tour guide Ryan at at Good Day Tour for organizing an amazing trip. If you are looking for a great guide for your Korean vacation, contact him at gooddaytourusa@gmail.com.

Which of these Korean foods do you want to try? Which ones do you recommend? Comment below!