Seoulfood: 12 Korean Dishes for Picky Eaters

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.

seoulfood-korean-food-picky-eater-ricePhotographer: 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.

seoulfood-korean-food-picky-eater-ramyeonPhotographer: 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!


seoulfood-korean-food-picky-eater-japchaePhoto 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.


#4 Bingsu

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.


#8 Bibimbap

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.

seoulfood-korean-food-picky-eater-donkkaseuCheck out a Donkkaseu Recipe by Maangchi

#10 Donkkaseu

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.


#11 Dosirak

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!


#12 Dakgalbi

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.

Feeling more adventurous?  Here’s CNN’s 40 Foods Koreans Can’t Live Without, and Live Learn Venture’s 10 Foods I Will Miss When I Leave Korea.

Feature image photographer: Daria Nepriakhina

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42 Comments Add yours

  1. Laura Nalin says:

    I LOVE Kim Seong Saeng!! The cream cheese kimbap is so delicious. I used to get so excited when my school’s kitchen lady made japchae as well. If you like Indian, check out Everest if you haven’t already. Best curry in Seoul! My boyfriend and I had a few Christmas dinners there and went there pretty much every other Sunday. Miss the owners a lot!

    1. Kate says:

      I’ve been once and it was okay. Namaste (Nirvana?) was a pretty big let down. I’m all about Ganga at Lotteworld Mall! How’s the Indian where you are?

  2. Samantha says:

    I think my taste buds have opened up more since coming to Korea. I can slowly handle more spicier dishes (still working on it)! The one thing I’m meh about is ramen… reminds me of my childhood days of eating Mr. Noodles all the time! But it’s a good ‘quick fix’ type of meal. Chimaek though… give me that any time, any day!! I’m craving fried chicken now… mmm! Great post! Going to pin it now!

  3. Shirgie Scf says:

    I am a picky eater. and what’s funny? all the food you listed here are the the food I usually order when eating in restaurant, oh except Bibimpap…hahaha.. I don’t like ’em veggies, you know. But bogeumpa, samgyeupsal and donkasseu are my priorities…haha… and yeah, mom’s touch!!! How could I get that out of my equation? Nice list!!!

    1. Kate says:

      That’s too funny! I love that you own up to being picky. You should eat them veggies, though!

  4. Mmmmm, this post made me hungry even though I just had a delicious Korean lunch haha. I am not picky at all so I’ve enjoyed most of the Korean dishes I’ve had thus far. I will say that I don’t like cold noodles though. They are not bad but I like my noodles cold. What is your favorite Korean dish? For me, it would have to be japchae. Also, the Korean pancakes are delish and safe enough for picky eaters! Maybe you can include in version 2 of this seoulfood series!

  5. Becki says:

    Since I’m known to be quite a fussy eater, this post is so so useful! And quite a lot of the dishes look really tasty too!

  6. Christine K says:

    Such a comprehensive food guide and I liked how you started off bland and worked your way up to some more complex dishes. This is truly a guide I would use to become more familiar with Korean food. Photos are great too.

  7. I must admit I have not heard of most of the dishes and some that i have heard of are referred to a bit differently in my country. I love the rameon or the noodles it has bean a personal favourite since childhood. Mandu on the other hand seems really colourful and tempting for me. Would love to try that.

  8. sabrina says:

    Wow! Now I’m hungry. A great list of options for people people or those who want to be more adventurous with picky kids in tow. So many new things I want to try!

  9. Hanani says:

    Your post made me so super hungry now!
    I’m not a picky eater (thank goodness) but unfortunately have not tried most items on this list. Thank you for sharing. Now I can go out and explore more of Korean food situation 😉

  10. Sean Keogh says:

    I live in Korea and can’t handle spicy food. I love mandu.

  11. Kathy says:

    What a great, informative post. This particularly interests me as I am planning on being in South Korea at the end of this year. I have book marked this post to guide me through. Thanks you

    1. Kate says:

      Oh fantastic! Do let me know when you arrive and we can have a blogger meet up to show you around

  12. Stephanie says:

    This post is great. I have a nut allergy so I have to be careful with my food in the first place. Then add in me being a picky eater. And third, I grew up in a very non-diverse community so I didn’t grow up with food from other cultures. Thank you so much for breaking it down for me and sharing so much about all of these dishes. I feel like I can branch out a little bit and eat more than just the rice now. Haha

  13. This blog post is a great help to me, since I’m going to Korea this month. I tried some of the dishes in restaurants in Germany, but there is still a lot to discover. I hope I can manage Korean food as a vegetarian and not speaking a word of Korean 🙂 I’m much looking forward to exploring the variety of the cuisine.

    1. Kate says:

      Just say “go-ki (meat) a-nee-yo (no)” and they’ll get the idea! You could also try “an-mo-go-yo” which means “i don’t eat”. Have a great time! Let us know when you arrive

  14. Jessica says:

    Oh! I didn’t know that Kimbop place is a chain. I guess it makes sense. I was going through your post and realized “Hey! I know that cream cheese and walnut roll!” We got them down in Gwangju too last year. Good stuff.

  15. Alex says:

    omg these look so interesting and amazing! Korean culture seems so interesting to me and I want to try some of these foods, though I’m wondering if there’s anything gluten-free and vegetarian that’s good? Thank you for sharing!


  16. Korean BBQ is so great! I love trying new foods, but do get a bit squeemish when it comes to really weird things. This is a very useful guide!

  17. Lauren says:

    Bingsu all day every day! Great post and fantastic recommendations. Now I’m starving!

  18. Emre says:

    I don’t think I’m a picky eater, but my Korean mother-in-law doesn’t agree. The problem is she always makes things I don’t like. I do eat Korean food and not just these on the list, although these are all delicious. Great list for the picky eater. My personal favorite Korean food is Bibimguksu (비빔국수). The spicier, the better.

  19. Okay seriously you need to stop. My mouth is salivating. I am such a sucker for good food and all of this looks BETTER than good. The chimaek seems to really catch my eye, chunks of blue cheese….that sauce…that whole meal. Ugh it’s only 11 am here and I am ready for a beer and some wings now. There is a place here in Atlanta though that I got food poisoning from the pork belly so that doesn’t appeal to me as much. I love how the title is for picky eaters! I would die if I was picky..but all over great post! 🙂

  20. Louiela says:

    Anyunghaseyu 🙂 Aside from loving k-pop dramas and movies, i love their food too.. Now, you left me drooling..haha..and hungry,,
    I have tried some foods above, but your post serve as my checklist, need to go to a Korean restaurant soon….

  21. Izzy says:

    I’ve never even heard of Dosirak! But your list is pretty on point when it comes to what would satisfy a picky eater. I really miss bingsu here… the Vietnamese desserts are not my favorite although you can find any type of dessert here in a big city. And on the brightside, Vietnam is the best when it comes to amazing pastries because of the French influences on the country. Hahaha Mom’s Touch sundays. So gross but so good!

  22. Don says:

    Everything here is so delicious! You’ve made me hungry!
    Good work on the YouTube channel as well. Avoid that awful vertical phone shots though. 🙁 With the phone you can still do videos but try it horizontally, people tend to hate those vertical shots. (Just my thoughts on improving the videos)

  23. This is such a great post, Kate! As of recently, I’ve been trying to snap pics of all my meals to make a post. Can you believe I’ve only had ramen ONCE in Korea. Clearly I’m crazy. AND good to know theres a bibimbap shop on Front & Yonge!! I’ll be home soon so finding Korean eats in Toronto will be great. Thanks for sharing!

  24. Alla says:

    You lost me at — rice… Korea has such an amazing culinary world that even after 8 years here, I’m still trying things that I’ve never had before and different regions/cities have their own culinary delights. Just go with adventurous Koreans and you’ll be in good company!

    1. Kate says:

      The rice was just a joke!! Which from the remainder of the list is your favourite? The list is for picky eaters, to be fair!

  25. These pictures are gorgeous! I’m so looking forward to the food is Korea. It looks so yummy! And you’ve definitely made me feel like I won’t starve even if I just order rice constantly lol

  26. We tend not to be picky with food and we’ve only tried Korean food in the Street Food Festival in Copenhagen (loved it!)but they were only two dishes. So we definitely need to go to Korea or at least go to a Korean restaurant to try these dishes you mention (they look amazing). Thanks!

  27. Anita says:

    It was great to learn something about Korean food. I haven’t been in Korea or tried any Korean food. I would love to try bibimbap and bingsu for a start 🙂

  28. You know what I liked the most. The names. So many wonderful exotic sounding dish names. I am a vegetarian and I am so glad to see that there are so many vegetarian options to choose from. My sister is off to Seoul next weekend for official work and I have already forwarded this to her. 🙂 I have to try Bingsu for sure.

  29. Amy says:

    Oh my word, these look amazing! My hubby is dying to make it to Seoul specifically for the food- as soon as I shoe him this, I am sure he will book the tickets!

  30. Jessica C says:

    I am such a picky eater! But I also love food and really enjoy trying new food. This is oh-so-perfect for me…as in, now I want to go to Korea JUST to try the food. Well done!

  31. Nicki says:

    YUMM! I think bingsu and korean BBQ would be my faves. I love sweet foods and already have an obsession with korean BBQ .. so I could get on with that

  32. Everything on your list looks incredible! Creative post — I really like the idea of targeting “picky” eaters, because we all know one! It’s a bummer when you’re traveling with someone who isn’t willing to experiment with food, so this is really helpful in providing those type of people with options.

  33. Suzannah says:

    All of this food looks absolutely incredible. I love the basic rice and noddles, and I cook Korean at home and I can replicate many of the bold flavours with tofu and vegetarian food. I’m hoping it’s going to be easy for me to enjoy Korean vegetarian food in Korea too!

  34. Oh this is such a handy list! I’m a very adventurous eater and love Korean foods like kimchi, but I have some picky family member! Definitely saving this.

  35. Melai says:

    Great roundup! You got it all covered. I love korean food especially bibimbap, korean bbq and dosirak. 🙂

  36. Goflylakr says:

    Korean cousin is really famous all over the world. The names of dishes are so different. Thanks for sharing the list of interesting Korean food with us.

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