What To Eat In Seoul: Top 10 Traditional Korean Dishes
Wondering what to eat in Seoul? Whether you’re already an avid kimchi consumer or are brand new to Korean cuisine, South Korea offers a dish for every palate. This East Asian country boasts some of the most sought after food in the world making its capital, Seoul, one of the top places to visit for foodies and travelers alike.
Traditional Korean Food to Eat in Seoul
Since the end of the Korean War, Seoul has rapidly become a bustling mecca of both traditional and modern Korean dishes. The vast diversity in flavor from restaurant to restaurant makes Seoul a must on anyone’s travel itinerary.
The recent influx of foreigners turned expats has also transformed the once Korean dominated food scene into one that’s rich with influences from other countries.
However, this doesn’t mean that traditional Korean food has been replaced. In fact, natives still eat traditional Korean dishes on a daily basis while only indulging in “Western” food every once in a while.
You can find traditional Korean food at every corner in Seoul, so don’t worry if you’re searching for authenticity – you’ll most certainly get it!
If you are not sure what to eat in Seoul, and don’t know where to start your food quest, here are our picks for the top 10 traditional Korean dishes you MUST try in Seoul.
The Top 10 Traditional Korean Dishes You Must Try in Seoul
Here is a list of 10 traditional Korean Dishes, and some of the best food in Seoul.
1. KBBQ (고기구이)
Wherever you go in Seoul, you’re bound to come across some delicious Korean barbeque. Just follow the heavenly meaty aroma to the nearest BBQ place, and you’re sure to have an amazing meal.
Korean barbeque comes in two main types: pork (돼지고기) and beef (소고기). Pork is much cheaper in Korea making it the usual go-to. Beef is considered quite pricy, so people save their trips to beef barbeque places for special occasions or celebrations.
Whichever protein you choose, though, both come with the same typical side dishes: lettuce, kimchi, soy bean paste stew, garlic, and ssamjang. These side dishes can differ, though, from restaurant to restaurant, but they usually all share similar elements.
The feeling of cooking your own meal at a restaurant may be strange at first, but once the fresh hot piece of meat hits your tongue, you won’t care! There are places that even cook for you, so if you’re really not keen on doing the barbequing, don’t fret.
You can get Korean barbeque at Kim Chun Bae (고기꾼김춘배) in Hongdae
2. Bibimbap (비빔밥)
If you fly Korean Air on your way over to Seoul, then the first Korean food you’ll be able to try is bibimbap. It’s a rice based dish that has a lot of different veggies mixed in with the rice, meat, and red pepper paste.
Depending on how much red pepper paste you add in will result in varying levels of spiciness. Each bite is different, so you’ll never get tired of eating it!
To get this satisfying dish, and some of the best food in Seoul, head on over to Bibiri (비비리) in Hongdae.
3. Rice porridge (죽)
Whenever you’re feeling under the weather, rice porridge will be sure to fix you up. This dish comes in a variety of flavors but always has the same rice base. While a bit bland on its own, rice porridge usually comes with some kimchi and other pickled side dishes to provide more flavor.
You can find a piping hot bowl at this chain, Bonjuk (본죽).
4. Mung bean pancake (빈대떡)
This next dish has been around since the 1600’s and is still a popular street food item. Gwangjang Market is famous for its various mung bean pancake stands, and you can see the vendors cranking them out one after the other every single day.
This traditional Korean dish is made by grinding mung beans into a paste then added with a few other ingredients. Usually served with a soy sauce and vinegar dipping sauce and onions, this dish is reminiscent of the Joseon Era where the poor would eat these pancakes during scarce times.
Head on over to Gwangjang Market (광장시장) to taste this dish!
5. Tteokbokki (떡볶이) & Sundae (순대)
Another staple at Gwangjang Market is tteokbokki, which is a spicy rice cake dish. It usually accompanies a dish called sundae, Korean blood sausage. The spiciness level of tteokbokki varies from vendor to vendor, but there’s a guaranteed sweetness as well. Sundae might be intimidating for most newcomers, but it is delicious and has loads of umami flavor. These blood sausages are stuffed with glass noodles inside, which give it a unique texture. The combo of the sweet, yet spicy tteokbokki and the savory meatiness of the sundae will be sure to have your taste buds dancing for joy.
Make sure to try these two dishes out while you’re at Gwangjang Market (광장시장). You can also find these at almost any market as well as snack food restaurants (김밥집).
6. Kimchi jjigae (김치찌개)
One of the most simple yet hearty dishes is kimchi jjigae. Made with kimchi (fermented cabbage), this stew is the perfect companion to any main protein dish or on its own. There are two main types sold at restaurants, pork and tuna. Both are delicious, so it just depends on what kind of protein you’re in the mood for that day! This dish isn’t too spicy and is usually served with rice and a number of side dishes (banchan).
7. Soybean paste stew (된장찌개)
Another stew staple is doenjang jjigae, or soybean paste stew. Its base is comprised of soybean paste and anchovies with tofu, Korean zucchini, radishes, and meat added. This dish is not for the faint of heart, as the fermented taste can be jarring to some. But, once you get over the initial funkiness of this stew, you’ll find that it has a yummy saltiness to it that goes perfect with a bowl of rice.
Try this dish out for yourself at Her Dinner Table (그녀의밥상).
8. Seaweed soup (미역국)
On your birthday, it’s tradition in Korea that you eat seaweed soup. Usually, a family member will make this dish for you, so it’s not very common in most restaurants. However, you can definitely find this as a side soup at most pochas (bar style restaurants where the primary focus is drinking but you’re expected to order food as well). Whether it’s your birthday or not, seaweed soup should definitely be a dish you try while you’re in Korea!
O-bok Miyeok (오복미역) is a restaurant with multiple locations that specializes in seaweed soup.
9. Korean fried chicken (치킨)
When you hear KFC, you might think of Colonel Sanders and American fast food. But, there’s a different kind of KFC, Korean fried chicken. When frying chicken in Korea, it’s common to double fry the chicken, which is what makes this dish so crunchy and not as greasy. The main two flavors are just regular fried with no sauce/seasoning, and yangnyeom (양념) sauce, which is sweet and spicy. You can also get orders half and half if you can’t decide on just one flavor!
10. Bingsoo (빙수)
Our last traditional Korean dish on this list is a delicious dessert. Bingsoo, or Korean shaved ice, is a summer treat that everyone indulges in when the heat rolls in. Traditional bingsoo is served with shaved ice, red bean, and fruit, but modernized bingsoo comes in all sorts of flavors and toppings. Popular flavors are green tea, strawberry, and mango.
If you’re visiting Seoul in the summer make sure you stop by Sulbing (설빙), a bingsoo chain.
The Best Food in Seoul
We hope to have answered your questions about what to eat in Seoul! Whatever you decide to eat while you’re in Seoul, or Korea in general, make sure you try at least one of these traditional Korean foods on our list! You don’t have to go to the places we mentioned. As long as you’re expanding your palate, you’re doing it right.
Author: Ria is writer based in South Korea who loves travel, food, beauty, video games, and dogs. She likes to spend her weekends exploring Korea and surrounding countries but also enjoys a night in watching rom-coms with her pup.