The Top 5 Korean Gateway Foods

Korean food is becoming famous worldwide and for a very good reason.

Known mostly for a spicy flavor and savory ingredients, the culinary style of Korean food is a stand out from its other East Asian counterparts. With an abundance of choices to choose from, deciding which Korean delicacies to try out can be a difficult choice to make. But have no fear, I am here to guide you in the right direction.

Here are some Korean dishes that you must taste if you’re into trying out the best of what South Korea has to offer in terms of cuisine.

Bi Bim Bap 비빔밥 [bi-bim-bap]

Bi Bim Bap is a quintessential part of any Korean food diet.

A combination of rice, various vegetables, and one egg, this bowl dish is simple and delicious. The name comes from the Korean word for mixed rice, and mixing is a necessity before eating because the dish is meant to be eaten as a smooth combination of different ingredients, rather than a picking and choosing of seperate ingredients. 

Bi Bim Bap has a rich history. A staple food from the beginning of Korean history, this dish was a staple around the Lunar New Year in Korea. This holiday was and is a celebration of starting over, including in the kitchen. On the eve of the Lunar New Year, people would clean out their pantries, throwing together the ingredients in what is now Bi Bim Bap.

Spicy Rice Cakes  떡볶이 [tteok-bok-ki]

If you’re a fan of spicy, this might be the food for you.

Spicy rice cakes are a much loved aspect of street food culture here in Korea, and served at almost every food stand on the road. This dish is comprised of cylindrical rice cakes, fish cake, and sometimes cabbage, all combined together and boiled in a thick spicy red pepper paste. It is the perfect cure to a night out in the cold and one to try, even if you’re not a fan of spicy food!

The origins of this dish are still debated, some believing that it dates back to the Joseon Dynasty (13th century). However, given that the main ingredient, pounded rice cakes, was invented much earlier, this dish could be even older. The original dish was actually very plain, much unlike its current red and spicy version.

BBQ 고기 [ko-gi]

Many cultures have some version of BBQ, but Korea’s is special and definitely my personal favorite. 

BBQ can be either cow or pig meat and, at most restaurants, you’ll cook it for yourself right at the table. After the meat is cooked, you have some options.

It’s completely acceptable to just eat the meat plain with a little salt or sauce, but the real deal is eating it in a wrap. You’ll get your BBQ with an assortment of side dishes, one of them being lettuce. The best way to eat the meat is to take one of those pieces of lettuce, grab some rice, a piece of meat, and then whatever other sides you would like (I recommend onions, kimchi, and beansprouts!), and then wrap it all up and enjoy!

Cold Buckwheat Noodles 냉면 [naeg-myun]

An underdog in the Korean food world, but definitely not one to miss.

Due to it’s cold nature, this dish is best served in the warmer months. It is a really simple recipe, comprised of buckwheat noodles, cucumber, and egg all served up in an ice cold broth. And I mean ice coldthere’s usually ice still floating around when served!

This Korean dish actually has more history in North Korea than it does in the South. This dish apparently is a staple in North Korea, the most popular variation being Pyeongyang Naegmyun in the capital city.

Hotteok 호떡 [ho-tteok]

There are not too many “traditional” Korean desserts out there, but amongst the small amount of choices, hotteok is definitely the standout.

Another street food favorite, these are served up hot off the grill. The best way to describe this is picture a hollow pancake filled with honey, cinnamon, and pumpkin seeds. That is hotteok and it, in all it’s simplicity, is glorious.

While this snack has become famous in Korea, it actually has roots in China. These pancakes are flattened version of the dumplings brought over by merchants in the 19th century. Chinese dumplings tend to be more savory, but they were adapted for the Korean sweet tooth.

There are, obviously, so many more Korean foods to choose from. This is not a comprehensive list of all that the country has to offer in terms of food. However, these are some of the most delicious, in my opinion, and dishes that everyone should try out.

Have you tried any on the list before? Which one looks best to you? Let me know in the comments below!


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