Top 15 Traditional Korean Dishes

Korean food has grown in popularity in the Western world over the last decade, mainly due to the influence of social media, where people were able to learn how delicious, healthy, and easy it is to prepare. 

A bowl of rice topped with many vegetable, fried pork and egg yolk

The most popular Korean foods are dishes ordered most often in Korean restaurants and those searched for frequently on search engines and YouTube. People unfamiliar with these dishes want to learn more about them, and many want to find out how they can create them at home. 

If you’re among those who haven’t had the chance to try Korean food and are curious about it, stop by your local Korean restaurant and sample their menu. And if you like to cook, many of these popular Korean foods are easy and relatively quick to make at home.

Check out our favorite traditional Korean dishes and find your new favorite order.

1. Bibimbap

Bibimbap seems like a simple meal: a bowl of rice with assorted meats and vegetables.

However, when you look into this dish, you’ll find that the possibilities for flavor combinations and presentation go on and on. 

The best part about bibimbap is that there is no one singular recipe. Instead, you can create the dish pretty much in any way you like by adding various meats, eggs, vegan proteins, and a farmer’s market’s worth of veggie toppings. 

I love it because it’s healthy and delicious. My favorite toppings are beef, spinach, and bean sprouts topped with a fried egg.

If you feel like getting fancy with the garnishes, it makes for a great Instagram meal. 

2. Kimchi

Kimchi is possibly the best-known Korean food product in the West.

Thanks to its intense garlicky aroma and bright orangey-red color, it is a memorable food that we may see on the shelves of larger grocery stores and possibly have eaten at home or in restaurants. 

Kimchi consists of fermented vegetables – usually cabbage – marinated in a sauce of garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and sometimes other seasonings. 

It’s eaten as a side dish with almost all Korean foods, so you’ll find it anywhere that serves Korean cuisine. I love it so much that I keep a jar in my fridge just to snack on now and then.

3. Samgyeopsal

Pork belly is a rich, fatty, melt-in-your-mouth meat that often appears in Korean cooking.

It’s added to stews and stir-frys to add depth of flavor, but as this recipe shows, it stands just fine on its own as the main dish. 

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The pork belly is cut thin and cooked on a grill, which often happens tableside or on the table itself in a Korean restaurant.

The diner can choose and grill their preferred cut of meat and enjoy it alongside an array of traditional side dishes like rice, noodles, kimchi, perilla leaves, pickled onions, and more. 

4. Sundubu Jjigae

Sit down and relax with a bowl of this scrumptious, warming stew.

It’s one of my favorite Korean dishes to cook when it’s cold outside. It’s soft and easy to eat, yet it has so much flavor. 

Best of all, it’s easy to make! You can throw it together quickly on your stovetop or even in a portable hot pot. 

Soft tofu is the star of this dish, along with a handful of traditional vegetables, but you can customize it in many ways. Add strips of meat, extra veggies, an egg, or whatever suits you. 

5. Bulgogi

Who doesn’t love a barbecue? In this case, I mean Korean barbecue beef, known as bulgogi.

It’s a restaurant favorite that you can also whip up at home in a relatively short time. 

Thin strips of rib-eye steak are marinated in a soy and sesame sauce and then cooked on a barbecue or a stovetop grill.

The result is tender, juicy meat that’s salty, slightly sweet, and bursting with spices like ginger and garlic. 

Add some rice and other classic Korean side dishes like pickled radish and seaweed salad, and you’re good to go! 

6. Japchae

This classic stir-fry combines vegetables, meat, and sweet potato starch noodles, which are a common element of Korean dishes.

Luckily, if you are unfamiliar with these noodles, you can find them in most Asian markets. The noodles help make the dish special thanks to their unique texture and almost transparent look. 

Japchae usually includes pork or beef, but you can also use strips of chicken or even a seafood product, like crab.

However, it’s really the vegetables that take center stage in this dish. The way the crisp veggies contrast with the texture of the noodles is just a perfect combination. 

7. Haemul Pajeon

If you’re a seafood lover, this one’s for you. These crispy pancakes are second to none in flavor and texture.

These Korean pancakes are savory, and instead of the pancake being the “holder” for the other ingredients, the ingredients are part of the pancake. 

If you’re making this dish at home, you can use whatever seafood you like. The pancake mix is fairly easy to make, with just flour, water, salt, and a little sugar.

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However, you can also use a Korean pancake mix or regular boxed pancake mix if you already have that on hand.

8. Tteokbokki

Most of us picture rice cakes as the crunchy, bland health snack that was trendy in the 90s, but that’s not what these are. If you’ve never had spicy rice cakes, they’re hard to envision. 

Tteokbokki is a carb-heavy comfort food with a firm yet chewy texture that is simmered in a spicy and sweet, thick red sauce.

It is the perfect food for a cold winter day, or anytime you’re in the mood for an indulgent treat.

These are my favorite to eat when I don’t want to make a big meal because they cook quickly, and the ingredients are sold pre-made at most Asian grocery stores. 

9. Soondae

If you’re familiar with blood sausage, which is popular in some European cuisines, you’ll find this sausage to be very similar.

It’s a mix of pig blood, cellophane noodles, and sticky rice. If you are picky about textures, you may want to stick with bulgogi or Samgyeopsal. But, if you’re more adventurous, I recommend these to try!

Soondae is usually served as is or sometimes pan-fried and sliced in chunks as part of a multi-faceted Korean dinner.

You can also add the intensely flavored sausage to soups or stews, where it absorbs the liquid and takes on a softer texture. 

10. Naengmyeon

Soup on a hot summer day? If that soup is Naengmyeon, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

This Korean specialty usually consists of cold, chewy buckwheat noodles served in an icy beef broth.

In an alternative version, the noodles are served in a spicy red sauce instead of a broth. In both cases, the dish is simple yet delicious and very refreshing. 

You can buy these buckwheat noodles for this soup in any Asian specialty store or online. They’re a staple of Korean cooking, and once you taste them, you’ll realize why. 

11. Samgyetang

This yummy chicken soup is packed with ginseng, garlic, chicken, and other highly nutritious ingredients.

Ginseng is an herb that’s known for boosting energy and endurance. 

I like to make it in winter or when I’m feeling under the weather. However, interestingly enough, it’s known as a summertime dish in Korea. 

A whole chicken is stuffed with rice and herbs before it’s put into the pot to be boiled.

It looks so impressive, warm, and welcoming being brought to the table. I really enjoy the bold, complicated, and addicting flavor. 

12. Seolleongtang

Anything worth having takes some time and effort to get. That’s undoubtedly the case with this ox bone soup.

If you’re preparing it at home, it can take six or seven hours from start to finish, but the resulting soup is so rich and flavorful that you won’t regret a minute of it. 

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The first thing I like about this soup is that it is not clear but instead has a semi-opaque appearance, which results from boiling the ox bones for a long enough time to draw out the collagen and other nutrients. 

You can add noodles to this soup or use it as a base for other soups, but it’s made to shine on its own.

Are you unsure if you can try this recipe at home? You’re in luck! You can try it at almost every Korean restaurant near you as it is a staple of Korean food.  

13. Hoeddeok

We looked at savory Korean pancakes earlier, but now it’s time to celebrate these sweet creations.

Hoeddeok is a wildly popular Korean street food for a good reason: it’s gooey, sweet, and sinfully delicious. 

And it’s a crowd-pleaser. You don’t have to be accustomed to Asian flavorings to enjoy this dish. Wherever you come from in the world, you can get on board with a sweet cinnamon experience. 

What sets these pancakes apart from your average American breakfast pancake? The shape and recipe of the dough.

Instead of being a flat griddle cake, hoeddeok are yeast-based cakes filled in the center. 

In this case, the filling is a syrupy cinnamon concoction with nuts or seeds. 

14. Korean Fried Chicken

If you’re used to American fried chicken, you may be surprised at how different the Korean version is.

It’s a fantastic dish perfect for parties, holidays, or family meals and is often served with cold beer or soju, a popular Korean alcohol. 

The chicken – usually a choice of wings, drumsticks, or thighs – are double-fried. You can usually order it plain and crispy or with a spicy red sauce.

The sauce gets both its color and kick from gochujang, a red pepper paste that is a staple in Korean cooking. 

However, if you have a hard time handling spicy foods, you can ask for the sauce on the side instead of coating the chicken with it. That way, you can dip as much or as little as you’d like. 

15. Jajangmyeon

Black bean paste is a popular feature in many Korean foods. It’s a simple paste made of black mung beans, but you can add other flavorings and ingredients to make whatever recipe you have in mind. 

In this case, it’s Jajangmyeon, a recipe that features noodles smothered in black bean paste. Chewy udon-style noodles are the foundation of this dish.

It takes a strong pasta to adequately hold the thick, chunky sauce, which is dark-brown, oily, and deliciously savory. 

The dish also includes vegetables, like daikon radish, zucchini, and onion. 

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian attended West Virginia University, then started his career in the IT industry before following his passion for marketing and hospitality. He has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and bar industry.

As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.

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