Korean foods for the adventurous

This e-mail comes from Etienne.  He’s a guy from France who is asking me a pretty interesting question about Korean food.

Dear Seoul Searcher,

Is there any kind of strange Korean food that you can recommend to me?  I’ve asked many Koreans to tell me about Korean food but they always take me to eat barbecue and bibbimbap.  I am adventurous, and I want to eat some food that is different.  I can handle kimchi with no problem even though my Korean friends tell me that it has a taste too strong for foreigners.  I want to know if there is some kind of food that most non-Koreans don’t like that I can try.

This is actually a great question that I’ll be happy to answer.  I’ll also be giving my own opinions on each food I list here.  In actuality, most of the foods I can think of that people say that foreigners probably wouldn’t like are either really spicy or made of fish.  I’ve found that these usually aren’t so bad.  I guess there’s this notion that non-Koreans must eat hamburgers and fries all the time or something.  Anyway, I’ll give you my top 5 for adventurous foods, and you can try them at your own risk.  I also have to make it quite clear that I can eat practically anything, so if I don’t like it, that means it’s really BAAAAAD!


1.  Cheonguk Jang.

What it is:  A soup made from fermented soy beans.

Why people think foreigners don’t like it:  It has a very strong smell that some would describe as “rotten”

Seoul Searcher’s opinion:  I love it, particularly when it is made well, and there is lots of rice on hand.  I hated it at first, but after living in Japan and getting acclimated to natto (fermented soybeans eaten as a side dish), I came to like cheonguk jang.

It helps if it is spicy or salty, but if it is your first time eating it, well, good luck.

I really like it..

Blood and Guts! Yum!

2.  Sundae

What it is:  No, it’s not a chocolate double fudge sundae, it’s blood sausage and internal organs.

Why people think foreigners don’t like it:  It’s blood and guts, literally!

Seoul Searcher’s opinion:  Well, it’s not overly delicious, but it isn’t really all that bad either.  It’s basically a sausage made of blood and other discarded parts of a cow.  Sometimes you can also get blood cake, which is a block of congealed blood in soup, but mostly it comes in sausage form.  When you add salt to it and eat it it’s not so bad, but I don’t really have cravings for sundae really.  It’s like, a food I’ll eat, but I won’t go out of my way to get it.

Well, it's not that bad.

3.  Beondaegi

What it is:  Silk Worm Pupae

Why people think foreigners don’t like it:  It made of bugs, and it looks like bugs.  

Here, just watch this video.  Here you can see two non Koreans eating it, and clearly they don’t like it. (Warning, profanity)

Seoul Searcher’s opinion: Well, I don’t really hate it, but like sundae, I’m not going to go out of my way to go eat it. It doesn’t taste horrible. Since the worms are dead, I feel less bad about eating them than I would if they were alive. I can’t really see why the guy in the video can’t even hold it in his mouth for more than three seconds.

It’s really not that bad.

Are you digesting it, or is it digesting you? Well obviously you're digesting it... duh.

4.Gop Chang

What it is:  Grilled pig intestines.

Why people think foreigners don’t like it:  Because they aren’t aware that other societies actually do make use of intestines, even western ones.  I actually haven’t met a single person that doesn’t like it though.

Seoul Searcher’s opinion:  It’s actually really good!  I’ve also eaten chitterlings, popular in the American South.  Gopchang is usually eaten in a manner similar to samgyupsal and bulgogi, that is, you sit around an open flame with your friends, and cook it up, dip it in several sauces, wrap it in vegetables, and eat it while drinking alcohol.




Warning... for only the truly adventurous!

5. Hongeo

What it is:  Fermented raw stingray

Why people think foreigners don’t like it:  It’s raw, it’s not a traditional fish, and … it has a strong taste.

Seoul Searcher’s opinion:  Let me tell you a story.  Once, during a wedding, I went up to the buffet and noticed that there was what appeared to be raw fish.  Since I love raw fish, I took a lot.  When I went back to the table to feast on it, I put one piece in my mouth and immediately felt as if something was wrong.  Really wrong.   How can I describe it?  Open a bottle of windex and take a sip.  That’s pretty much what it tasted like to me.

Now, I respect that there are people who like it, but I do not, and I don’t think I ever will.  The fermenting process makes it such that the rotten flesh tastes like ammonia.  Ammonia can be found in urine and cleaning products, so our bodies have developed a gag reflex to it, because we are not meant to eat ammonia.

There are plenty of Koreans who don’t like it, so if you want to really impress people and show off, eat it and like eating it.  Good luck to you.


34 Responses to “Korean foods for the adventurous”

  1. Korean foods for the adventurous | The Seoul Searcher…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

  2. I’ve tried Cheonguk Jang in Mexico and I really liked it (probably tastes different in Korea, but I liked the one they make in Mexico), Sundae and Gop Chang are also a common food in Mexico the Sundae is called “moronga” (for the blood sausage) and “pancita or tripas” for the guts!, the Gop Chang is usually cooked by boiling it and then frying it and its commonly eaten in tacos (yuum!)
    For the Hongeo…I don’t think I will try it O_O
    The Beondaegi maybe, but I’m not quite sure! haha

    • Hm, I;ve never seen, smelled, or tried to eat Hongeo, but according to my father, that have a distinctive flavor! He hated the strong smell and taste when he tried it for the first time, but he likes it now because he feels like the smell and taste make his nose and throat clean up and cool~! haha but I even don’t imagine how Hongeo smell is! Ammonia? Really?

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      Well if you try any of those things in Korea, Koreans will be amazed if you like any of them, because foreigners aren’t supposed to like those “embarrasing” foods.

      Hongeo though is probably an acquired taste.

  3. Definitely not #1,2,4,5 to me.

  4. haha, this is very interesting. From my experience, most of non-koreans like japchae(잡채), korean barbeque, bulgogi, and soondooboo jjigae(순두부찌개). If non-koreans can eat some of 5 adventurous foods, they could perfectly adjust to korean culture and society.
    My favourite food is #2 and 4.

  5. you forgot 산낙지san nak gi…………………….hahahaahaha

    and… 보신탕 bo sin tang….

    A lot of people think its unethical… but, I tried 산낙지 and it was actually really good.. I liked it a lot! I haven’t tried bo sin tang yet :S I am not sure if I should… I heard its actually pretty good. My dad, on the other hand, loves it because it reminds him of the time when korea was really poor and believes that its good for his health aahahaha

    I tried all of those except number 5. I didn’t have a chance to eat number 5,so I am not sure if i hate it or not. But, 1,2,3,4…I love all of them :P…

    I recommend 껍대기… pork skin 😛 Some people say it taste like rubber, but if you go to a good restaurant, it takes so yummy and cheap ㅡㅡ definitely affordable with a student budget!

  6. Have you tried some kind of Jeotgal (젓갈) ? Most of all, Myulchi Jeotgal is too adventurous. It has much more smell than Cheonggook Jang.

  7. Friday I saw an episode of Bizzare Foods, he went to Seoul and had to try Hongeo O_O the poor guy’s face was like OMG 😐 ..and I’ve seen him eating really bizzare foods, I don’t think I’ll try the Hongeo soon

  8. Actually…. I’m not so adventurous with food.
    Food must also be beautiful and healthy to my eyes… btw between the five, the one that attracts me more is the 1st… but I should try it before! haha

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      You might change your mind after eating all of them.

    • Yea beautiful and healthy food is nice, but there are really yummy foods that don’t look so good…
      I really love “Chapulines” wich is like a cricket…hmm.. Well my mom said I used to really like them when I was about 5years old (of course! when you are a kid everything is like an adventure, right?) but then I stopped eating them because I thought they were gross and back in August I went on vacations to Oaxaca, Mex. and this Chapulines are really popular there, so I tried the ones fried with Garlic and chilli powder (the chilli powder also is made with Maguey Worms…) and they were really good, they have a really citrix tase and are of course very crunchy… if you have any chance to try them, you should do it!

      • The Seoul Searcher Says:

        There is a panchan that they make out of grasshoppers in my dad’s home town. It’s not incredibly tasty, but certainly not gross by any means.

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