For a small peninsular nation, Korea’s cuisine is exceedingly diverse. This list is not dedicated to the super-obscure daring street foods, nor the stuff of Korean food 101, but to tasty traditional dishes that skate just under the regular radar. One in Korea cannot live on galbi and kimbab alone. A common thread among these dishes is that they, depending on the season and your tastes, could all act as offbeat Korean comfort food. If you’ve got a Korean food bucket list, cross check it against the dishes below and proceed to feed.
When I asked a friend who speaks Korean if he wanted to try “dak han ma ri” with me he replied, “You want to eat ‘one whole chicken?’” The literal translation is fitting for what is, basically, a soup of a whole chicken, potatoes, noodles and tteok. The Korean answer to chicken noodle soup. The eating of it is some fun light work: you pry the pieces of chicken out of the soup once they soften and then mix each piece with a salad of vinegar, mustard and spicy sauce, greens and tteok. Seoul’s Dongdaemun area has an entire dakhanmari alley dedicated to the relatively elusive dish.
Hwe in any form is a must in Korea. It’s Korea’s mild, more understated answer to sushi. Still tender, still (often) served with wasabi. Mul Hwe, or raw fish soup is a Korean gazpacho-like cold slush soup and it’s supremely refreshing, just a tad spicy.
Makguksu is naengmyeon’s earthier cousin. A gem of Chuncheon, makguksu is deeply colored buckwheat noodles in a vinegary, red, spicy broth. It differs from naenmyeong in the unhulled buckwheat the noodles are made with, giving them a darker color, and the added vegetables, including gim-dried seaweed, in the mix.
The other Korean chicken noodle soup. But dak kalguksu has its own appeal: hand shredded pieces of chicken in a hot broth, covered in zucchini and green onions and swimming with kalguksu or “knife-cut noodles.” It’s actually a traditionally summer dish, thanks to the tang of the vinegar.
Maybe you’re like me and easily warm to (ha) any form of porridge there is. Breakfast, dinner, all four seasons, I could go for a bowl of creamy, hot grains mixed with whatever I’m craving nearly any time. Not everyone identifies as a Porridge Person, but it’s not just something to eat when you’re sick. Give juk, Korean rice porridge, a try. There are a slew of flavors, from the very-classic albalone fish juk, historically the food of Korean royalty, to black sesame, a very basic but tasty beef and vegetable, and, sweet and seasonal for fall, to a pumpkin juk. Plus more. Also, amateur ‘pro’ tip, if you are taking the stuff home with you, a few tablespoons of Sriracha will absolutely enliven any bowl of savory juk.
Variations on bibimbap (at least one!)
The only thing better than a classic is a well-done variation on a classic. The avocado BLT, for example. My research on this list led me to even more variations on bibimbap than I knew about. And I’m itching to try them all myself. Starting with the classic varations: dolsot bibimbap is prepared hot, the rice and vegetables on the bottom getting a wonderful toasted crunch. Saessak bibimbap, a vegan’s dream, is piled with only fresh vegetables. Hearty and healthy. Albap, a super-rich bibimbap that nods to the North, is infused with roe. Bibimbap the coasts you can find hwe dup bap, egg-less bibimbap with raw fish and sliced apples. Come winter, cozy up to boribap, cooked barley bibimbap, arguably the heartiest of them all.
Is it traditionally Korean? Verdict uncertain. It is definitely not something in the bread-and-butter Korean food roster. This simple fall-appropriate dish dish is essentially duck in a pumpkin. Well, and here that’s slightly off. Hobak is technically a squash, but its color is vivid orange and the dense texture is a dead ringer for pumpkin. The smokey duck and starchy pumpkin chunks are eaten together 쌈/ssam-style, or wrapped in lettuce or sesame (perilla) leaves. The rub is that hobak ori is pretty hard to track down, but odds are higher with squash season in full swing.
Got any more recommendations? Leave suggestions in the comment section.
Words by Charlotte Hammond
Images from Wikimedia Commons