What to Eat in Seoul, South Korea

If you walk through a downtown street in Gangnam or Itaewon, you’re bound to notice there are a lot of options. Korea has burger restaurants like Mom’s Touch, a hundred barbecue joints, and convenience stores packed with snacks. It’s hard to know what to eat in a foreign city.

Look no further. In this guide, you’ll find out what to eat in Seoul.

Bibimbap

Yep, it’s a mouthful when you try to say it. And when you try bibimbap, you’ll be eating it in mouthfuls. This is one of the most popular Seoul dishes for its simplicity and filling taste. 

Bibimbap usually comes with a colorful presentation. Vegetables, sliced thin and arranged around a fried egg center with chili paste. But it would be a mistake to eat bibimbap just like that.

The secret is to mix the bibimbap. That’s what the name means, by the way: “rice mixed vigorously.” Eat your bibimbap without mixing it, and Koreans are bound to laugh and call you weigoog (foreigner).

Naengmyeon

It may come as a surprise to some, but the noodles in Korea don’t always come hot. Your waiter might leave a stainless steel bowl filled with ice and buckwheat noodles in front of you. Don’t worry, he didn’t just forget to finish microwaving it.

Korea can get hot in the summer, so the tradition of cold noodles came into practice. Don’t worry, they aren’t frozen. And after a spicy meal, they can cool you down. 

Naengmyeon works great as an individual meal, or as the tailend to a feast. You can eat them spicy, or cold. They usually come with egg and a light broth that you’re welcome to drink.

Chicken and Beer

You might be thinking, “I can choose chicken and beer at any restaurant, do Koreans really have restaurants for that?” The answer is yes. They even have a word for it: chimaek.

This might seem like an odd pairing. People out to get sloshed just need something to soak up the alcohol, right? But once you try Korean chicken and beer, you’ll see the wisdom.

Chicken is chicken, so you can find it fried or basted in any chimaek restaurant. There’s no need to seek out the best chimaek place on your trip to Seoul. Find any hole-in-the-wall restaurant to suit your fancy.

Live Octopus

You read that right, some of the seafood in Seoul is still alive. Or at least it seems that way at first glance.

Don’t be alarmed if the octopus or squid tentacles on your plate are still moving. These fresh tentacles start to contract when you pour soy sauce on them. It’s a cool experience, and it’s a great way to freak out your friends.

For your Seoul vacation schedule, carve out some time to visit the markets. You’re guaranteed to find fresh fish in addition to squid that lives beyond the grave.

Bungeobbang

If popsicles are the American go-to during a hot summer, then these ubiquitous Korean fish fill the same roll. 

They’re a sweet cake encompassing ice cream. But that’s not all. They’re also filled with red beans.

Your eyebrow is climbing to the ceiling, but relax. Koreans love their red beans in desserts, and so will you. They’re sweet, and great to chew on.

Kimchi

Kimchi is to Korea like tea is to the British. Have a meal without Kimchi and you might as well throw all tradition out the window.

Your first experience with kimchi likely won’t be a pleasant one. This is fermented cabbage (sometimes radish or cucumber) that’s incredibly spicy. It has a distinct taste, and you’ll find a dish of it alongside every meal.

But once you acquire a taste for kimchi, you’ll find yourself eating it without any meal at all. Kimchi is good for you, which only gives you more incentive to try it out.

You don’t even have to ask for kimchi. It comes standard along with Korea’s famed yellow pickled radish and a pair of chopsticks.

Bulgogi

Bulgogi is so popular that some restaurants in Seoul will sell this alone. It’s thinly sliced beef, marinated to perfection in soy and other marinades.

Bulgogi comes in many forms. You might find a restaurant that cooks it right in front of you. In a smaller joint, they might serve it ready on a pot of rice.

Koreans love their barbecue, and this is only one of the options you have. When you eat in Korea, keep in mind that Koreans don’t eat like westerners. They take little bites from multiple communal dishes, rather than each person eating from their own dish.

Tteokbokki

No Korean street vendor is complete without some tteokbokki (tok-boki). They’re rice cakes with a distinctive cylindrical form. And cooks submerge them in enough spicy sauce to scathe the inside of your mouth.

But don’t worry, you can choose the spicy level before you order. Just keep in mind that when a chef puts 5 fire emojis next to their tteokbokki, they aren’t kidding. This one will push your tastebuds to the limit.

What to Eat in Seoul in a Hurry: Gimbap

Also known as kimbap (Korean has two different k and g sounds), think of this like the Korean sushi rolls. But they’ve got their own thing going for them.

Gimbap feels like eating “healthy” sushi. Koreans stuff the insides with carrots, cucumbers, tofu, and even tuna. Expect a nice, satisfying crunch when you bite into this popular Korean sushi.

You’ll tend to find gimbap in convenience stores rather than restaurants in Seoul. If your trip to Seoul has you on a busy schedule, grab some gimbap to go. You can shove one in your pocket and eat it later with your hands.

On your next trip, plan your foodie moments ahead. Find out what to eat in the next destination city.

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