Top Korean Foods Loved by Foreigners
A government survey completed in 2010 revealed the top Korean foods foreigners love. Here they are listed from 1 to 10. Let’s go check out some of Korea’s most famous foods!
1. Samgyeopsal (Grilled Pork Belly)
Samgyeopsal (삼겹살) is Korea’s most popular pork dish. Commonly served as an evening meal, it consists of thick, fatty slices of pork belly meat (similar to uncured bacon). The meat, usually un-marinated and un-seasoned, is cooked on a grill at the diners' table, usually by the diners themselves. It is popularly consumed both at restaurants and at home, and also used as an ingredient for other Korean dishes, such as kimchi jjigae (김치찌개).
Samgyeopsal usually comes with at least two dipping sauces; ssamjang (쌈장), a sauce made of fermented bean paste and red chili pepper paste and gireumjang (기름장), a sauce made with salt and sesame oil, sometimes also with a small amount of black pepper. Usually ssamjang is used when a diner eats samgyeopsal with vegetable accompaniments, and gireumjang is used when a diner wants to taste the cooked meat itself. Samgyeopsal is typically served with lettuce, perilla, or other leafy vegetables used to wrap the meat alongside banchan (반찬; side dishes) such as sliced raw garlic, sliced green chili peppers, shredded green onions, sliced raw onions, and aged kimchi (mugeunji; 묵은지). Garlic, onions, and kimchi can be either grilled with the meat or consumed raw with the cooked meat.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made of vegetables that have been seasoned and fermented. It is the most common banchan (반찬; side dish) and is always served with every Korean meal. It has been named as one of the world’s healthiest foods due to its low calorie content and for being rich in fiber, vitamins A, B and C, calcium and iron. It also contains lactic acid bacteria, a type of healthy bacteria that regulates digestion. Kimchi is also said to boost your immune system and reduce cancer growth.
There are over 300 different varieties of kimchi, some of which are not fermented. Kimchi varieties are determined by the main vegetable ingredients used and the mix of seasonings used to flavor the kimchi. The most popular type of kimchi is baechu kimchi (배추 김치), in which napa cabbage is the main ingredient, but there are many regional and seasonal varieties. Popular variants include ggakdugi (깍두기); which is a kimchi made with cubed radish; pa kimchi (파김치; “pa” meaning “scallions”); chonggak kimchi (총각김치; “chonggak” meaning “whole radish kimchi”); oisobagi (오이소박이), a cucumber kimchi with hot and spicy seasoning; yeolmu kimchi (열무김치; “yeolmu” meaning young radish); and mul kimchi (물김치), a watery kimchi that can be characterized as a cold soup of vegetables.
Kimchi is also a main ingredient for many popular Korean dishes such as kimchi jjigae (김치찌개; kimchi stew), kimchi jeon (김치전; kimchi pancake) and kimchi bokkeumbap (김치볶음밥; kimchi fried rice).
3. Tteokbokki (Stir-fried Rice Cake)
Tteokbokki (떡볶이) is Korea’s most popular snack food and is commonly purchased from pojangmacha (포장마차; street vendors), making it also Korea’s most popular street food. Tteokbokki can be divided into two types; gungjung tteokbokki (궁중 떡볶이) made with ganjang (간장; korean soy sauce), and spicy tteokbokki made with gochujang (고추장; red chili pepper paste).
Gungjung tteokbokki (“gungjung” meaning “royal”) is the original version of tteokbokki, and was once a part of Korean royal court cuisine. Gungjung tteokbokki is a stir-fried dish consisting of garaetteok (가래떡; cylinder-shaped tteok) combined with a variety of ingredients such as beef, mung bean sprouts, green onions, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, and onions, and seasoned with soy sauce.
Then in the 1950s, a new type of tteokbokki became very popular. While the older version was a savory dish, this newer type was spicy (due to the use of gochujang), and quickly became more popular than the older traditional dish. Although gungjung tteokbokki is still eaten today, the newer, spicier version of tteokbokki is the kind that most people are familiar with. Other ingredients added to tteokbokki include boiled eggs, odeng (오뎅; fish cakes), pan-fried mandu (만두; Korean dumplings), sausages, ramyeon (라면; ramen noodles) and cheese.
4. Bibimbap (Rice Mixed with Vegetables and Beef)
Bibimbap is Korea’s most representative dish. Bibimbap has been gaining popularity worldwide as of late due to its low-calorie, high nutritional content. It is Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s favorite dish and has also been voted as one of the best airline meals around.
Bibimbap literally means "mixed meal" and is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with various types of namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables) and gochujang (red chili pepper paste), usually with a raw or fried egg or sliced beef added on top. The ingredients are mixed together thoroughly just before eating. Vegetables commonly used in bibimbap include julienned cucumber, zucchini, mu (무; daikon or white radish), mushrooms, doraji (도라지; bellflower root), and gim (김; laver), as well as spinach, soybean sprouts, and gosari (고사리; bracken fern stems). Dubu (두부; tofu), either plain or sautéed, or a leaf of lettuce may be added and chicken or seafood may be substituted for beef. For visual appeal the vegetables are often placed so that adjacent colors complement each other. The provinces of Jeonju, Jinju, and Tongyeong are especially famous for their versions of bibimbap.
A variation of this dish, dolsot bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥; "dolsot" meaning “stone pot”), is served in a very hot stone bowl in which a raw egg is cooked against the sides of the bowl. (The bowl is very hot and is not meant to be touched).
5. Samgyetang (Ginseng Chicken Soup)
Samgyetang (삼계탕), which literally translates to "'ginseng chicken soup", is a variety of tang (탕; soup) in which a whole young chicken is stuffed with Korean ginseng and glutinous rice and cooked in a broth of its own juices. Although samgyetang is considered to only have three main ingredients, other ingredients such as dried jujube fruits (Korean dates), chestnuts, pine nuts, garlic and ginger are commonly added, used to stuff the chicken, add flavor to the broth or both. Depending on the recipe, other medicinal herbs such as gugija (구기자; goji berry or wolfberry), dangsam (당삼; Codonopsis pilosula), danggwi (당귀; Angelica sinensis) and hwanggi (황기; Astragalus or milk-vetch root) may also be added.
Like chicken soup, which is thought to help common sicknesses in the West, it is widely believed in Korea that samgyetang can both cure and prevent physical ailments. Proteins and minerals from the whole chicken mixed with the beneficial properties of the ingredients combined in the dish make it a revered culinary item in South Korea. Only whole uncut ingredients are used for the dish, as they are believed to preserve the maximum amount of nutrients. Many Koreans enjoy samgyetang on three specific days in the summer: Chobok (초복), Jungbok (중복), and Malbok (말복), which Koreans believe to be the hottest and most sultry days of the year. It is believed that the dish’s high nutritional content replaces the important vitamins and minerals lost through excessive sweating and physical exertion during the summer.
6. Galbi (Marinated and Grilled Beef Ribs)
A favorite among both Koreans and foreigners, galbi refers to a variety of gui (grilled dishes) that is made with marinated beef (or pork) short ribs in a ganjang-based sauce (Korean soy sauce). The dish's full name is galbi gui, meaning “grilled ribs”, although "gui" (grilled) is commonly omitted to refer to it. For the most part, galbi generally refers to beef ribs and may be called sogalbi (소갈비) or soegalbi (쇠갈비), however the prefix "so" or "soe" (beef) is often omitted. It is also called sutbul galbi (숯불갈비) when charcoal-grilled. As the literal meaning is "rib", galbi dishes can also be made with pork ribs or chicken. In such cases, the dish is called dwaeji galbi (돼지갈비) or dak galbi (닭갈비) to emphasize the main ingredient. There is also tteokgalbi (떡갈비), which is beef ribs shaped into patties and LA galbi (LA갈비), which is beef ribs thinly cut across the bone.
The meat is marinated in a sauce made primarily from soy sauce, garlic, and sugar. However, several variations of the marinade exist including recipes that utilize sesame oil, rice wine or gochugaru (고추가루; red chili pepper paste). In recent years, fruit juice, lemon-lime soda and honey have become common additional ingredients.
Galbi is generally served in restaurants known as "galbi houses", and the meat is cooked right at the diners' tables on grills set in the tables (usually by the diners themselves). It is typically served with ssamjang (쌈장), a sauce made of fermented bean paste and red pepper paste used as a dipping sauce; lettuce, perilla, or other leafy vegetables used to wrap the meat; and banchan (반찬; side dishes) such as sliced raw garlic, green chili peppers, shredded green onions, sliced raw onions and kimchi.
7. Naengmyeon (Chilled Buckwheat Noodles)
Naengmyeon (냉면) literally translates to “cold noodles” and is a popular dish to eat in the summer. Naengmyeon is made of long, thin hand-made noodles, typically made from the flour and starch of various ingredients such as memil (메밀; buckwheat), potatoes, sweet potatoes or chik (칡; kudzu). Varieties with ingredients such as seaweed and green tea are also available. In the past, the long noodles were not cut before being consumed because they symbolized longevity and good health, but nowadays servers at restaurants usually ask diners want their noodles cut prior to eating and use food scissors to cut the noodles.
The two main varieties of naengmyeon are mul naengmyeon (물냉면) and bibim naengmyeon (비빔냉면). The former is served with noodles in a tangy iced broth made from beef, chicken or dongchimi (동치미; radish kimchi). Spicy mustard sauce and vinegar are often added before consumption. The latter is served with a spicy dressing made primarily from gochujang (고추장; red chili pepper paste) and eaten all mixed together. Usually a bowl of the soup broth used in mul naengmyeon or plain broth from the boiled noodles themselves is often served on the side. Both versions come with julienned cucumbers, slices of Korean pear, and either a boiled egg or slices of cold boiled beef added on top.
Other popular varieties of naengmyeon include yeolmu naengmyeon (열무냉면), a type of mul naengmyeon that is served with yeolmu kimchi (열무김치; 열무 meaning “young radish”) and hoe naengmyeon (회냉면), a type of bibim naengmyeon served with marinated hoe (회; raw fish), typically skate.
8. Bossam (Pork Wraps)
Pork is an important land-based protein for Korea and has been a part of the Korean diet for many centuries. All parts of the pig are used in Korean cuisine and are prepared using a variety of cooking methods including steaming, stewing, grilling, boiling and smoking. Two of the most popular pork dishes in Korea are bossam and jokbal.
Bossam (보쌈) is a type of ssam (쌈) in Korean cuisine. Ssam (쌈), literally meaning "wrapped," refers to dishes in Korean cuisine in which leafy vegetables are used to wrap a piece of meat, often accompanied by a condiment known as ssamjang (쌈장; a sauce made of fermented bean paste and red chili pepper paste) and is often topped with raw or cooked garlic, onion, green chili peppers or banchan (반찬; side dishes) such as kimchi. In the case of bossam, the meat used is steamed pork. Bossam is also often eaten with a sauce called saeujeot (새우젓; salt fermented shrimp). Bossam is a popular dish in Korea, and is served as a main dish or as anju (안주; food that is eaten while drinking alcoholic beverages).
9. Bulgogi (Flame-grilled Beef)
Bulgogi (불고기) is made from thinly sliced sirloin or other prime cuts of beef. Bulgogi is normally grilled, although pan-cooking is common as well. Before it is cooked, the meat is marinated with a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic and other ingredients such as scallions and mushrooms, particularly white button or shiitake.
Bulgogi is often grilled or fried with whole cloves of garlic, sliced onions, and chopped green peppers. It is sometimes served with lettuce, perilla, or other leafy vegetables used to wrap the meat, which is then dipped in ssamjang (쌈장), a sauce made of fermented bean paste and red chili pepper paste and other banchan (반찬; side dishes). Bulgogi is considered to be the most popular meat dish among both Koreans and foreigners.
10. Gimbap (Korean Rolls)
Gimbap (김밥) is a popular favorite with both Koreans and foreigners. Gimbap is often eaten during picnics or outdoor events, or as a light lunch. The basic components of gimbap are bap (밥; cooked rice); meat or other protein-rich ingredients; a large variety of vegetables, pickled, roasted or fresh; and gim (김; sheets of dried laver). Traditionally, the rice is lightly seasoned with salt and sesame oil. Popular protein ingredients are odeng (오뎅; fish cakes), imitation crab meat, eggs, and/or seasoned beef rib-eye. Vegetables usually include cucumbers, spinach, carrots, ueong (우엉; burdock root) and danmuji (단무지; pickled radish). After the gimbap has been rolled in gim, it is usually brushed with sesame oil and/or sprinkled with sesame seeds then sliced into bite-size pieces. It is typically served with danmuji (단무지; pickled radish) or kimchi.
Besides the common ingredients listed above, some varieties may include cheese, kimchi, tuna, spicy cooked squid, nalchial (날치알; flying fish roe) or luncheon meat. In one variety of gimbap, sliced pieces of gimbap are coated with egg batter and then lightly fried.
There are also two other forms of gimbap that are commonly eaten, chungmu gimbap and samgak gimbap. Chungmu gimbap (충무김밥) is a unique gimbap made without any ingredients inside the roll. Originating from the seaside city of Chungmu, the rolls are thinner than regular gimbap and the surface is not brushed with sesame oil. Chungmu gimbap is traditionally served with side dishes of kolddugi muchim (꼴뚜기 무침), sliced baby octopus marinated and fermented in a spicy red chili pepper sauce, and radish kimchi (무김치). Samgak gimbap (삼각김밥) is a triangle-shaped gimbap that is sold in many convenience stores in Korea. Samgak gimbap also comes in many varieties.
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