I’ve been going to “The Koreas” for 12 years now, about the amount of time you get for murder! Now whilst most of my time has been spent in the north of the 38th parallel in the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, I have also spent lots of time in the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Yanbian (The Korean part of China), and even Koreatown in Angeles City.
Korean cuisine is often thought of as some kind of clone of Chinese food, but really nothing could be further from the truth, and it is not only truly unique but in my mind freaking awesome.
Here’s my guide to the ten best Korean foods to try. Trust me you will not be disappointed.
1) Pyongyang Cold Noodles (Naengmyeon)
Our first dish hails from good old North Korea, with the name kinda being a bit of a giveaway. These buckwheat noodles are served, would you guess it? Cold. A bit like a gazpacho soup, except completely different. The key to making this great is to add vinegar and the ever wonderful North Korean mustard!
2) Bulgogi (marinated beef)
It’s basically seasoned beef that is cooked Korean BBQ style. You then wrap it in a lettuce leaf, which kind of makes it a bit of a rubbish sandwich. Fun fact though, I once had a bulgogi border at McDonald’s, and they sell bulgogi tuna in the Philippines. Truly what a time to be alive!
Love it, or hate it kimchi is the food in Korea. You have it with every meal, people make it at home, and it is the closest thing Koreans have to religion (well maybe not) Fermented cabbage basically, but very different from sauerkraut made by sour krauts. The North does it better!
I wrote a whole blog about soju, but I will still give a bit of an explanation. It is usually 18%, and in a small bottle, so its like drinking a bottle of wine. I usually drink one, or at times two every night. They do stronger stuff, but Jinro style soju is where its at. On Sunday mornings you can view a kimchi flower, which is where people drunk on soju puke kimchi. Yum!
5) Ddukbokki (spicy rice cake)
Spherical rice cake things that are one of the main street foods you can get throughout the south of Korea. Strangely absent in the North, but a must if you find yourself south side. Served with a chill paste that to me tastes a little bit like spicy BBQ sauce!
6) Ginseng Chicken soup (Samgyetang)
Ginseng is another national obsession in Korea with claims that it not only cures cancer but will make your little fella stand up for attention all nights with the ladies (or fellas we’re open-minded here). It also tastes really good, and Ginseng Chicken soup is a real specialty. You can eat it in Kaesong, the city that North Korea “won” during the civil war/Korean War.
It’s a big hot bowl with rice at the bottom, and then they throw in a ton of meat. vegetables and even heaven forbid mushrooms! The rice at the bottom hardens a bit, and it is found throughout the country. I’d hardly like to eat it every day, but it’s pretty good and worth a try.
8) Samyang Challenge
A sickly hot variation of instant noodles that began a bit of a craze. Basically its really spicy, like really spicy, so people get filmed eating it, and we see their reaction. I tried it, I passed the challenge! Until I needed the toilet, and that was not fun.
9) Taedonggang Beer
Let’s face it South Korean beer is crap, Cass anyone? North Korean beer though is pretty good, and Taedonggang is top of the pile. They do a variety of beers, it is not pasteurized (which means you get bad ones), and they even have their own beer festival.
10) Beer fish (Talpi)
This is the snack from North Korea, made from a fish called Talpi, they dry it out, and then you dip it in soy and wasabi to aid your drinking. I have never really needed to aid my drinking, but it is a great way to socialize with North Koreans.
Dog Meat BBQ
If you managed to get this far, great, but now you might hate me. Dog meat is a thing in Korea, Vietnam, China, and weirdly as I recently found out Tonga. In Yanbian and Yanji, in particular, there are dog meat restaurants everywhere. South Korea might not like to admit it, but dog has a firm position in Korean cuisine. In the north it is served n soup, in the south, they call it “sweet meat”, and in Yanji it is via BBQ. Dog ribs are really quite nice.
These are my top tips on Korean Cuisine. Of course, any blog on Korean food could go on forever, but for me, at least these represent the best Korean foods you can try, north, south, or even in the Philippines!
Top tip? Visit North Korea with YPT.