Trying Korean food for the first time can seem intimidating. With all the new flavors, ingredients and dishes, you may not know where to start. But don’t worry! Here is a guide to the best Korean foods for beginners to help you dive into the delicious world of Korean cuisine.
Start with Familiar Favorites
When first exploring Korean food, it’s best to begin with dishes that may seem more familiar. This allows you to slowly acquaint your palate with the new flavors. Here are some Korean dishes to try that are close to other popular cuisines:
This mixed rice bowl with meat and assorted vegetables is similar to a rice bowl you may get at a Japanese restaurant. The gochujang (red pepper paste) sauce adds a delicious Korean kick.
These sweet and savory grilled beef strips taste almost like Korean barbeque. Bulgogi makes for amazing tacos and sandwiches.
Japchae are clear noodles made from sweet potato starch that are stir fried with meat and vegetables. You can think of it as Korean lo mein.
Explore New Flavors
Once you’ve gotten your feet wet with the familiar, it’s time to dive into the unique flavors of Korea:
You can’t start Korean food without trying kimchi, the national dish. Kimchi is fermented napa cabbage and radish that can taste tangy, sour, sweet, and spicy. It’s served as a side dish or incorporated into many Korean recipes.
For pork lovers, bossam is slow cooked pork belly served with kimchi, lettuce, pickled radishes, and ssamjang sauce. Wrap the pork in the lettuce leaves with the accompaniments for an incredible flavor combo.
Dakgalbi is spicy marinated chicken grilled with sweet potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, and rice cakes. The balance of heat and sweetness is incredible.
Experience the Culture
Korean food goes beyond just the flavors. Understand the customs to truly appreciate the cuisine:
Eating Korean bbq is an interactive experience. You grill marinated meats like bulgogi and galbi (short ribs) right at your table. Wrap the grilled meat and banchan (side dishes) in lettuce leaves.
Korean Fried Chicken & Beer
Chimaek is a popular Korean pastime that pairs fried chicken and beer. The fried chicken is crispier and crunchier than American versions. A great social activity!
Korean dishes like stews, rice dishes, pancakes, and noodles are meant for casual dining with groups. Going with friends allows you to order more items to share.
Discover Classic Dishes
Here are some quintessential Korean dishes you need to try on your culinary journey:
This Korean bbq dish features thick, fatty slices of pork belly. Grill the samgyeopsal at your table and enjoy the meat in lettuce leaf wraps with ssamjang sauce.
Budae jjigae, or “army stew”, has ingredients like instant ramen, kimchi, pork, and American cheese. It’s a unique combination of Korean flavors and American ingredients. Very comforting!
These stir-fried rice cakes in a spicy gochujang sauce make a popular Korean street food snack. Add fish cakes and boiled eggs for extra flavor and texture.
Jjambbong is a spicy seafood noodle soup loaded with veggies like onion, zucchini, and cabbage simmered in a red pepper broth. Perfect for chilly weather.
Go Beyond the Basics
Once you’ve mastered the basics, try these more advanced Korean fare:
Korean savory pancakes like kimchi jeon, pajeon (green onion pancake), and haemul jeon (seafood pancake) offer a nice balance of crispy outer texture and soft, doughy interior. They make a great snack, appetizer or side dish.
Jjim & Jorim
Jjim and jorim refer to Korean steamed and braised dishes respectively. Try jjim recipes like steamed eggs or braised beef short ribs to experience deep flavors from slow cooking techniques.
Korean Fried Fish
From fried anchovies and smelt to fried shrimp, Koreans excel at ultra crispy and flavorful fried fish dishes. Don’t miss out on this tasty experience.
Take Your Time
Korean cuisine is complex and nuanced. Savor each dish and the variety of flavors. And know that you can always come back for more – there’s so much to try! Starting with approachable items and working your way up is key to exploring and appreciating this amazing food culture. Keep this beginner’s guide handy as you enjoy your delicious Korean food journey.