Flaming red color doesn’t scare you? We understand. Korean food is just as delicious as it is hot!
If you fell in love at your first bite of that spicy tteokbokki, we can relate. You’re probably still hung up on that distinctly rich but hot flavor of most Korean food. And the good news is, you won’t run out of dishes that will give you this taste!
It’s said that Korean food got its spice from the Colombian exchange in the 17th century. And we can’t help but say thanks! Want a mildly spicy dish or something straight-up hot?
Sweat-inducing street food or heartily hot stews?
There’s a whole menu of hot yet delicious Korean foods. And here are the 10 best dishes you should try now!
Note: #10 is hell incarnate. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Spice level: 8/10, get a glass of water on standby
Buldak literally means fire (bul) chicken (dak). It’s barbecued chicken cooked in a super spicy sauce of chili paste and chili flakes. And from its name, it will make you feel like your mouth is on fire!
Because it’s so spicy, buldak is usually smothered with cheese to counteract the heat. You might also need to add rice and other side dishes to tone it down. That makes it a sweet, spicy, and juicy treat!
This smokey chicken dish is popular as street food, so you’ll find this sold in trucks. And it’s so iconic that the word “buldak” is now associated with spicy tastes in general. You’ll hear it used as a flavoring in other food, like the popular Samyang noodles.
You’ll learn about this super spicy instant noodle brand in the next entries.
Spice level: 7/10, spice will make you sweat but you can tone it down
Jjampong is a popular spicy seafood noodle soup. Its bright red soup might make it scary, but that’s not the end of the story! It’s actually a refreshing soup that you’ll keep eating despite the heat.
Jjampong’s hearty soup is served with mussels, shrimp, squid, and other seafood. But the broth is actually made of beef, giving it a very rich flavor you can’t resist. This curious combination is said to be introduced by Chinese immigrants in the 1940s.
Spice level: 6/10, slightly beginner-friendly
Tteokbokki is a stir-fried rice cake that oozes sweet and spicy tastes. The chewy rice cakes are cooked in anchovy broth with chili flakes and paste. It’s a popular streetfood that you’ll see a lot in markets and carts!
They’re all delicious, but not all tteokbokki are cooked the same. Some are downright spicy while others have been toned down. That’s especially the case in tourist places, where foreigners can’t handle the heat!
But back then, it used to be really spicy.
So while it’s usually not that spicy for locals, you might burn your tongue as a first-timer eating this dish.
4. Budae Jjigae
Spice level: 6/10, fan yourself after a few bites
Budae jjigae is a stew made of American processed food like spam, sausage, and canned beans. It’s believed that these ingredients came from US Army rations during the Korean War. That’s why it’s also called “army stew.”
The result? An intense yet irresistible spicy-savory soup!
The addicting flavors of processed food will get you hooked. But mind you, they taste so strong you definitely need to mix some rice in. That’s why the heat is a bit toned down, though you might need to fan yourself after a few bites!
Spice level: 5/10, you can eat this with ease
Dakgalbi is a Korean spicy stir fry dish made of chicken, tteokbokki, and vegetables. The chicken is marinated in spicy sauce, then eaten with lettuce and ssamjang.
With the spicy sauce and ssamjang, you might think that dakgalbi is overly spicy. But don’t worry. It’s not too hot, and you don’t need a gulp of water for every bite. All in all, it’s a festive blend of chewy and tender textures.
For history, dalkgabi came from Chuncheon, Gangwon province. It soon took the nation by storm and became Chuncheon’s representative dish. No wonder there’s a “dakgalbi alley” here!
6. Nakji Bokkeum
Spice level: 6-8/10, some like it more sweet than spicy
Think the previous dishes are too mild for you? Try nakji bokkeum, a dish of stir-fried octopus and vegetables in cooked in spicy sauce. The octopus is marinated in gochujang and then mixed with chilis, so just imagine the heat you’re getting here!
Still, there’s plenty of reason to love this octopus dish. It’s high in protein but low in calories. And the spice makes it great when paired with the strongest drinks!
7. Buldak Noodles
8. Spice level: 9/10, on danger zone
Buldak chicken is so iconic that it became a ramen flavor. If you haven’t tasted it yet, meet Samyang’s buldak noodles. They’re the fire chicken-flavored instant noodles that took the world by storm!
Samyang makes buldak noodles at different heat levels. The original buldak bokkeum myeon hot chicken flavor ramen is as spicy as a jalapeno. But wait until you meet buldak bokkeum myeon mini, which 3x spicier than the original!
They even made the limited edition nuclear noodles. The name alone is enough to terrify the weak.
So there’s a reason why people needed major courage to do the viral “Samyang challenge.” Just watch this kid scream her lungs out because it’s too spicy!
So yep, that’s definitely like eating a jalapeno as is. Or chugging a bottle of tabasco in the case of myeon mini.
Think you can handle that?
Read More: The 5 Spiciest Korean Ramen Noodles
Spice level: 9/10, it will make you cry
Two things make dakbal so interesting: it’s made of chicken talons and it’s super spicy!
This stir-fried chicken feet dish is cooked in a sauce of chili flakes, chili paste, chilis, and pepper.
That’s why a few bites of dakbal can make you cry. Especially once you feel the talons scarping inside your mouth! Some foreigners even think that it’s the hottest food they tried in Korea.
Spice level: 3/10, enjoy the soup on its own
The mildest dish on our list is yukgaejang, a spicy beef soup with vegetables. The red soup might look scary and angry. But it’s actually on the mild side, so you can eat it on its own without side dishes.
If you’re feeling weak lately, a bowl of yukgaejang might do the trick! It’s believed to give stamina, making it a popular dish during summer. But it’s also a comforting dish that’s eaten a lot during the colder months.
Talk about the best of both worlds!
10. Spicy Pork Cutlet
Spice level: 10/10, this is the devil incarnate
For the final item on our list, we bring a taste of hell into your mouth. Korea’s spicy pork cutlet is notorious for its mega-hot taste. It’s even called the “Katsu of Death.” Just look how evil that red sauce looks!
Katsu may have come from Japan. But Koreans made it their own by adding that signature hellish heat. Even locals can’t eat it — and some have already fainted from failed attempts!
If you’re a daredevil and want to try this dish, spicy pork cutlets are available in lots of restaurants in Korea. Be warned, though, that restaurants compete in making the spiciest donkkaseu ever. Definitely prepare a pitcher of water beside you!
How to cool your mouth after eating hot dishes
We get it, Korean food is so irresistible. You’ll gladly take a bite (or a plate!) even if you burn red from all the heat!
Ready to feel spice-induced pain and suffering? Here are some tricks you can try to cool your mouth after eating hot dishes.
Consume dairy. Milk, yogurt, and other dairy products have a protein called capsein. It’s great at relieving the burning sensation in your mouth. After a wildly hot meal, chug a bottle of milk or scoop a spoon of yogurt for some relief.
Drink something acidic. The stuff that makes chilis hot (capsaicin) is alkaline. That’s why balancing this with acidic drinks lessens the heat. No wonder lemonade and orange juice pair so well with spicy food!
If you’re a fan of spicy food, you will never run out of fun in Korean cuisine. They have the whole menu: from streetfood to stews, mildly hot to evil spicy!
Just be sure to bring a glass of milk or OJ with you. And you’re ready to try your next spicy Korean dish!