Spicy, Bold & Flavorful
Korean food is known for being well-seasoned and often quite spicy. Rice is a staple and is served at every meal. Noodles are also popular and show up in a number of Korean recipes. Soups and stews also play a large part in the cuisine. Numerous side dishes, called banchan, are served with every meal as well. The number of banchan can range from anywhere between two to twelve. Many of these are pickled, salted, or fermented, and it’s common for many of the banchan to be spicy as well. Seafood is eaten often due to South Korea’s proximity to the sea, although meat has become very popular over the last 50 years or so. Tofu is also a popular protein. Korean food is boldly flavored with ingredients like sesame oil, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, chili pepper paste (gochujang), chili pepper flakes (gochugaru), and fermented soybean paste (doenjang). Korean food is traditionally eaten with stainless steel chopsticks and a long stainless steel spoon rather than the forks and knives that many Westerners are used to. Because of this, food is typically cut into bite-sized pieces to facilitate eating. If you’re looking for a taste of Korea in your kitchen, we have you covered! Here, we’ve rounded up the five best Korean recipes to get you started on your culinary journey to South Korea.
We couldn’t make a list of the best Korean recipes without including this classic dish! This flavorful Korean recipe includes a variety of vegetables, meat, rice, and an egg all slathered in a fermented red pepper paste called gochujang. Each component is cooked individually to bring out maximum flavor. Mushrooms, bean sprouts, radish, fernbrake, cucumbers, spinach, and carrots are often used, but feel free to make substitutions based on local availability. If you prefer to make a vegetarian version, simply omit the meat and use shitake mushrooms or cubes of tofu instead. In restaurants, you’ll often see this dish served sizzling hot in a dolsot, or Korean earthenware bowl, but feel free to serve it at room temperature at home. Alternatively, you can use a cast iron skillet to approximate the effect of the dolsot. Ready to make this delicious Korean recipe in your own kitchen?
Japchae is an extremely popular Korean dish. It calls for sweet potato starch noodles (sometimes called glass noodles), which are chewy, slippery, and slightly sweet. The noodles are paired with colorful, thinly sliced vegetables and meat. (For a vegetarian version, simply skip the meat and add extra veggies!) Everything is stir-fried together and then tossed in a flavor-packed sauce of garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. The result is a light, sweet, salty, and delicious plate of noodles! Ready to try your hand at this Korean recipe?
It wouldn’t be a list of the best Korean recipes without bulgogi! Thinly sliced meat is marinated in Korean BBQ sauce and grilled to perfection in a cast iron grill pan. The result is smoky, savory, sweet, and slightly charred beef. The key to bulgogi’s characteristic flavor is the marinade, which combines pear, soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, and gochujang. We recommend serving your bulgogi with either a side of rice and some kimchi, or making “tacos” with red leaf lettuce. Want to make your own bulgogi?
Kimbap is a Korean rice roll that’s wrapped in seaweed and filled with vegetables, sliced egg, and meat. While there are many variations, the classic Korean kimbap fillings are: yellow pickled radish (danmuji), eomuk (fish cake), burdock root, carrots, spinach, eggs, and beef. Each ingredient is cooked individually, but when they’re rolled together in the kimbap, they create an irresistible mix of textures and flavors. The rice used to make kimbap is lightly seasoned with sesame oil for a nutty, savory flavor, and roasted seaweed sheets usually come pre-seasoned with sesame oil, too. Since everything is so well-seasoned, kimbap is usually eaten without any dipping sauce. This makes it a great choice for lunch; in fact, kimbap is the most popular on-the-go meal in South Korea today. While rolling kimbap takes a little practice, it’s a fun process that anyone can learn! Ready to try your hand at this Korean staple?
Kimchi is perhaps the most well-known Korean food out there, so we couldn’t end this list of the best Korean recipes without including it! Fermented cabbage is the most common main ingredient used, but there are actually hundreds of varieties of kimchi in Korea, including vegan versions! Every family and every restaurant has their own unique take on this Korean classic. Kimchi is considered healthy in Korea since it's a probiotic food, and it is used as a component in many other Korean dishes, such as kimchi fried rice. It’s also served as a banchan, or side dish, with most Korean meals. Making your own kimchi may sound intimidating, but it’s less complicated than you might think, and it's the key to putting together an authentic Korean feast at home! Want to try your hand at this quintessential Korean recipe?