Around the World in 80 Dishes: South Korea

Embark on a global culinary adventure. Discover recipes, stories, and traditions. Let's eat our way Around the World in 80 Dishes!

Around the World in 80 Dishes: South Korea
Photo by Roméo A. / Unsplash

Welcome, fellow culinary adventurers, to the inaugural chapter of our gastronomic odyssey! You might be wondering, what's this all about? Well, think of it as a fantasy league for food enthusiasts, a culinary game that spans the globe. If you've ever fantasized about owning a restaurant that serves the best dishes from around the world, you're in for a treat.

Picture this: a restaurant named "Around the World in 80 Dishes," where every plate tells a story, where every bite transports you to a different corner of the planet. Sound like a dream? Well, that's the game we're playing. And we're starting our journey in South Korea, a land where tradition and innovation collide in a symphony of flavors.

But here's the twist: instead of a team of chefs, I'll be your solo guide on this epicurean adventure. I've got an insatiable appetite for culinary exploration and a deep respect for the people and stories behind every dish.

In each installment of this series, we'll dive headfirst into the food culture of a different country, handpicking two iconic dishes and a signature drink. From mouthwatering street food to elegant dining experiences, we'll savor it all. And along the way, we'll unravel the culinary secrets, share recipes (if you dare try them at home), and pay homage to the remarkable chefs and vendors who make it all possible.

So, whether you're a seasoned foodie or just someone with an adventurous palate, join me on this journey as we embark on a quest to taste the world, one plate at a time. We'll laugh, we'll learn, and we'll eat our way through some of the most diverse and delicious cuisines our planet has to offer.

Buckle up, my fellow food explorers, because our first stop is South Korea. Get ready to tantalize your taste buds with kimchi, yanggochi, and the delightful makgeolli. It's a wild ride, and I promise you WILL leave hungry, but not disappointed.

Now, without further ado, let's set the table and embark on our first culinary adventure. South Korea, here we come!

Dish 1: Soul-Warming Comfort - Exploring Kimchi Jigae in Seoul

Introduction to Kimchi Jigae

In the bustling streets of Seoul, where tradition and modernity collide, there's a dish that's not just food but a way of life. Kimchi Jigae, a soul-warming stew, embodies the heart and soul of Korean cuisine. It's more than just a meal; it's an experience that dives deep into the rich tapestry of Korean culinary culture.

Where to Find the Best Kimchi Jigae in Seoul

Before we delve into the intricacies of crafting this culinary masterpiece, let's talk about where to find the best Kimchi Jigae in Seoul. In this city of endless surprises, hidden gems are often tucked away in narrow alleyways and unassuming storefronts.

  • Gwangjang Market: If you're seeking an authentic and bustling Korean market experience, head to Gwangjang Market. Here, amidst the vibrant chaos, you'll discover stalls serving up piping hot bowls of Kimchi Jigae that taste like a warm hug from grandma.
  • Jongno District: For a more traditional dining experience, explore the historic streets of Jongno. Look for cozy, family-owned restaurants where recipes have been passed down through generations. These places are a treasure trove of flavors, and their Kimchi Jigae is often the stuff of legends.
  • Myeongdong Street Food Stalls: If you're on the move and craving a quick fix, don't overlook the street food stalls in Myeongdong. These vendors whip up deliciously spicy Kimchi Jigae, perfect for fueling your urban adventures.

Kimchi Jigae Recipe

Now, for the pièce de résistance: crafting your own Kimchi Jigae. While it might seem like a daunting task, this recipe will guide you through the process. Remember, the key to an exceptional Kimchi Jigae lies in the quality of your kimchi and the balance of flavors.


  • 2 cups packed bite-sized fully fermented kimchi
  • 4 ounces fresh pork belly (or other pork meat with some fat)
  • 1 to 3 teaspoons gochugaru (Korean red chili pepper flakes, adjust to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1/2 cup kimchi juice (if available
  • 6 ounces tofu
  • 2 scallions
  • Salt (or a bit of soup soy sauce or regular soy sauce) and pepper to taste


  1. Cut the kimchi into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces as well. 
  3. Slice the tofu into approximately 1/2-inch thick rectangles and roughly chop the scallions.
  4. Heat a small to medium pot with 1 tablespoon of oil. 
  5. Add the kimchi, pork, red pepper flakes, and garlic. 
  6. Cook over medium-high heat until the kimchi is softened, and the pork cooks through (about 5 to 7 minutes).
  7. Add the kimchi juice and about 2 to 2.5 cups of water (or broth). 
  8. Bring it to a boil, and continue cooking for 5 minutes. 
  9. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and boil for an additional 15 minutes. (Add more water if necessary).
  10. Add the tofu and scallions. Season with salt (or soy sauce) and pepper to taste. 
  11. Boil until the tofu is cooked through (about 5 minutes).
As an alternative, follow the same steps, omitting the pork. Add one can of tuna (chamchi) with oil when adding the kimchi juice and water. Boil for 10 - 15 minutes, and your Tuna Kimchi Jigae is ready to enjoy. Fresh or canned salmon also works wonderfully in this dish.

Embracing Tradition: Banchan with Kimchi Jigae

In Korea, no meal is complete without banchan - an array of small side dishes that accompany the main course. When savoring Kimchi Jigae, expect a delightful selection of banchan to enhance your dining experience. From pickled vegetables to savory pancakes, these side dishes add depth and diversity to your meal, making each bite a new adventure.

So, there you have it, a steaming bowl of Kimchi Jigae, and the essence of Seoul's culinary soul. In the next installment of "Around the World in 80 Dishes," we'll embark on a new culinary adventure in South Korea, exploring the tantalizing world of Yanggochi. Until then, enjoy your homemade Kimchi Jigae, and savor the flavors of Seoul's bustling streets.

Dish 2: Yanggochi - A Flavorful Korean Delight

Discovering the World of Yanggochi

Imagine sitting at a bustling street corner in Seoul, the sizzle of skewers, the aroma of spices, and the lively chatter of fellow food enthusiasts filling the air. Welcome to the world of Yanggochi, a culinary sensation that's capturing the hearts (and taste buds) of Seoulites and travelers alike.

For years, lamb and mutton were the underdogs of Korean cuisine, considered too strong, too pungent, or even too cute to consume. Koreans stuck to their tried-and-true beef, chicken, and pork. But as the country's palate evolved and global influences seeped in, a newfound appreciation for lamb emerged. Yanggochi, meaning lamb skewers, is at the forefront of this food revolution.

Where to Savor Yanggochi in Seoul

Seoul, a city where tradition meets modernity, has fully embraced the lamb skewer trend. Streets like the one outside Konkuk University have transformed into a Chinatown of sorts, lined with restaurants specializing in this delectable dish. While the flavors may differ slightly from their Chinese counterparts, the essence remains the same: cubes of skewered lamb, barbecued to perfection over hot coals.

  • Gyeongsong Yanggochi: This is where it all began, the birthplace of Korean-Chinese lamb cuisine. Gyeongsong Yanggochi, located near Konkuk University, is the pioneer of this culinary trend. Here, you can watch your skewers cook at your table, adding an interactive element to your dining experience.
  • Street Stalls: If you prefer a more casual, street-food-style experience, keep an eye out for yanggochi stalls scattered throughout Seoul. These vendors serve up piping hot skewers that are perfect for on-the-go munching while exploring the city.
  • Kondae Yanggochi: Located in the vibrant district of Konkuk, this restaurant has witnessed a shift in its clientele. What was once predominantly Chinese customers has now become a hotspot for Koreans eager to explore the flavors of Yanggochi.

Yanggochi Recipe

While you can enjoy Yanggochi at various restaurants in Seoul, attempting to recreate this delicious dish at home can be a rewarding experience. Here's a brief overview of what Yanggochi is all about:

Yanggochi consists of cubes of skewered lamb that are barbecued to perfection over hot coals. The key to this dish is the skillful preparation and the right combination of seasonings. In Korea, the meat and seasoning are milder than in China, catering to the local taste.

The lamb skewers are typically dipped in a flavorful mixture of red pepper, cumin, parilla, mustard seed, and other spices. Accompanied by an array of side dishes, including steamed dumplings, mapo tofu, peanuts, radish kimchi, and tofu with chili sauce, Yanggochi is a symphony of flavors that dance on your palate.

As for beverages, Chinese Tsingtao beer is the quintessential choice to accompany your Yanggochi feast. Alternatively, Korean soju or the potent Chinese liquor Goryangju can be enjoyed alongside this delectable treat.

Trying New Flavors

The rise of Yanggochi in South Korea is a testament to the country's evolving culinary landscape. While lamb was once met with skepticism, the younger generation of Koreans is more open to exploring new flavors. Yanggochi has become a staple for many, especially among male consumers in their 30s to 40s.

So, if you find yourself in Seoul, don't miss the opportunity to savor the succulent and aromatic world of Yanggochi. It's a flavorful journey that bridges tradition and innovation, showcasing the ever-evolving tastes of this dynamic city. In the next installment of "Around the World in 80 Dishes," we'll continue our culinary adventures in South Korea, exploring more tantalizing delights. Until then, keep your senses alive and your taste buds curious.

Drink for Korea: Raise a Glass to Korea's Traditional Rice Wine (Makgeolli)

via Korea_Makgelli_18 on Flickr

The Story Behind Makgeolli

Alright, folks, you've savored the sizzle of Yanggochi and warmed your hearts with Kimchi Jigae. Now, it's time to wash it all down with something quintessentially Korean, something that's been a part of this nation's culture for centuries – Makgeolli.

A Timeless Elixir

Makgeolli, often referred to as "mak," is the oldest Korean rice wine, with a history dating back to the 10th century. It is made from rice, fermented with nuruk – a traditional Korean starter. The fermentation process yields a lightly fizzy drink, sporting its characteristic milky appearance and a subtly sweet flavor.

Makgeolli's Rollercoaster Ride

Makgeolli's journey through history is nothing short of a rollercoaster. Once the reigning champ of Korean drinks, it held the hearts of the people until the 1980s. That's when it faced stiff competition from imports and saw itself relegated to the status of a farmer's drink, known as "nongju." But, hold on tight – the last decade has seen a Makgeolli resurgence. It's back in action, gracing the menus of many South Korean bars.

Best Places to Enjoy Makgeolli in Seoul

Now that you've got the lowdown on what Makgeolli is all about, you're probably wondering where you can indulge in this unique Korean tradition. Fear not; Seoul has a plethora of spots where you can raise a glass (or two) of Makgeolli.

  • Metal Bowls of Delight: Traditionally, Makgeolli is served in charming little metal bowls, adding to the overall experience. There's something oddly satisfying about sipping this milky elixir from these humble vessels.
  • Bars and Convenience Stores: You won't have to search far and wide to find Makgeolli in Seoul. It's available in most bars, and you can even grab a bottle from almost every convenience store. My personal choice? Well, it's in the photo below, and you'll likely spot it at your nearest convenience store.
If you're hiking in Korea, bring a bottle of makgeolli along. It's a perfect trail companion. If you meet other hikers, offer them a drink – it's a great way to make friends. Carry metal bowls or paper cups in your backpack. And when you encounter older hikers (Ajumma or Ajoshi) who have their own, greet them with "annyeong haseyo" and a respectful bow – you might just score some makgeolli for yourself and share a memorable moment on your journey.

The Simplicity of Makgeolli

What makes Makgeolli so endearing is its simplicity. It's made from just a few basic ingredients: rice, water, and nuruk, a Korean fermentation starter. These components come together to create a drink that's not just a beverage but an experience – one that reflects the spirit of Korea.

The Brewing Process

Makgeolli is brewed through natural fermentation. It starts with steaming rice, which is then mixed with water and nuruk, a mixture of wheat, rice, and barley. This concoction is left to ferment, and the magic begins. As the yeast in the nuruk works its alchemical wonders, the sugars in the rice transform into alcohol, giving birth to Makgeolli's distinct taste.

Makgeolli Recipe:

Feeling inspired to try your hand at brewing this Korean elixir at home? Here's a simplified recipe to get you started:


  • 2 cups sweet rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup nuruk (Korean fermentation starter)
  • 1/2 cup rice syrup (optional, for sweetness)
  • 1/4 teaspoon yeast (optional, for fermentation)


  1. Rinse the rice thoroughly and soak it in water for at least an hour.
  2. Drain the rice and steam it until it's fully cooked. 
  3. Let it cool to room temperature.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the cooked rice, nuruk, and water. Stir well to combine.
  5. If you want a sweeter Makgeolli, add rice syrup to the mixture.
  6. If you want to speed up fermentation, dissolve yeast in warm water and add it to the mix.
  7. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let it ferment in a cool, dark place for about a week. 
  8. Stir the mixture once a day.
  9. Once the fermentation process is complete, strain the liquid to remove any solids.
  10. Chill your homemade Makgeolli in the refrigerator and serve it cold.

A Toast to Tradition

So there you have it, the fascinating story of Makgeolli – Korea's traditional rice wine. Whether you're sipping it from those charming metal bowls, raising your glass in a bustling bar, or grabbing a bottle from the corner store, Makgeolli is a celebration of Korea's rich cultural heritage.

In our next culinary expedition in "Around the World in 80 Dishes," we'll continue our journey around the world, uncovering more flavors, stories, and traditions.

Until then, raise a glass of Makgeolli to the enduring spirit of this remarkable nation. Cheers!

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