The popularity of Korean food in our nation is on the rise, but unlike Chinese restaurants, or even Thai, reading through a menu at a Korean restaurant can be a cumbersome task for most people and may leave you scratching your head with no hint of what to order. This list of the best Korean dishes serves as a starting point for those of you who want to experience the best of what Korean cuisine has to offer. So here are the best Korean dishes that are guaranteed to be found on the menu of most Korean restaurants.
Best Soup/Casserole– Yook Gae Jang
Traditional Korean ingredients and flavors meld together in a wonderfully, delicious bowl of hot yook gae jang, which is served with steamed rice. At first glance, yook gae jang appears to be a fiery concoction formulated with lava that can potentially give your tongue a second-degree burn. The soup is made of a beef broth boiled together with red chili pepper flakes rendering it mildly spicy, beefy and altogether “refreshing”, a term used by many Koreans to describe the feeling of taking in a steaming bowl of yook gae jang. The soup is densely enriched with strips of tender beef, scallions and oftentimes cellophane noodles, which together impart a wonderful variety of textures and flavors, while providing nutritional value. Don’t let looks scare you away from this savory Korean bowl of sheer pleasure.
Best Meat Dish – Galbi
In a traditional sit-down meal, Korean meat-lovers usually gravitate towards a national favorite, galbi. Galbi can be described as beef short ribs marinated (though a non-marinated form is also available) in a sweet garlic, ginger and soy-based sauce. At a restaurant, galbi is usually cooked directly at the table, on a grill built into the table itself. In this way, the meat is cooked gradually to match the speed at which the patrons are eating so that each piece of galbi will be straight off of the grill, hot and juicy. Galbi is usually served with rice and large pieces of lettuce, which you can use to create a lettuce wrap containing rice, meat, various other vegetables provided at the table, and sweet chili sauce.
Best Vegetarian Dish – Bibimbap (No meat version)
Don’t let the “no meat” label throw you off. Bibimbap is a dish that highlights each and every one of its beautiful medley of vegetables by mixing them together in a large bowl with rice and sweet chili sauce. Typically, this combination is topped off with an egg done sunny side up and a spoonful or two of sesame oil. As a result, the mixture of the liquid yolk, chili sauce and sesame coats each grain of rice and every piece of vegetable when the contents are stirred together. In the midst of what is seemingly a cacophony of flavors, there exists a subtle yet powerful simplicity in the fusion of the vegetables and rice, which allows one to understand what is being eaten despite the fact that several of the ingredients may not be identifiable to a typical non-Korean. This is a wonderful dish, simple in its complexity and so delicious.
Best Side Dish – Kimchi
A classic Korean meal would never be complete without a side of kimchi. Kimchi is so common and so widely consumed throughout the Korean population that the running joke amongst Koreans is that kimchi juices coarse through their veins. Kimchi is typically not the most spectacular dish in a traditional meal, but if any dish should be absent for whatever reason, kimchi would be most greatly missed. Kimchi is prepared with Napa cabbage pickled in a salty brine containing red chili pepper flakes, ginger and garlic among other key ingredients. Shredded daikon is often incorporated in between the leaves of the Napa cabbage as well. Pickling takes place within a cool environment in a glass or a metal container for a couple of weeks to a month. The end result is a lasting treasure for Korean taste buds everywhere.