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13 Local dishes to try in Seoul

Salty, sweet, savoury, Seoul has it all! No trip to the South Korean capital is complete without a sampling of these 13 delicious local dishes.

A spicy rice helping to keep you going on the go

A spicy rice helping to keep you going on the go

Ddeokbokki

Doughy fingers of cylinder-shaped rice cakes are fried with a blend of fish, chilli, onions and anchovies before being heaped into a bowl, or scooped up into a paper cup. Cheap and cheerful, this humble snack up is served up at street food stalls, together with a stick to help you retrieve the satisfying pieces within.

Barbecued pork meat to put fire in your belly

Barbecued pork meat to put fire in your belly

Samgyupsal

Thick slabs of juicy pork sizzle alongside onions, garlic and gochujang red-pepper paste, piled up to make this veritable Korean meat feast. The fat’s left on the cut for an extra layer of flavour. Dedicated restaurants fill with jovial diners, who like to wash the dish down with a cool beer, or a swig of spirited soju.

A spicy meat platter designed to fire up your taste buds

A spicy meat platter designed to fire up your taste buds

Bulgogi

Marinated strips of beef, pork or chicken are slathered and soaked in a cocktail of soy sauce, onions, ginger, mushrooms and garlic with a sweet sampling of honey and sugar to cling to the meat. A day or two later, the tender morsels are sautéed and sprinkled with sesame seeds to serve.

A kick of a chicken dish almost too hot to handle

A kick of a chicken dish almost too hot to handle

Dakgalbi

A spicy take on marinated beef, this poultry equivalent bowls diners over with its spice levels. Stir-fried until no liquid remains, the fiery marinade is completely absorbed by the meat for some flavoursome mouthfuls. Gochujang chilli paste provides the spice, while cabbage and sweet potato offer a calm contrast for the palate.

Swimming with tasty additions, a soup with depths of flavour

Swimming with tasty additions, a soup with depths of flavour

Samgyetang

If you like your food strong in flavour but with the spice dialled down, this ginseng-flavoured broth may be exactly what you’re looking for. Simple and soothing, a whole chicken is stuffed with the potent plant, rice, ginger and jujube dates and left to bubble in the meat’s juices. It’s brought to your table piping hot, leaving you to dig in to a gamut of flavours.

Local tip: Make sure you don’t eat any of the ginseng inside the chicken – it’s meant only to flavour the broth.

Steamed chicken that’s high on the spice levels

Steamed chicken that’s high on the spice levels

Jjimdak

An inviting bowl of braised chicken that’s hot in every way. You’ll find fried strips of meat doused in sweet soy sauce, sugar and vegetables, designed to balance the tingle of garlic, pepper and red and green chillis. Glass noodles help soak up the tangy yet fiery liquid, while a glass of soju spirit may alleviate the heat.

A wartime stew with international flavour

A wartime stew with international flavour

Budae Jjigae

Invented when supplies were low after the Korean War, this soup is hearty and filling – and a veritable hotchpotch. It makes use of protein-packed provisions such as sliced sausage, ham and processed Spam meat, for some American flavour, before a Korean kick is added in the form of spicy kimchi lettuce, chilli paste and flakes — all blended with a good dose of garlic.

Multifaceted dumpling morsels hot from the grill, pan or pot

Multifaceted dumpling morsels hot from the grill, pan or pot

Mandu

This variety of dumpling can take many a form. Steamed, fried or grilled, it’s filled with noodles, meat, or simply vegetables, catering to any diet or palate. Delicate and versatile, a handful are often added to soups and salads and made with a little, or a lot, of spice.

Local tip: Grab a few of these on the go if you’re passing a street food stall. You’ll also see them steamed and dished up in restaurants.

A kick of a condiment that collides with the taste buds

A kick of a condiment that collides with the taste buds

Kimchi

Vegetables concealed under a coating that’s red-hot in colour and taste, this staple side can be made from lettuce, cabbage, or cucumber. Left to pickle in a red pepper sauce and salt, the result is a vibrant vegetable platter that adds variety to any dish.

Local tip: The equivalent of saying “Cheese!”, locals utter “Kimchi!” when having their photo taken.

A souped-up pancake fit to burst with sweetness

A souped-up pancake fit to burst with sweetness

Hotteok

Hot, moreish and bursting at the seams with sugary syrup, these rice pancakes are nothing if not addictive. Made in front of you at food stalls, you’ll bite into a gooey centre flavoured with cinnamon and nuts. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, they’re the perfect combination of textures and flavours.

Local tip: If you don’t have a sweet tooth, keep an eye out for savoury versions of these much-loved indulgences.

A pot full of potent colours and flavours

A pot full of potent colours and flavours

Bibimbap

Korean food prides itself on variety and bringing this together to form harmonious flavours. This deep dish sits atop steamed rice and sliced-up vegetables that conjure a spectrum of colour. Meat doused in garlic and soy sauce is often added. A whole fried egg is the crowning glory, while a generous helping of fiery gochujang paste adds real spice to the mix.

Local tip: Michael Jackson loved bibimbap, but he wouldn't put gochujang in it. So his bibimbap was always white and mixed with vegetables. Ever since he started eating his own version of bibimbap, it's been called "Michael Jackson Bibimbap."

Seaweed rice rolls that make for a visual and edible feast

Seaweed rice rolls that make for a visual and edible feast

Gimbap

Sushi-like circles of sticky rice are convenient, delicious and loved all over the country. A packed-lunch favourite, they’re compact and filled with meat or fish, or simply a delightful rainbow of crunchy raw vegetables. A wash of sesame oil coats the seaweed before a roll is sliced into grab-able disks.

A sweet-potato noodle combination that’s uniquely Korean

A sweet-potato noodle combination that’s uniquely Korean

Japchae

A stir-fried tangle of noodles makes for a pretty picture with dashes of orange, green and red provided by a boost of chilli and crunchy carrot slices. Sweetened with soy sauce and sesame oil and flavoured with garlic and mushrooms, it’s well loved, yet lesser known — a somewhat guarded culinary secret.