1. Kimbap. A Korean staple – sushi style rice (bap) and seeweed (kim) rolls that usually contain egg, radish, processed ham, and thin slices of fishcake.
2. Japchae. Another classic Korean dish, these semi-transparent and chewy noodles are made from Korean kokomah (sweet potato) and easily absorb flavors. Japchae usually features a soy and sesame oil sauce with spinach, carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, and wood-ear mushrooms.
3. Honey Butter Toast. Here’s a secret that no one talks about: Korea has fabulous bakeries and baked goods. Honey Butter Toast is so much more than what it sounds to be: Thick cut slices of dense white bread are semi-cubed on a plate, toasted with a generous amount of butter and drizzled with honey, caramel, and dazzled with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. A decadent and simple dessert.
4. Bibimbap. Bibim = mix; bap = rice. This is a bowl full of rice and other ingredients, from veggies and egg to meat and seaweed, usually topped with a red sauce that varies in heat. The eater mixes thoroughly before eating. Delicious!
5. Kimchi Chigae. This stew features the ingredient Korea is famous (or infamous) for: KIMCHI. Fermented cabbage with its spicy-vinegary flavor is cooked down with onions, garlic, egg, and sometimes tofu and seafood to create a rich broth. Served in a dolsot hotpot heated over flame, this dish is often shared and served with sticky rice.
6. Sahmgyeopsal. Korea is also widely known for its indoor barbecue and this dish is part of the reason why. Fatty pork slices feature three layers of meat and fat resembling thick cuts of uncured bacon. Sometimes marinated, this dish is also to be flipped three times, hence the “sahm” (three) in sahmgyeopsal. Served with leaf lettuce wraps and various panchan, this is a great meal for a group.
7. Cold Noodles. Traditionally served after barbecue or as a summer specialty, cold noodles are prevalent in Korea and are usually served with a cold broth featuring ice, water, vinegar, red sauce, and often hot mustard. Vinegar and mustard are also provided table side to adjust the flavor. Nangmyeon is made with hearty, chewy buckwheat noodles which look grey in the bowl but have a dense texture and absorb flavors easily. A local Busan favorite, milmyeon, is made with springy flour-based noodles.
8. Korean Fried Chicken. I have eaten more fried chicken in Korea than I have eaten during the entirety of my remaining adult life. Double fried and often served with different sauces, Korean fried chicken is exceptionally crispy, never greasy, and very affordable. Also, a delivery guy on a scooter will bring it to you at all hours of the day and night, so it’s convenient as well as tasty.
9. Bulgogi. Bulgogi describes a way to prepare and cook meat, and can be made with various kinds of meat, but most commonly is made with beef or pork. The meat is sliced thin and seasoned with soy, spicy red sauce, garlic, ginger, and onion, and then stir-fried at a table-top skillet. The meat is then eaten either with rice, or wrapped into leaves of sesame or lettuce. A fan-favorite here in Korea is oh-ri gogi – or duck bulgogi.
10. Samgyetang. Samgyetang, a whole young chicken is stuffed with glutinous rice and boiled in a broth of Korean ginseng, dried seeded jujube fruits, chestnut, garlic, and ginger. This is very traditional and said to be extremely good for the health.
11. Bingsou. I’ve saved the best for last! Bingsou is shaved ice flakes, drizzled with milk, syrup, and usually other things depending on the variety. Most popular is the Paht Bingsuo – made with sweetened red beans (not my fave). I prefer more Western flavors – but the milk tea bingsou is my current must-have – especially in warm weather!