Skip to Content

National Food of South Korea: Top 23 Dishes

Welcome to our culinary travel through the lively flavors of South Korea! As you start this exploration of the nation’s rich gastronomic heritage, you might find yourself pondering: What are the ideal dishes that define South Korean cuisine? How do these dishes reflect the country’s cultural traditions and regional diversity?

And perhaps most importantly, what makes South Korean food truly unforgettable? Join us as we investigate the heart of South Korea’s culinary landscape to uncover the answers to these mysterious questions and more.

In this article, we present to you the definitive guide to the “National Food of South Korea: Top 26 Dishes.” From beloved classics to hidden gems, we’ll take you on a mouthwatering tour of South Korea’s culinary treasures. From the fiery flavors of kimchi to the comforting warmth of bibimbap, each dish holds a story waiting to be discovered.

Along the way, we’ll provide insights into the cultural significance of these dishes, explore their regional variations, and offer tips on where to enjoy them in South Korea or recreate them in your own kitchen. Prepare to tempt your taste buds and expand your culinary horizons as we unravel the secrets of South Korea’s culinary texture.

Join us on this culinary quest and let the flavors of South Korea light your senses. And don’t forget to check out our other articles for more exciting insights into the world of food and culture. Bon appétit!

Top 10 National Foods of South Korea

1. Kimchi

photo by jamiefrater

Kimchi, a perfect Korean staple, boasts a rich history dating back over two millennia to the Shilla Dynasty. Its distinct flavor comes from a blend of Korean cabbage, radish, and spices such as chili powder and garlic, left to ferment for depth. This versatile dish finds its way into numerous culinary creations, from stews to pancakes, providing a spicy, tangy kick that elevates any meal.

2. Korean Stew

photo by jamiefrater

Korean stew, or jjigae, offers a comforting warmth with its various versions found throughout Seoul. Typically featuring a hearty broth seasoned with gochujang or soybean paste, jjigae is a savory delight often served as a complement to other dishes. Among the city’s favorites is budae jjigae, affectionately known as “army stew,” blending meats, noodles, and spicy paste for a flavorful experience reflective of Seoul’s culinary diversity.

3. Bulgogi

photo by Alpha

Bulgogi, a tempting dish of marinated beef sirloin, captures the heart of Korean barbecue with its smoky aroma and tender texture. The careful blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, and spices imparts a depth of flavor that harmonizes perfectly with grilled onions and peppers. Served with leafy greens and spicy paste, each bite of bulgogi is a celebration of Korean culinary craftsmanship.

4. Samgyeopsal

photo by Cecil Lee

Samgyeopsal, a beloved Korean classic, brings together flavorful slices of pork belly with an interactive dining experience. Cooked tableside, these juicy morsels are wrapped in lettuce and paired with a range of dipping sauces and accompaniments, including the ever-present kimchi. A favorite among Seoul’s youth, samgyeopsal is not just a meal but a social occasion often accompanied by rounds of soju.

5. Bibimbap

photo by Tim Evanson

Bibimbap, a colorful variety of rice, vegetables, and meat or seafood, represents the lively spirit of Korean cuisine. Whether served in a restaurant or from a street vendor, this hearty dish offers a satisfying blend of flavors and textures, enhanced by the addition of spicy pepper paste. With variations to suit every palate, bibimbap is a culinary adventure waiting to be savored on the busy streets of Seoul.

6. Jajangmyeon

photo by James

Jajangmyeon, a delightful fusion of Korean and Chinese influences, satisfies both hunger and nostalgia with its thick noodles and yummy black bean sauce. Often enjoyed solo, this budget-friendly dish holds a special place in the hearts of many, especially on Black Day. Its simplicity and depth of flavor make it a comforting choice for those seeking a taste of tradition in the heart of Seoul.

7. Samgyetang

photo by jamiefrater

Ginseng chicken soup, known as samgyetang, offers a revitalizing escape from the summer heat with its nourishing blend of flavors and textures. Slow-cooked to perfection, this aromatic soup features tender chicken stuffed with a diversity of herbs and spices, including ginseng and chestnuts. A beloved tradition in Seoul, samgyetang highlights the core of Korean culinary culture, providing both comfort and sustenance during the sweltering summer months.

8. Soft Tofu Stew

photo by Kake

Soft Tofu Stew, known as sundubu-jjigae, is a sensory tour through unexpected flavor harmonies. In this classic dish, tender clams and a gently cracked egg converge with soft tofu in a spicy broth, creating a symphony of taste and texture. Each spoonful offers a delicate balance between the soothing creaminess of the tofu and the sea essence of the clam, punctuated by a subtle kick of heat. Served in traditional earthenware pots, sundubu-jjigae not only warms the body but also nourishes the soul, making it a beloved comfort food cherished by many.

9. Soy Sauce Crab

photo by SJ Yang

Soy Sauce Crab, or ganjang gejang, goes beyond simple nutrition to become a culinary obsession for many South Koreans. Marinated in soy sauce, these delicious crabs boast a tantalizing blend of tanginess, bitterness, and pungency that leaves taste buds yearning for more.

Affectionately named the “rice thief,” ganjang gejang charms with its addictive attraction, often stealing the spotlight as the centerpiece of a meal rather than a basic companion. A delicacy cherished for its bold flavors and sea nature, gejang holds a cherished place in South Korea’s rich culinary texture.

10. Gopchang

photo by lazy fri13th

Gopchang, the savory delight of Korean barbecue culture, offers a carnivorous adventure through the world of offal cuisine. Derived from pork or cattle intestines, gopchang undergoes a culinary transformation, whether grilled to perfection, stir-fried with aromatic spices, or simmered in hearty soups.

Its chewy texture and robust flavor make it a favorite among barbecue aficionados, adding a festive flair to any dining experience. Paired perfectly with soju, gopchang displays the heart of South Korean gastronomy, inviting diners to enjoy its earthy charms and savor every tempting bite.

9 Traditional Dishes to Eat

11. Haejangguk

photo by Hong, Yun Seon

Haejangguk, often referred to as “hangover soup,” traces its origins back to the Goryeo Dynasty, offering a comforting remedy for the morning after enjoying South Korea’s beloved Soju. Typically crafted from a beef broth base infused with dried Napa cabbage and a mix of vegetables, this hearty stew comes in three main variations across the country. From the rich depth of an ox bone broth to the bracing freshness of sliced squid served cold, each rendition caters to diverse tastes.

12. Japchae

photo by Alpha

Japchae, a beloved staple of South Korean cuisine, beckons visitors with its dynamic colors and tempting flavors. These crystal noodles, made from sweet potatoes, serve as the canvas for a stir-fry of assorted vegetables and meats, enveloped in a sweet and gingery sauce. Whether enjoyed as a standalone dish or as a banchan (side dish), japchae fascinates the palate, offering a symphony of textures and tastes that manifests the heart of Korean culinary artistry.

13. Seolleongtang

photo by Sandor Weisz

Seolleongtang, known colloquially as ox bone soup, stands as a proof to the enduring legacy of Korean gastronomy, harkening back to the Joseon Dynasty. Simplicity reigns supreme in this milky white soup, crafted from beef bones, garlic, scallions, and black pepper, delivering a savory indulgence that goes beyond time. Served with rice or noodles, adorned with thinly sliced beef, seolleongtang offers a comforting embrace, inviting diners to savor each spoonful of tradition and heritage.

14. Mandoo

photo by stu_spivack

Mandoo, a symbol of good luck during Korean Lunar New Year festivities, enchants with its delicate wrappers and savory fillings. These dumplings, filled with ground beef or pork and a range of vegetables, offer a taste of culinary craftsmanship passed down through generations. Whether enjoyed in a beef or anchovy soup or as a standalone dish, mandoo displays the spirit of celebration and togetherness, inviting all to partake in its delicious delights.

15. Sundae

photo by 송유진

Sundae, a beloved street food delicacy, may suspense the adventurous palate with its unique blend of flavors and textures. Crafted from sticky rice and pig’s blood stuffed into bowels, the sundae takes center stage as a cultural icon in both North and South Korea. Variations abound, from the traditional pork blood and cellophane noodles to innovative blends featuring squid and other protein-rich ingredients, each offering a tantalizing glimpse into Korea’s culinary tapestry.

16. Doenjang Jjigae

Doenjang Jjigae, an ideal Korean stew, offers a hearty symphony of flavors through its fermented soybean paste base and simple yet satisfying ingredients. From vegetables and mushrooms to tofu, seafood, and meat, this stew delights the senses with its rich umami profile and comforting warmth. Paired with a hint of spicy chili paste, Doenjang Jjigae emerges as an eternal classic, cherished for its nourishing properties and soul-soothing cherish throughout the day.

17. Budae Jjigae

photo by bryan

Budae Jjigae, affectionately known as army stew, is evidence of South Korea’s culinary flexibility and ingenuity. Born out of necessity during the Korean War, this hearty dish transforms surplus foods left behind by the American military into a flavorful symphony of tastes and textures. From the tasty flavor of spam and ham to the robust kick of kimchi, each ingredient adds its own unique flair to the spicy soup, creating a culinary experience like no other.

18. Naengmyeon

Naengmyeon, the perfect Korean cold noodle dish, offers a refreshing respite from the boiling heat of summer. Available in two distinct styles, Mul Naengmyeon, and Bibim Naengmyeon, this culinary delight caters to a variety of tastes and preferences. Whether absorbed in a clear, yummy beef soup or coated in a fiery red sauce, the hallmark of a superb Naengmyeon lies in its soft yet chewy texture, achieved through the careful preparation of handmade noodles.

19. Galbi

photo by Junho Jung

Galbi, a culinary delight synonymous with enjoyment and celebration, charms with its tasty meat and inviting marinade. Whether derived from beef, pork, or chicken, the nature of Galbi lies in its thick slabs of marinated ribs, grilled to perfection over an open flame. Infused with a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, and sugar, each bite offers a symphony of flavors that dance on the palate, evoking a sense of culinary euphoria.

See Also South Korean Culture

Spices: The Heart of South Korean Cooking

Photo by emy

Korean cuisine’s attraction lies in its mouth-watering blend of spices, renowned for their addictive quality that keeps diners coming back for more. Central to this culinary experience is the essential seasoning ingredients, known as yangnyeom, which form the foundation of countless Korean dishes.

Among these pantry staples are the admired triplet of fermented sauces and pastes, collectively referred to as jang: ganjang (soy sauce), doenjang (soybean paste), and gochujang (chili paste). These sauces are not basic condiments but indispensable elements for creating authentic Korean flavors, with artisanal or premium varieties offering a depth of taste that elevates any dish they grace.

From the fiery kick of chili pepper flakes (gochugaru) to the aromatic warmth of ginger and the umami richness of soybean paste (doenjang), Korean spices tantalize the taste buds with their bold and distinctive flavors. Each herb and spice plays a crucial role in crafting the lively and complex dishes that define Korean cuisine.

South Korean Family Dining

Korean family dining is a celebration of tradition and hospitality, with meals often featuring a diverse range of dishes that reflect the country’s rich culinary heritage. Staples like kimchi, bulgogi, and bibimbap take center stage, accompanied by a selection of side dishes known as banchan. These side dishes vary widely based on family preferences but often include a mix of namul (vegetable dishes) and other flavorful accompaniments.

Soup is a common feature of Korean meals, typically broth-based and infused with ingredients like anchovies or miso for a savory punch. While fish is more primary than meat in Korean cuisine, both play essential roles in creating balanced and nutritious family meals.

Hosting guests holds special significance in Korean culture, with families going above and beyond to create memorable dining experiences. Elaborate spreads featuring a range of dishes, from sweet and sour pork to assorted juns (small pancakes), show the host’s culinary mastery and generosity. Side dishes abound, ranging from black beans in soy sauce to marinated perilla leaves, each crafted with care and attention to detail.

Whether it’s a casual family dinner or a lavish feast for guests, Korean family dining represents the spirit of warmth, generosity, and tradition, inviting all to share in the joy of good food and company.

Street Food

20. Tteokbokki

photo by Choi Kwang-mo 

Tteokbokki, the typical Korean street food, is a spicy sensation that fascinates palates worldwide. Its chewy rice cakes, bathed in a fiery sauce, form the heart of this beloved dish. Whether they’re a seasoned tteokbokki fan or a newcomer to its charms, the streets of South Korea offer a tempting range of variations. Let’s prepare to be enchanted as bold flavors interlink, provoking a symphony of taste that rises above expectations.

21. Dakgangjeong

photo by Dr 방원장

Dakgangjeong, the model of Korean fried chicken, entices crowds with its magnetic blend of sweetness and crispiness. Marinated in a luscious sauce and fried to golden perfection, each bite offers a symphony of flavors that dance on the palate. For devotees of this beloved street snack, no travel is too far to enjoy the crispy perfection of dakgangjeong from renowned vendors. Whether coated in the familiar cherish of sweet chili or infused with daring new flavors, every morsel promises a tempting adventure that leaves taste buds craving for more.

22. Eomuk

photo by Chloe Lim

Eomuk, the unpraised hero of Korean street cuisine, charms with its humble simplicity and comforting flavors. Crafted from a delicate blend of dough and powdered fish, these fish cakes offer a savory indulgence that delights the senses. Whether served in skewer form or submerged in a flavorful soup, each variation charms with its unique texture and umami-rich taste.

23. Bap Burger

photo by mariomenti

Bap Burger, an evident culinary innovation, reinvents the classic burger with a Korean twist. Eschewing conventional buns for compressed rice patties, this street food sensation offers a delightful fusion of flavors and textures. Toasted to perfection, the rice buns lend a smoky aroma and crunchy texture, elevating the humble burger to new heights of culinary excellence.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqQtsfpDjq4&pp=ygUYU291dGggS29yZWFuIHN0cmVldCBmb29k

Farm-to-Table Movement

photo by Charles Tilford

In South Korea, the farm-to-table movement is changing because people want more local food. They’re using the internet to buy directly from farmers. This helps them get fresh food and know where it comes from. It’s also good for health, especially during the pandemic. Some small shops are focusing on eco-friendly farming, which is good for the environment and brings communities together.

New businesses like LeTari and Epigram are showing how farming is changing. They let city people see how food is grown. This helps them make better choices about what they eat and supports sustainable farming. Also, there are new technologies like N.thing’s Planty Cube and Farm8’s vertical farm. These make farming more efficient and better for the environment. South Korea is moving towards more local, sustainable food, thanks to these changes.

Dining Etiquette

photo by Romel Jacinto

Dos

1. Say ‘Jal-mukkes-seub-nida’: Before starting their meal, they express appreciation by saying ‘Jal-mukkes-seub-nida’, meaning ‘I will eat well’ or ‘I will enjoy this meal’.

2. Respect Elders: They allow the eldest family member to start the meal first and respect for elders is paramount in Korean culture, especially at the dining table.

3. Begin with Soup: They start their meal with a taste of soup or stews to prepare their taste buds for the upcoming dishes.

4. Use Utensils Properly: They use chopsticks for dishes and a spoon for rice and soup. They avoid pointing with chopsticks and never lift their rice bowl.

5. Share Food: Sharing is integral to Korean dining. They take only what they need from shared dishes to ensure everyone can enjoy them.

6. Balance Flavors: They appreciate the diverse flavors of Korean cuisine by balancing spicy, savory, and refreshing dishes.

7. Eat Calmly: They enjoy their meal quietly and chew thoroughly. They avoid slurping, rushing, or eating with their mouth open.

8. Stay Focused: They keep distractions like phones or TVs away from the dining table. They focus on the food and conversation with loved ones.

9. Use Two Hands for Passing: When offering or receiving dishes or drinks, they use both hands as a sign of respect.

10. Pour for Others: They refill others’ drinks, especially for alcohol, as a sign of courtesy and respect.

11. Finish Gracefully: They place their utensils beside their plate or bowl after finishing the meal and also they avoid leaving leftovers and express gratitude by saying ‘Jal-muhguhs-seub-nida’.

Don’ts

1. Don’t Lift Rice Bowl: Lifting their rice or soup bowl is considered impolite. They use their spoon to bring food to their mouth instead.

2. Avoid Hoarding: They take only what they need from shared dishes and avoid hoarding food on their plate.

3. Don’t Rush: They match their eating pace to the eldest or most senior person at the table. They avoid rushing through their meal.

4. Don’t Lift Utensils: They avoid sticking chopsticks directly into the rice bowl. They keep utensils on the table or beside their bowl when not in use.

5. Don’t Reach Too Far: They refrain from extending their reach across the table for dishes. They keep movements modest and respectful.

6. No Noisy Eating: They chew quietly and avoid making noise with utensils while eating. They follow the lead of those around them.

7. Don’t Waste Food: They finish all the food on their plate to avoid wastefulness. Leaving food can be seen as disrespectful.

8. Avoid Blowing Nose: They refrain from blowing their nose at the table to maintain a pleasant dining atmosphere.

9. Don’t Overpour Drinks: When pouring alcohol, they avoid overpouring the glass. They hold the glass with both hands when receiving a drink from an elder.

10. Don’t Refuse Drinks: They accept drinks offered by elders as a sign of respect unless they have a compelling reason to refuse.

Global Influence and Popularity

photo by USAG- Humphreys

Korean cuisine has emerged as a global culinary phenomenon, charming taste buds worldwide with its rich flavors and diverse dishes. The popularity of Korean food can be attributed to its integration into the broader wave of Korean cultural exports, including music, movies, and dramas.

Recognizing the potential of Korean cuisine as a cultural ambassador, the South Korean government has actively promoted its food industry through initiatives like the ‘Globalization of Korean Food’ Project. This project aimed to support the Korean food industry by developing human resources, standardizing recipes, and registering Korean food as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage item. By using the global appeal of Korean culture, both the government and corporations have sought to capitalize on the growing popularity of Korean cuisine, positioning it as a lucrative export and culinary trendsetter on the world stage.

Key Takings About National Food of South Korea

1. Top 10 National Food of South Korea: From kimchi to bibimbap, South Korea’s national dishes offer a rich textile of flavors and traditions that charm the senses.

2. Traditional 10 Dishes to Eat: Hold the core of South Korean cuisine with classics like samgyeopsal and jajangmyeon, each dish a proof to the country’s culinary heritage.

3. Spices: The Heart of South Korean Cooking: Explore the lively flavors of Korean cuisine, where the perfect balance of spices brings every dish to life.

4. South Korean Family Dining: Experience the warmth and hospitality of Korean family dining, where meals are a celebration of tradition and togetherness.

5. Street Food: Indulge in the tempting attraction of Korean street food, where flavors come alive in every bite, from tteokbokki to gilgeori toast.

6. Farm to Table Movement: Join the movement towards sustainable and locally sourced food in South Korea, where innovation meets tradition to create a brighter future for food.

7. Dining Etiquette: Master the art of Korean dining etiquette, from saying ‘Jal-mukkes-seub-nida’ to embracing the customs and traditions that surround every meal.

8. Global Influence and Popularity: Explore the global phenomenon of Korean cuisine, from its integration into popular culture to its recognition as a culinary trendsetter on the world stage.