Netflix’s Extraordinary Attorney Woo saw sales of gimbap skyrocketing across Singapore in 2022, and for good reason too. As avid fans of Korean dramas, we just cannot get enough of Korean food, especially when they all look so enticing on-screen.
Sure, you can definitely get some of them in Singapore, but some things just taste better in their country of origin. Spoilt for choice? Here are eight dishes that we highly recommend trying the next time you travel to South Korea.
1. Ganjang Gejang (soy-marinated crabs)
The act of eating fermented crabs, straight out of its shell, might sound a little foreign, if not nerve-racking, to most Singaporeans. Some might have a different reaction – like those who watched Park Seo-joon stuff his face, mouthful after mouthful, of it in What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim.
A particular scene in episode 10 is hilarious — we see Seo-Joon’s character, the rich but egoistical Lee Young-joon, desperately jump out of his comfort zone in order to woo the female lead. Despite feeling and looking like a fish out of water, he joins them at a cheap marinated crab buffet to impress the female lead and to prove that he’s not a prideful rich dude who is worlds apart from them. And boy, did he not hold back.
Although ganjang gejang might not be for everyone due to its intense flavours, it might be something that you want to give a try when you’re in South Korea since you cannot find the same authentic version elsewhere. There’s just nothing like that sweet tender crab flesh melting in your mouth.
Pro-tip: Mix some rice on the crab shell and eat it together with the savoury and rich-tasting roe. You’ll thank us for sure.
While you’ll easily find ganjang gejang for sale anywhere in South Korea, why not head to Bongsan Gejang, Street of Yeosu-si, where many eateries along the street serve this famous dish? They are made with famous stone crabs from Yeosu-si. If you prefer something cooked, you can also enjoy clear soup boiled with stone crabs at these eateries too. It is in Yeosu-si, a port city in the south and a popular day-trip destination from Busan, about three hours away from Busan.
Address: Area around Bongsannam 3-gil, Yeosu-si, Jeollanam-do, South Korea
2. Saengseon Hoe (sliced raw fish)
First, throw out everything you know about Japanese sashimi. Korean sliced raw fish is a whole other ballgame. Unlike sashimi, which tends to have a stronger flavour and fatty fish oil, hoe is much lighter and delicate in taste.
That is probably why IU’s character in Hotel Del Luna, Man-wol, craved it after a long day of work. As a manager of a supernatural hotel that caters to ghosts and spirits, Man-wol has pretty much got a whole lot of work cut out for her.
While she jokes that her hunger was caused by a painting of a mountain she saw (in a clever delivery of wordplay on the Korean national anthem), it is more likely because of its refreshing taste and chewy texture that makes it feel like a proper reward. This Korean dish is a delight that she indulges in, even though she’s a ghost herself.
It is always best to eat seafood by the sea, which is why we’d recommend heading to Sokcho-si or Busan-si for a taste of fresh seafood. Daepohang Port in Sokcho-si is one of the best places to enjoy fresh seafood as fishing boats dock and unload the day’s freshest catch, with many restaurants and stores around the port selling raw fish delicacies to locals and visitors. In Busan-si, you can find fine raw fish at affordable prices at Millak-dong Raw Fish Street near the famous Gwangalli Beach. There is a high concentration of sliced raw fish restaurants in a small area, making it competitive for restaurant owners - which means the best quality for customers!
Daepohang Port in Sokcho-si
Address: 6-13, Daepohang 1-gil, Sokcho-si, Gangwon-do, South Korea
Millak-dong Raw Fish Street in Busan-si
Address: Millak-dong, Suyeong-gu, Busan-si, South Korea
3. Chimaek (Korean fried chicken and beer)
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who does not like fried chicken, especially the ones served in South Korea. Unlike the usual type of chicken coated in heavy batter, Korean fried chicken is double fried until it sports a thin crisp coating that shatters as you bite into it.
It is juicy and can be messy to eat, but that is also why you’re given a pair of gloves to eat it with — it is clear to see why Korean fried chicken is one of the best Korean foods to drool over. Pair it with an ice-cold foamy beer and it feels like heaven.
Even King Lee Gon, in The King: Eternal Monarch, gets blown away by its deliciousness after he gets transmigrated into a different, modern-day dimension.
In fact, he savours it with so much delight that the brand sponsor, BBQ Chicken, saw sales skyrocketing to a whopping 550,000 sets sold in a month. Lee Min-ho, who also happens to be one of the country’s top actors, also became a brand ambassador afterward.
If you are thinking of digging into some fried chicken while you’re in South Korea, you must immerse yourself in the experience of visiting a fried chicken street. Filled with smells of fried chicken from various stalls and restaurants, the Suwon Fried Chicken Street is the place to be for fried chicken fans. Located near the Paldalmun Gate of Suwon-si, you will find the street that has maintained a glistening reputation for tasty fried chicken for decades.
Address: 39, Paldalmun-ro 3beon-gil, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
4. Gopchang (small intestines)
Offals tend to be a divisive dish for most people, but Gopchang possesses an allure so tantalising that it went from being working class food to a premium-priced meat. Once cooked on a grill, the little chewy rings turn into pockets of sinfully delicious morsels of flavour. There is really nothing quite like it.
It is also Kim Jin-hyuk’s — Park Bo-gum’s free-spirited character in Encounter — favourite food. Throughout the show, he brings his love interest to experience the different foods and places she would have never known since, as the daughter of a politician, had lived a stifled life. It is over a delicious plate of sizzling gopchang that she confesses that despite being picky about food, she enjoys everything he’s introduced her to.
We, unfortunately, cannot guarantee such a romantic experience while having Gopchang, but each bite can feel like you’re falling in love. If you’re in Seoul, head on down to Wangsimni Gopchang Street. It is not just one or two restaurants, but the entire stretch of restaurants that all specialise in intestines.
Address: Haengdang-dong, Seongdong-gu, Seoul, South Korea
5. Samgyetang (Ginseng chicken soup)
Shops selling piping-hot bowls of ginseng chicken soup will always be packed with customers, even through the hottest of summers!
A warm bowl of soup always feels comforting during winter, but it is the nutritious blend of medicinal herbs that makes it the perfect antidote to South Korea’s scorching heat. It is a huge, hearty meal on its own too.
Though it might look like just a plain chicken, it is actually stuffed with sticky rice on the inside which soaks up all that savoury chicken juice as it is cooked.
Samgyetang also makes for a good distraction, if the Korean drama Mr. Sunshine is anything to go by.
In an attempt to distract Eugene (played by Lee Byung-hun) from the fact that he had forgotten to get him a gift, colleague and fellow U.S. Marine Corps officer Kyle (David Lee McInnis) insists on immediately going out for samgyetang since he had just returned to Korea. Never mind that the show is set in the early 1900s, Kyle speaks impeccable Korean to the waitress.
Similar to gopchang, there is a whole street dedicated to whole chicken soup with rice known as Namhansanseong Baeksuk Street of Gwangju-si. All the restaurants here offer their own homey twist on the traditional recipe, each with distinctive Korean flavours.
Address: 1238, Sanseong-ri, Namhan-sanseong-myeon, Gwangju-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
6. Pajeon and Makgeolli (green onion pancake and rice wine)
Pajeon has an unfortunate tendency to get relegated as a side dish at KBBQs in Singapore, but over in South Korea, it is often enjoyed as a whole meal on its own. It is particularly popular on rainy days, along with makgeolli (milky, lightly sparkling rice wine). Though the exact reason remains unclear, many believe it is a great mood lifter.
It is probably for that reason that one of the most pivotal scenes in Because This Is My First Life is set over a meal of pajeon and makgeolli.
The drama follows the story of Se-hee (Lee Min-ki) and Ji-ho (Jung So-min) who got married for convenience despite not having romantic feelings for each other, and it gets as complicated as you’d expect it to. In order to sort out her confusion, Ji-ho met Se-hee’s ex-girlfriend for a heart-to-heart talk, eventually helping the couple move forward in their relationship.
Over at Hoegi Station, Seoul, you’ll find plenty of shops selling pajeon lined up next to one another. Regardless of whether you prefer pajeon made with kimchi or seafood, they’ve got you covered, makgeolli served in a bowl included. In fact, it is a saying that you cannot think of Heogi Station without thinking of Pajeon Alley.
Address: 8 Hoegi-ro 28-gil, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea
7. Budae-jjigae (kimchi and hotdog stew)
In a comical throwaway scene in Her Private Life, lead couple Ryan (Kim Jae-wook) and Deok-mi (Park Min-young) split their group into two in order to avoid dining with each other, only to find themselves standing outside the same restaurant.
Despite the bubbling pot of army stew between them, their colleagues feel chilly as a result of their cold war.
It is a shame that none of them really enjoyed the meal. After all, luncheon meat, baked beans, sausages, mushrooms, tteokbokki (Korean rice cakes, which is one of the most popular Korean street foods), instant ramyeon (noodles), cheese and more in a spicy kimchi broth — what’s not to love? Korean army stew feels like a result of our greatest fever dreams of throwing everything that tastes good into a pot, and honestly, that is not far from the truth.
Since budaejjigae came about from fusing Korean and American food together, it makes sense the best budaejjigae can be found near the U.S. Army base. Many people, tourists and locals alike, make a special trip to Uijeongbu Budaejjigae Street just for the plethora of army stew restaurants around the area.
Address: 22-1, Taepyeong 137beon-gil, Uijeongbu-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
8. Gomtang (bone soup)
Yes, it is yet another soup item on this list, but who can blame the Koreans for loving their soup when it tastes so good? Among them all, one of the most popular would have to be gomtang, made by boiling bones and different cuts of beef like brisket and shank. What you get is a nourishing bowl of soup that warms you from head to toe.
It also makes a small appearance in Memories of Alhambra, an action-romance Korean drama about what happens when a virtual reality game starts overlapping with real life.
As the female lead Hee-joo (played by Park Shin-hye) wanted to celebrate her birthday with her love interest Jin-woo (Hyun Bin), she waits for him for hours before he finally agrees to eat with her. However, by the time they actually go out for dinner, only a humble restaurant selling gomtang is still open for business.
For such a popular soup dish in South Korea, it has a street dedicated to it too. In Naju-si, about 2.5h away from Seoul by car, there’s a Gomtang Street dedicated to this dish. Naju is synonymous with bone soup in South Korea, with the Naju Gomtang well-known to many as a clear and light broth made from selected cuts of beef.
Pro-tip: Apart from enjoying a delicious bowl of gomtang with rice as is, you can request udon noodles to soak up that extra broth at some restaurants.
Address: Geumgye dong, Naju-si, Jeollanam-do, South Korea
Of course, there are still plenty more food dishes that have been featured in K-dramas and movies — chapaguri, ramdon, miyeokguk and mandu for example — but for those new to Korean food, these are the top eight must-try while in South Korea. As you walk around town, who knows, you might come across even more dishes yet to be featured on camera! And in true Korean culture, do not forget to drink up on beers and soju (a slightly sweet neutral spirit, similar to vodka, which is usually fruit-flavoured) while enjoying your meal.
Now Boarding-exclusive perks when you travel to South Korea
For your next trip to South Korea, you can check out the following travel agencies with all sorts of itineraries to help you with planning a gastronomy journey in South Korea!
Receive a Jewel Changi Airport Bouncing Net ticket worth S$22 for an experience at the Jewel Canopy Park when you book one of the South Korea tour packages listed above.
This promotion is limited to the first 50 customers who book any of the tour packages listed above
The flights booked for your tour package must be with one of the following airlines: Air Premia, Jeju Air or T’way
Quote promo code ‘KTOCAG’ when you make your booking with the travel agency to enjoy this perk
For more destination information, check out the Korea Tourism Organization’s official website.
This story is brought to you by the Korea Tourism Organization Singapore.
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South Korea’s transportation is rather convenient—with extensive networks of railways, highways, bus routes, ferry services and air routes. Purchase a T-money card (Korea’s version of Singapore’s EZ-link) from any convenience store around the area, and you will be able to use it for all buses and trains. Top-up is possible at public transport stations, convenience stores and even vending machines.
The official currency of Korea is the South Korean Won (KRW). Make sure to change money in the city so you have enough cash on hand before you visit areas like the food markets.
Travelling from Singapore to South Korea is easy! Currently, there are direct flights to South Korea via Asiana, Korean Air, Scoot and Singapore Airlines. Search for airfares and book your tickets.