My Top Ten Korean Food You Should Try

Welcome to another installment of Korean Food Wednesdays. 🙂 So what’s today’s topic? The 10 Korean foods or dishes that I think you should try. In a lot of ways this could be called my favourite 10 Korean food but a friend asked that I write about Korean food that I would recommend and so this post was born. Of course, the vast majority of the dishes I’m about to recommend are foods I love (some of which I can actually make) but a few of them I just think you should try regardless. BUT… I’m not going to recommend any of the more unusual Korean dishes as I’ve already covered those (if you get a chance and are adventurous… try them too, at least for the experience!).

So here we go, in no particular order (mainly because it was too hard to decide the order), are my 10 Korean dishes or food that you should try.

1. Doenjangjjigae (된장찌개)

While I said this wasn’t going to be a list of my favourite Korean dishes, this is my favourite Korean dish. What is it? It’s a spicy stew (jjigae, 찌개) made from fermented soybean paste, tofu, mushrooms, potatoes, onion and other veggies in a seafood stock. Often there is seafood in it and sometimes there are slices of tteok (떡, rice cake) too. It’s perfect for cold, rainy nights (like last night) and winter as its hearty, delicious and warm. I ate it for lunch so regularly in the winter than the ajumma (middle-aged Korean lady) at my local Kimbap Cheonguk (a restaurant chain) would simply see me and ask if I wanted doenjangjjigae today. It’s also fairly easy to make and all of the ingredients are readily available in any of the Korean grocery stores in Toronto. Most Korean restaurants here also carry it – I’m partial to the doenjangjjigae at Korea House or Ka Chi but there are lots of good places to get a bowl.

2. Tteokbokki (떡볶이)

One of the most common Korean street foods and available in Toronto in many Korean restaurants as an appetizer, tteokbokki is basically spicy rice cakes. Usually cooked with cabbage and thin fish cakes, it makes a great snack while or after drinking. Plus for those who aren’t the best with chopsticks, they are a great food to practice on (corn niblets is another). I wasn’t very good with chopsticks before I moved to Korea but three years of using them as my primary utensil definitely improved my ability 🙂 It’s the perfect snack as it gives you a little of three of the four food groups (something my mom would love).

3. Samgyeopsal (삼겹살)

I’m more partial to dwaeji galbi (돼지갈비) but samgyeopsal is more popular among most of my Korean friends… plus it’s yummy too. It’s similar to very thick strips of bacon that you barbecue at your table. Sometimes it’s marinated and sometimes it’s not but while I love it fried rather crispy (which is also how I like my bacon), most Koreans prefer it a little less cooked. It’s served with lettuce, sesame leaves, ssamjang (쌈장) – a mixture of fermented soybean paste (doenjang, 된장) and red pepper paste (gochujang, 고추장), rice, and a variety of side dishes. One of the side dishes is often doenjangjjigae, which just makes me like it more! But the best part of eating samgyeopsal is the social aspect – this is a dish you eat with friends, never alone. And it’s generally accompanied by soju (소주) or some other Korean alcohol. I like it with baekseju (백세주) myself.

4. Korean Fried Chicken (치킨)

Korean fried chicken is in a class of its own – way better than any other fried chicken in my opinion because it comes in different versions but the spicy version is my favourite. It’s served with cubed pickled radishes (which cut the spiciness nicely) and beer, and isn’t usually eaten as a meal but rather as food to accompany drinking beer. And like samgyeopsal, it’s another social food. My co-workers and I would often go out for fried chicken and beer after work.

5. Juk ()

In Canada when we’re sick we eat chicken soup; in Korea, they eat juk. Juk is rice porridge (strangely enough, it’s very similar to how I make my homemade chicken soup) and comes in lots of different flavours. My favourite is beef and mushroom juk but chicken juk is also good. Not only do I recommend it for when you have a cold, it’s also good for an upset stomach. The guk restaurant in my neighbourhood in Seoul (Bangi-dong, 방이동) served the yummiest beef in some sauce (I never asked but it was slightly sweet) as a side dish (banchan, 반찬). Still looking for a good guk restaurant in Toronto though (if you can recommend one, please leave a comment).

6. Pajeon (파전)

Pajeon is a green onion pancake that makes a great appetizer or banchan (side dish). My mom will laugh when she reads me recommending something with onion in it as I don’t really like onions (although I do cook with them of course). But I liked all forms of Korean pancakes. Plus it’s a nice change from spicy food or meat dominated dishes. It’s easy to find in many restaurants in Korea and easy to make too. The seafood version (해물바전) is great too.

7. Bibimbap (비빔밥)

This (along with bulgogi) is probably the most foreigner-friendly of all Korean dishes as you control the level of spiciness. Pretty much every restaurant in Korean carries it and it’s easy to find in Toronto too. I prefer the dolsot bibimbap (mixed rice in a hot stone pot, 돌솥 비빔밥) but it’s usually a safe choice. What is it? Mixed rice and vegetables so it’s a vegetarian friendly dish… although there are versions with beef or fish eggs on top (tried both) and many come with an egg. It’s a good dish for either lunch or dinner, and one that can be eaten solo. A great place to try it in Toronto is a restaurant called Bi Bim Bap on Eglington (just west of Bathurst).

8. Naengmyeon (냉면)

Naengmyeon is chilled buckwheat noodles in a yummy icy broth. This is one of the best things ever to eat in the summer as it’s refreshing, tangy and filling. I’ve always wanted to know exactly how to make the broth so hopefully it’s in one of my new Korean cookbooks. And because it’s made with buckwheat noodles, it’s a great dish for those with gluten-intolerance or celiac.

9. Gyeran Jjim (계란찜)

This is my absolute favourite banchan! Whenever I found a restaurant (usually a BBQ restaurant) in Seoul that served it as one of the banchan, the restaurant when on my list of favourites. And I would return a lot! What is it? Gyeran jjim is steamed egg – such a simple dish but oh, so yummy! The egg(s) are beaten along with some water or broth and then steamed in a small stone or earthen pot and topped with green onion and sometimes ground red pepper. It’s brought out while it’s still bubbling hot so be careful with the first bite or when touching the pot.

10. Kimbap (김밥)

The perfect picnic food, a nice snack or a quick lunch (especially in the warmer months), kimbap should be on everyone’s “Korean food to try” list. They are seaweed rice rolls that are filled with vegitables like carrots, spinach and cucumbers. You can pretty much put anything in kimbap! My favourite is chamchi kimbap (참치김밥) – tuna kimbap – which has tuna, sesame leaf and mayonnaise in addition to the regular ingredients. There was a amazing kimbap stall near a club I used to go to in Ulsan, Korea that made the best chamchi kimbap ever! Another version is samgak gimbap (삼각김밥) – triangle kimbap – which is available in convenience stores and makes a great snack.

And of course, you should try as many different types of Kimchi (김치) as possible. Regular cabbage kimchi (baechu kimchi, 배추 김치) and cucumber kimchi (oi sobagi, 오이소박이) are my favourites but there is one for everyone. If you find kimchi too spicy, try white kimchi (baek kimchi, 백김치), it’s not spicy.

So now you’ve seen my list – or at least the start of my list 🙂 What Korean food would you recommend? What’s on your “must-try” list? 

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

2 thoughts on “My Top Ten Korean Food You Should Try

  • November 10, 2011 at 4:36 am

    Yummy! My top 3 fav are samgyeopsal, tteokbokki, followed by seafood pajeon.

    Have yet to try out doenjangjjigae. That will be my next food hunt!

  • November 10, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Glad I could help 🙂

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