Seoulfood: 12 Korean Dishes for Picky Eaters
I don’t typically think I’m a particularly picky eater. I love trying international dishes, but tend to draw the line when it comes to eating seafood (allergies), extremities (hands and feet), blood-based dishes, and anything still wriggling (sannakji, I’m looking at you) or with a face. While there are some very “out there” dishes in Korea, for the most part traditional Korean food can be enjoyed by even the pickiest eater.
Photographer: Krzysztof Puszczyński
# 1 Rice
If you’ve got a super, super picky eater then just give ‘em rice. They should be more adventurous next time! You can get Bok-eum Bap (fried rice) which just has some seasoning, veggies, and sometimes meat if they can handle more than just white rice.
Photographer: Anh Phan
# 2 Ramyeon
Instant noodles, or “ramyeon”, come in enough varieties to line an entire aisle of a convenience store, and sometimes even a grocery store!
From mild chicken broth to macaroni and cheese flavours (cheese-bokki) to 5 alarm fires, these slurpy little bites can please every palate. Just make sure you’ve selected the right variety for your guest!
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Photo c/o RecipeHubs
# 3 Japchae
A step up from ramyeon, japchae is a mild, typical side dish made of cellophane noodles, soy sauce, and mixed vegetables. Sometimes there’s pork, too.
To ease your guest into the weird and wonderful world of Korean culinary delights, why not try something sweet? Bingsu (often spelled “Bingsoo” or called “snow”) is shaved ice that reminds me of fresh powder on the mountain. This ain’t your average snowcone. This tasty treat is traditionally served full of red bean paste and covered with condensed milk. The variations generally include either fruit or chocolate.
We recently visited Sulbing, a popular Bingsu chain, and tried the Melon Cheesecake Bingsu. This snow came with pieces of cheesecake and was stuffed inside an actual honeydew melon! We had a blast cutting it open, pouring in the condensed milk, and enjoying the symphony of sugar. Hey – it had real fruit, so it was healthy, right?
# 5 Chimaek
While the Colonel might have the trademark on KFC, Seoulites and Expats in Korea know it stands for Korean Fried Chicken. The term “chimaek” is a made up word which is a combination of chicken + maekju (beer). Fried chicken and beer are a great combination any night of the week, and especially after the bar!
Back in Canada I always preferred my chicken either roasted (Swiss Chalet, I miss you) or in wing form (Mmm blue cheese) over fried chicken. With fried chicken (and waffles) being en vogue on the Toronto foodie scene right before I left, I figured I had had my fill. If anyone is missing the tangy heat of Frank’s red hot butter sauce, head over to Mix & Malt. Their wings are to die for and their dipping sauce has actual chunks of rich blue cheese. The cocktails are where Mix & Malt really shine, and the food menu is definitely worth a look!
Korean Fried Chicken is something which looks the same, but tastes entirely different. Your first bite of saucy, sunsal (boneless) fried chicken should give you that feeling of: “you think you know, but you have no idea”. The breading is crispy, the meat is tender and juicy, and depending on the kind of sauce (usually sweet or spicy) your mouth could be in heaven or completely on fire. I actually enjoy a combination of the two sauces, and especially like when they top the chicken with crushed peanuts. Sometimes you’ll see additional items added like tteok (rice cakes) or mini gyoza. Yum!
# 6 Korean BBQ
KBBQ is popular now almost all over the world. I know just in Toronto on Bloor St. between Bathurst and Ossington there are a number of BBQ places, but I didn’t truly love the style until I moved to Korea. This is probably because they’re often all-you-can-eat and the quality isn’t exactly exceptional.
Here, you have your choice of meat (and cut) and they provide you with a variety of side-dishes (Panchan/ Banchan). It’s always amazing to see the look of shock on restaurateurs’ faces when we gobble up ssamjang (쌈장 – made from red pepper paste or fermented bean paste). This is a sauce with the slightest bit of heat which compliments the meat perfectly; especially when included in the lovely little Korean tacos made with meat, rice, and wrapped in either lettuce or sesame leaves: ssambap.
As you can see in the above image, we had a beef set which included 4 different cuts of beef, one of which was marinated. Be sure to have the thinly slices pieces to start and the marinated pieces at the end to take your palate on the proper meat journey.
Pork belly (Samgyeopsal 삼겹살) is another super popular style of meat for KBBQ. This one is not for your novice cook as you’ll want to ensure it’s completely cooked through. Just like beef, you’ll have options for marinated pork, too. Mmm…tasty!
Want to check out our KBBQ experience on one of my last nights in Busan? Check out this YouTube video all about how we’re not exactly sure what we’re doing when it comes to KBBQ, but we’re learning!
# 7 Kimbap
Kim Seong Saeng offers a variety of “gourmet” Kimbap. My favourite is the cream cheese option because it’s simply vegetables, rice, cream cheese, and a candied walnut wrapped in rice and seaweed. Their bulgogi version is a safe bet, too! The triangle kimbap you can get at the corner store is even simpler. You’ll generally have meat (beef, pork, or tuna) in some sort of sauce with a giant amount of white rice enveloped in seaweed.
The traditional dish of Jeonju, bibimbap is another Korean meal known around the world. I’ve had this countless times at a DIY Bibimbap counter by Front and Yonge in Toronto. Bibimbap is a combination of rice, mixed vegetables, mushrooms, meat (my favourite is bulgogi [beef]), spicy sauce (for flavor), and topped with a fried egg. It’s presented in a round design which you get to mess up by breaking the yolk and mixing it all together.
Bibimbap is pretty dependable and if you’re in Jeonju it’s likely the best you’ll ever have! While you’re there, make sure to dress up in a Hanbok (traditional Korean attire), grab a bottle of makgeolli (Korean rice wine), and walk through the Hanok (old-style) village!
# 9 Mandu
You can depend on dumplings for a nice, easy meal. Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike will enjoy kimchi mandu (kimchi-stuffed dumplings). Beef mandu are popular too as well as the rarer pork mandu. With a little soy sauce they’re tasty as a meal (there are massive mandu “sandwiches” in Korea) or as a steamed or fried snack.
Check out a Donkkaseu Recipe by Maangchi
Donkkaseu, Tonkatsu, 돈까스, or simply Pork Cutlet is a Japanese dish which has been made a Korean way. Some pork cutlets are stuffed with cheese or sweet potato. The sweet potato is a little bland and usually has added sugar.
The cheese pork cutlet is pretty tasty if you’ve got a big appetite. Sometimes you’ll find it with Korean curry, sometimes with Japanese curry. Generally, you’ll find pork cutlets served with rice and cabbage salad, both of which are pretty safe bets for your picky friend.
Dosirak just means “Lunchbox”. There are several places where you can get a quick dosirak meal, but the one I’ve seen come up the most is Hansot. You can find salad, different kinds of kimchi, chicken, beef, pork, tuna, curry, and mandu (fried dumplings). Grabbing dosirak is a great way to get what you want while satisfying the needs of a picky eater. You’ll find most of the above items at a Dosirak shop. Want more info (and a gander at the menu)? Head over to TomnTims!
Is your friend picky, but slightly adventurous? Give dakgalbi a shot! This super spicy chicken dish is whipped up in front of your eyes and can be served with rice or noodles. It’s also become popular to top it with melted cheese! Definitely try some flavoured makgeolli (rice wine) with it to balance the flavours. We tried grape and it was an unexpected, but great taste!
You can sometimes find dakgalbi served at little tents in popular late night spots. With a little shared soju, you can often practice your Hangeul and make some late night Korean pals.
Bonus (kind of): Western food
If your guest is really hurting for something sans-kimchi, there are plenty of options for Western food in Korea.
You can get a cheap burger from McDonald’s anywhere in the world, or the Korean (ahem…Japanese) fast food delight, Lotteria. Save yourself the trouble (and heartburn) and check out Guilty Pleasure in Itaewon (RIP – it’s closed now)for all your American bistro-style cravings.
Chicken fans will love Mom’s Touch – a fried chicken and sandwich franchise which offers some Cajun seasonings as well as standard Korean sauces.
Fast and cheap pizza is available all over the place. Pizza School has a $5 cheese (and corn) pizza which has become an expat favourite. Make sure to spring for the garlic sauce, too. If you’re in any major city you’ll be more likely to find international cuisine. Seoul is a foodie paradise with dishes from nearly every country you can think up!
My personal picks are the Indian, Thai, Turkish, South African, and Mexican, but Korean kitchens love attempting Italian food, too.
I think the above steak, mushroom, and cream pasta was more soup than anything else.
Koreans love sweets, too, so you can find many sugary Western-style treats all over the country.
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Feature image photographer: Daria Nepriakhina
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