At Young Pioneer Tours we do not just consider ourselves experts about North Korea, but about all things Korean in general.
We have written a lot about the top street food, snacks and foods of North Korea, but by doing this have skipped a whole beat about South Korea and the wider Korean diaspora.
South Korean Food is BIG business these days, so here are the top foods of Korea you must try.
Bulgogi – marinated beef barbecue
Without doubt one of the best foods you can have in either Korea, although much more of a mainstay in the South. Marinated in a juicy savory sauce and served with garlic and onions, this is one of the most iconic of Korean dishes. And guess what? McDonald’s once did a bulgogi burger. Oh it was good….
Thin slices of pork traditional served at Korean BBQ. The pork is cooked and dropped into salt, pepper and sesame seed oil, before being wrapped in a lettuce leaf and eaten like a breadless sandwich. In the North they like to do this with duck meat. Probably the best samgyeopsal I have had was in Koreatown in Pampanga.
You simply cannot discuss Korean cuisine without bringing up kimchi! A fermented cabbage dish with a bit of fish and other spices. Kimchi is an absolute Korean obsession, and a meal is considered inadequate and incomplete without it. North Korean kimchi is considered more natural, and of course in some ways better.
Let’s get a very controversial one out of the way. Dog meat restaurants are scarce in North Korea and even rarer in the South. In Yanji, though (an autonomous Korean town in China), they are everywhere. Whatever your opinion on the morality of dog soup, I challenge you to at least try the ribs…
Pyongyang Cold Noodles (Naengmyeon)
Seeing as we are covering all Korean food, I felt it important to include the national dish from the North. Buckwheat noodles served in cold water that are a little bland until you add Korean mustard and vinegar. An acquired taste, but one I have at least acquired. Can be purchased in the South, but is obviously better in the North.
Ddukbokki (spicy rice cake)
Far and away my favorite street food from South Korea. Circular elongated rice cakes served in a spicy BBQ type sauce served with fishcake, vegetables and chill sauce, and served by pojangmacha (street vendors). The original sweet & sour dish.
A classic from both parts of the peninsula, although more common in the South. Meat, vegetables, and a hint of fish served in a clay pot where you mix it up yourself. It’s the fried egg and chilli sauce that make this dish special. Extremely filing when combined with kimchi (which all meals are).
North Korean sashimi
I’ll never forget the first time I tried sashimi in Wonsan, North Korea. We ate the sashimi, like normal, with soy, and wasabi, but the freaking fish was still moving! Kind of felt bad for the fish, but holy wow did it taste fresh (is it possible to be any fresher than alive?).
Soju baby, it is all about the soju. I have written specifically about North Korean and South Korean soju, but in the interests of this blog, let’s just celebrate all things soju! Goes from 15% up to as much as 60%, but a good soju should be around the 20 mark. Can be sipped or shot, but hey if you wanna go crazy have a so-maek – beer with a dash of soju in it.
North Korean beer
Both sides of the peninsula have their culinary strengths and weaknesses, but when it comes to beer the South comes a very distant second. North Korea has microbreweries, Taedonggang and even its own beer festival. Want a reunification cocktail (I invented this) – Taedonggang beer with Jinru soju? Now that is a sexy drink taking all the best from the Koreas.
I am always a little reticent about miracle-cure-type super foods, but honestly ginseng is amazing and goes with just about anything. And believe me: they have it with everything! Comes in pill form, candy, soju (really good), and our particular favorite: ginseng-stuffed whole chicken, which we have in Kaesong.
That’s our list of Korean foods that we feel you must try. All can be sampled if you join us in North, South, or Chinese Korea. Please let us know what we should be adding to the list (we intend to build on this blog)!