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From popular street food like the hot and spicy tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) to classic home-delivery dishes like jajangmyeon (noodles with soybean sauce), Korean food is the constant supporting actor in every Korean drama. And, if there was one thing I wished for while binge-watching K-dramas like Itaewon Class and Crash Landing On You, it was to have a taste of whatever food the characters in the dramas were having.
If, like me, you’re craving for some Korean food to warm your wanderlust-filled s(e)oul, read on for a list of some of the best dishes that we’ve been truly missing from the land of kimchi itself, and where you can find them right here in Singapore.
1. Turn up the heat with Korean BBQ
Think “Korean food” and the first thing that comes to mind would most likely be Korean BBQ. No other meal delivers the classic Korean dining experience like KBBQ does, especially if you’re in South Korea, dining at a traditional, no-frills, ahjumma-operated joint, The glorious sizzling sound of meat on the grill, the smell of smoke and charred meat bits in the air, and having to shout to be heard amidst the din. But the best part? Being able to enjoy a variety of flavours all- in- one meal, of course. Sweet, savoury, spicy... you want it, they’ve got it. Bold Korean sauces enhance the smokey slices of meat, which are usually also complemented by unlimited banchan (small side dishes). In the heat of the grill, Korean BBQ is also a must-pair with the subtle sweetness of a refreshing bowl of naengmyeon (cold Korean noodles).
Locals in Seoul swear by Palsaik Samgyeopsal, famed for their pork belly dishes that come in eight different flavours (the name of the establishment literally translates to “eight colours pork belly”). It has branches in Hongdae and Shinchon, both of which are equally crowded. So, if you’re ever in the area for a meal, be prepared to queue.
Mouth watering from the thought of it? Luckily, Singapore isn’t short of Korean BBQ restaurants. One of my favourites is Jangsu Korean BBQ, a humble establishment along Upper Serangoon Road. The Korean-run restaurant claims to use 100% aged meats that are more tender than regular meats – guaranteed to make smelling like a walking, talking charcoal grill for the rest of the day worth it.
Jangsu Korean BBQ
Address: 19 Teck Chye Terrace, Singapore 545725
Operating Hours: Opens daily from 11:00am to 3:00pm, 5:00pm to 10.30pm. Closed every second Tuesday of the month.
2. Feeling peckish? Korean Fried Chicken is the way to go
Korean fried chicken has become so popular that the abbreviation “KFC” may not necessarily refer to the Western fast-food chain now, and understandably so.
Lighter than other styles of fried chicken – Korean fried chicken has a thinner skin that is less battered yet somehow crispier. After frying, the meat remains moist and tender, and the chicken is evenly coated with a thin layer of sauce and seasoned with sugar, salt and spices. Each bite is simply delectable and doesn’t feel too greasy or heavy, which is perfect because Korean fried chicken restaurants in South Korea usually serve one whole chicken, chopped up and fried. However, if you’re feeling just a bit peckish, there are some street carts that do sell it in smaller portions (often cut up, in paper bowls) for you to enjoy on-the-go.
In South Korea, fried chicken is virtually everywhere. As of February 2019, the country boasts over 87,000 fried chicken restaurants, although one of the most recognisable brands would probably be bb.q Chicken (“bb.q” is an abbreviation for “best of best quality”), which has been featured in many wildly popular K-dramas like Guardian: The Lonely and Great God and Crash Landing on You.
Like Korean BBQ, Korean fried chicken can be found almost anywhere in Singapore too. (Phew!) My go-to restaurant is Kko Kko Na Ra. While they sell the usual Korean food fare, they are best known for their Korean fried chicken, of which the most popular are the Crispy Soy Garlic and the Original Crispy Chicken.
Kko Kko Na Ra
Address: Jewel Changi Airport #02 - 243 (They also have an outlet along Tanjong Pagar Road)
Opening Hours: Opens daily from 10:00am to 10:00pm
3. Jajangmyeon makes you go “Jjang!”
Walk into any Korean Chinese restaurant and you're guaranteed to find jajangmyeon on their menu. Jajangmyeon is made of chewy hand-pulled noodles, topped with chunjang (a thick, black sauce made from roasted soybeans) and served with diced pork and vegetables. It’s also common practice for jajangmyeon to be served with danmuji (pickled radish) on the side to counter the greasiness and saltiness of the dish.
This simple dish is not only affordable, but also fuss-free and very filling. Because of this, jajangmyeon is an especially popular takeout meal. Over 1.5 million bowls are sold every day in South Korea! If you’ve watched enough K-dramas, you’d also know that this comfort food is also commonly eaten on graduation day, moving day, or on Black Day (April 14, a day dedicated to Singlehood).
Mashi China in Mapo is one of Seoul’s hidden gems which serves up a good bowl of jajangmyeon guaranteed to make you go “massiseoyo!” (delicious). Alternatively, if you’re confident enough in your spoken Korean, you can have your jajangmyeon the classic way by having it delivered directly to your doorstep with just a phone call.
Some claim that the best jajangmyeon in Singapore can be found at O.BBa Jjajang, located along Tanjong Pagar Road’s famed Korean food stretch. If you do decide to drop by for a good ol’ bowl of Korean noodles, be prepared to come with a big appetite because they are very generous with their portions.
Address: 77 Tanjong Pagar Rd, Singapore 088498
Opening Hours: Opens daily from 11:30am to 4:00pm, 5:00pm to 11:00pm. Closed on Tuesdays.
Delivery options: Order via Grab.
4. Spice things up with tteokbokki
Tteokbokki (or topokki), are stir-fried Korean rice cakes that are a beloved and classic street food, normally bathed in a combination of gochujang (a spicy paste made of chili peppers) and gochugaru (red chili pepper flakes). Its bite-sized pieces make it the perfect snack to munch on as you walk South Korea’s streets. Every mouthful of tteokbokki packs a punch – from personal experience, the ones you get from the land of origin itself are especially lethal for those who don’t have a very high spice tolerance.
Finding this chewy and spicy treat is effortless anywhere in South Korea with a street food alley, mainly Myeongdong’s Street Food Alley and Gwangjang Market. You can also find whole restaurants serving tteokbokki as their specialty. One of these is Mukshidonna Tteokbokki in Samcheong-dong. It’s one of the most famous places in Seoul for tteokbokki, which is cooked on-the-spot upon order.
My favourite place in Singapore to get my tteokbokki fix is Dookki, hands down. If you’re a fan of Korean food, it’s highly likely you’ve already heard about Singapore’s first tteokbokki buffet restaurant. What I appreciate about Dookki is that you can customise the spiciness of your hotpot sauce and of course, that it is a buffet – fill the hotpot with as much tteokbokki, meat and vegetables as you want. If you still have an appetite, you can end off your feasting with a second meal of DIY kimchi fried rice, cooked in the same pot.
Address: 3 Temasek Blvd, #B1-107 Suntec City East Wing, Singapore 038983 (They also have an outlet at Clementi Mall)
Operating Hours: Monday to Thursday and Sunday - 11:30am to 10:00pm, Friday and Saturday – 11:30am to 10:30pm.
5. Get hooked on eomuk
Who else remembers that scene in Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo where Bok-joo (played by Lee Sung-kyung) casually wipes out a whole street cart’s worth of eomuk (Korean fish cake)? Yes, eomuk is just that good.
A type of Korean food essentially made from cooked dough filled with chopped fish meat. You’ll find this economical snack being sold at street carts that dot alleyway markets in downtown Seoul. While you will typically find it served on a skewer in piping hot broth, eomuk is versatile and can be savoured fried or served in soup, although the latter two options are more commonplace in sit-down restaurants. Eomuk croquettes have also gained popularity and you can sometimes find them being sold on street carts, too.
Ask any South Korean where to find the best eomuk and they are bound to say “Busan”. Unsurprising, considering that Busan is South Korea’s largest seaport. In fact, Bupyeong Kkangtong Market, a traditional wet market in Bupyeong-dong, Busan, is home to an alley that specialises in fish cake, and if anything, is a testament to the popularity of Busan’s eomuk.
Although we can’t enjoy eomuk in Busan right now, we have Samjin Amook here in Singapore. Samjin Amook started in 1953 at Busan’s Yeong-Do Bong-Nae Traditional Market and boasts over 40 kinds of eomuk alongside their bestselling croquettes, including a local-special, Bakkwa Croquette.
Address: Jewel Changi Airport #B2-232 (They also have an outlet at ION Orchard)
Operating Hours: Monday to Thursday – 11:00am to 9:00pm, Friday to Sunday – 10:00am to 10:00pm (Hours may vary for different outlets).
Delivery options: Order via Grab.
6. Hotteok hits the sweet spot
One of the biggest regrets from my trip to Seoul was not indulging in more hotteok while I was there.
Hotteok is a sweet pancake cooked on a griddle and stuffed with cinnamon, dark brown sugar, and nuts. There is also savoury hotteok filled with kimchi or japchae (stir-fried glass noodles and vegetables). Like eomuk, hotteok is an especially popular street food during winter as it is the perfect antidote for the cold.
This simple yet addictive snack can be found almost anywhere and everywhere – just keep a lookout for the street carts at parks and markets. The best part? These little discs of happiness can cost as little as S$0.60 per piece!
It’s hard to go wrong with hotteok, but if you’re particular about eating only the best and making the calories count, Myungmool Hotteok at Namdaemun Market in Seoul is known for its snaking queues and hotteoks that sell like, well, hotcakes.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any food places in Singapore that sells hotteok by itself. However, hotteok mixes can be easily found at Korean supermarkets like Koryo Mart and Harin Mart. Finish the feasting at home with a spirit of your choice!
7. Warm your belly with Korean Ginseng Chicken Soup
When the heavy, explosive flavours of most Korean food become just a little too much, Korean ginseng chicken soup (also known as samgyetang) is the perfect dish to soothe your taste buds. What’s more, this herbal dish is known to boost energy and sometimes even used as a remedy for colds!
In Korean ginseng chicken soup, a whole, small chicken is usually stuffed with ginseng, garlic, jujube (Chinese red dates) and glutinous rice, and boiled till tender so that the meat easily falls off the bone with a slight tug. The chicken sits in a milky-looking broth supplemented by more ginseng shreds, garlic, and jujube. Sometimes, the chicken is also stuffed with other medicinal herbs like milk vetch roots or with chestnuts and ginkgo nuts.
Due to the soup’s rejuvenating effects, you’ll often see long queues at popular Korean ginseng chicken soup restaurants in Korea on chobok, the first day of the hottest period of summer. This is a common sight at Korea Samgyetang, which touts itself as Seoul’s first Korean ginseng chicken soup restaurant, having opened its doors in the 1960s. Korea Samgyetang’s specialty also lies in that it claims to use 49-days-old farm-grown native chicken and 4-year old Geumsan-cultivated ginseng (Geumsan is home to South Korea’s leading ginseng market).
Here in Singapore, we do have some Korean restaurants that dish out pretty authentic bowls of this hearty soup. You definitely won’t go wrong with any dish you order at Myung Ga II, an unassuming Korean-run restaurant tucked in a corner of Bukit Timah Plaza. This includes their ginseng chicken soup, served fresh off the stove.
Myung Ga II
Address: 1 Jalan Anak Bukit, #B1-55, Singapore 588996
Opening Hours: Opens daily from 11:30am to 4:00pm, 5:30pm to 9:00pm. Closed on Monday.
Delivery options: Unfortunately there are no delivery options, but they’re open for takeaways during the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) period.
Of course, Korean food is far from complete without a shot of soju. No doubt you’d be thirsting for a refreshing shot of soju after a delicious Korean meal or while binge-watching the latest episodes of Vincenzo and It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, so why don’t you go ahead and order in some soju at tax-absorbed prices on iShopChangi? If you’re feeling a little fancy, try your hand at making some simple homemade soju cocktails while you’re at it!