When in Seoul – Five traditional Korean dishes to try

One of the best things about going to visit other countries has always been the ability to sample truly authentic food from the national cuisine of the country you’re in.

Of course, thanks to the fact that everywhere in the world is so much more cosmopolitan than it used to be, with different nationalities living together in many different cities around the world, we can get our hands on pretty much any cuisine we can think of without leaving our hometowns. However, there’s something that little bit extra special about eating dishes in the places that they were first dreamt up and created.

Korea, Seoul, food

If you’re heading to Seoul or elsewhere in South Korea and are wondering what are the most well-loved traditional dishes you should make a point of trying when you’re there, we’ve listed them here.

1. Salty crab, anyone?
If the only way you’ve eaten crab is in a sandwich, Korean-style soy sauce crab may come as a bit of a shock to you the first time you try it. Served cold, the crab has a bitter and tangy flavour, it’s certainly different! However, ganjang gejang (crab in soy) is something you’ll quickly develop a taste for. It’s nicknamed “rice thief” as many diners will order more rice simply so they can eat more gejang with it.

2. A daily dose of kimchi
A huge number of domestic restaurants are beginning to serve anything you can think of and probably the most popular single item in Korean cuisine outside of Korea at the moment is kimchi. It’s fermented cabbage, and with the rise in popularity of fermented foods for their health values in the last few years, it’s a dish that has now become known around the world. Koreans eat a vast amount of kimchi as a condiment – it’s estimated that each Korean eats around 40 pounds of it a year.

Kimchi, Korean food, Seoul

Kimchi is made with vegetables, usually cabbage or radish, mixed with salt, vinegar, garlic and chilli, as well as other spices. It can be a condiment or mixed in with rice or noodles. You can also get kimchi-flavoured dishes, such as soups and stews. For instance, kimchi-jjigae is a stew of tofu, noodles, pork, vegetables and red cabbage kimchi.

3. The best breakfast dish to cure a hangover
Korea is a great place for a big night out and there’s definitely quite a big drinking culture. If you over-indulge, there’s a savoury breakfast dish that’s perfect for helping you to clear your head the next day. Haejang-guk or hangover stew is a broth that’s made with beef, cabbage, radishes and bean sprouts. But it’s the addition of congealed ox blood which gives is a really rich flavour and will put you back on track.

4. Hard to pronounce, but tasty – bibimbap
In Korean, Bibimbap means mixed rice, but it also means mixed meal. It’s a popular Korean dish that you’ll find in most restaurants in Korea and is always a variation on a similar theme of rice served with raw or cooked vegetables, topped with grilled or marinated raw beef and served with a fried egg on the top. To give bibimbap extra flavour, gochujang – a red chilli paste – is added. Usually, the dish is served in a series of layers and the diner can then choose how much he or she mixes everything together.

Regional variations of the dish include Dolsot, where the meal is served in a hot stone dish that adds crispiness to the rice at the bottom, or Jeonju, where up to 30 ingredients are mixed with beef broth and rice in a brass bowl.

5. Something sweet

Gangjeong, Korea, Seoul food

Traditional Korean desserts are often beautifully made and presented. They tend to be small tastes of sweet treats that you can pick up rather than served in a bowl with a spoon. Korean dessert is often taken with tea.

One of the best-known Korean sweets is Gangjeong. This is made with glutinous rice flour mixed with water until it forms a dough. The dough is then cut into squares and dried, before being deep-fried and coated with different flavourings such as honey. Ganjeong can also be made with nuts and seeds instead of the rice flour and the ingredients are held together with grain syrup. Many Ganjeong have a savoury and sweet taste at the same time.

If you’re visiting Korea, you’re bound to have the chance to try out all these dishes and more. The only thing you’ll need to make sure of is adequately spacing out your meals so that you’re hungry enough to enjoy all the delicacies Korean cooking has to offer!

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