Korean cuisine is a wonderful combination of contrasting culinary delights. Apart from popular national dishes that you’ve witnessed time and time again through Korean dramas and films, there are a limitless number of truly unique Korean dishes that will probably take you a lifetime to get through.
Food is a huge part of Korean culture. Most dishes have a long-standing history and play a huge part in the everyday lives of the people.
According to much of the Korean media that we’re exposed to, fiery dishes like spicy rice cakes and mouth-watering Korean bbq grills seem to be an everyday occurrence in Korea. This may be true, but it’s only half the truth.
Like all countries around the world, Korean cuisine extends from palatable and inoffensive dishes that even the pickiest eater would enjoy off the bat (such as kimbap and fried chicken), to unique and somewhat strange dishes that will make anyone think twice before trying them.
Would you dare to put a live, wriggling octopus tentacle in your mouth? How about chewing roasted silkworm larvae as a snack?
Top 10 Weird Korean Dishes
These are just some examples of Korean dishes that are more of an acquired taste. If they’ve somehow piqued your fancy, have a read below of 10 weird Korean dishes that you should try once in your life – if you’re daring enough!
- Sannakji (Raw Octopus)
- Beondegi (Silkworm Larvae)
- Yukhoe (Raw Meat)
- Jokbal (Pig’s Feet)
- Mal-gogi (Horse Meat)
- Sundae (Boiled Intestine Sausage)
- Hongeo-Hoe (Raw Fermented Skate)
- DGopchang (Grilled Intestines)
- Dakttongjip (Chicken Gizzard)
- Bokjili (Blowfish Soup)
1. Sannakji (Raw Octopus)
Sannakji is a dish that consists of the chopped-up tentacle pieces of an octopus. It is usually seasoned quite simply, with only sesame seeds and sesame oil, and served with a small portion of soy sauce.
Sannakji is a popular Korean dish that’s often present during drunken nights out. It pairs perfectly with beer as a snacking dish.
What makes sannakji interesting is that the tentacles are often still squirming even after they’ve been removed from the body! Be sure to chew through the tentacle thoroughly, otherwise they tend to cling to your throat if swallowed too early.
The best places to try sannakji would be at sea-side restaurants, where seafood is the freshest.
2. Beondegi (Silkworm Larvae)
From all the weird Korean dishes we listed here, this one may be the most difficult to try, right?
Beondegi is a popular street snack food in Korea that you can find at most street markets and certain bars. In most cases, the silkworm is first seasoned and then either boiled, steamed, or roasted.
The thought of digesting silkworm larvae might be off-putting, but in reality, the taste is less strange than most people imagine. Many Koreans opt for Beondegi for its somewhat crunchy exterior and soft interior texture, which is almost comparable to mashed potatoes.
The most memorable thing about Beondegi would be its smell – it’s described as being quite strong and pungent, and when being prepared by street vendors, the smell is known to waft along the entire street.
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3. Yukhoe (Raw Meat)
Raw meat is a type of food that extends across various cultures around the world, and Korean cuisine is one that leans heavily into the delicacy.
Yukhoe’s literal translation is ‘raw meat’, and whilst it encapsulates all types of animals, it most commonly refers to beef.
Jeonju is the yukhoe capital of Korea, and its most famous yukhoe dish consists of raw beef, raw egg, and a balance of vegetables and rice. When the dish arrives, simply mix it all up (similar to bibimbap), and eat it as is.
It’s a relatively healthy dish and is comparable to steak tartare but with a Korean twist.
4. Jokbal (Pig’s Feet)
You might be familiar with chicken feet at yum cha restaurants, but have you ever tried pig’s feet at Korean restaurants?
Jokbal is a traditional Korean dish that pairs well with Korean beer. The pig’s feet are usually cooked with leeks, soy sauce, ginger, sugar, and rice wine. The trotters are then deboned, sliced, and served on a huge platter alongside lettuce wraps, some sauces and other vegetable toppings.
Don’t be afraid to try this dish, as it’s one of the tamer ‘weird’ Korean dishes. You won’t be chomping on huge pig trotters here, only delicately sliced and superbly seasoned pork.
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5. Mal-gogi (Horse Meat)
Horse meat is a delicacy that only select Asian countries swear by. In Korea, it’s such a sought-after dish that they have multiple methods of preparing it.
Mal-gogi can be served as a raw dish (yukhoe), as a BBQ meat option, or served over rice, in sushi form. However, the most popular way to eat it is in its raw form.
It’s quite a difficult dish to come across in mainland Korea, so if you want to try it, you will likely need to travel to Jeju Island. Jeju Island natives are known for their love of the dish and it is considered a true delicacy there.
One reason why it is enjoyed so immensely is that it’s believed that horse meat is loaded with health benefits whilst containing only a fraction of the amount of fat that beef does.
Read More: Why Koreans Eat So Much Raw Garlic?
6. Sundae (Boiled Intestine Sausage)
Sundae is one of the oldest forms of traditional Korean food, and it remains one of the most popular street food items today.
The look of it is similar to a Laos sausage, whereby it is a thicker style sausage that is filled with cow or pig intestines mixed with blood, vegetables, glutinous rice, and glass noodles. The sausage is simply steamed and served with dipping sauce or salt, making it hassle-free street food.
It is loved by the entire nation, and you can see colleagues after work and students after school munching their way through this dish daily.
It may sound and look strange, but don’t let the dark color of the sauce prevent you from trying one of the most palatable Korean dishes.
7. Hongeo-Hoe (Raw Fermented Skate)
Up until recently, hongeo-hoe was a much-enjoyed dish in Korea. However, due to overfishing and low production rates, skate (similar to stingrays) have become a luxury delicacy that’s enjoyed only on special occasions.
The most unusual thing about skate is that the fish does not urinate. In fact, it passes its uric acid through its skin. Consequently, when you ferment the skate for this famous dish, you will get what’s known for – a strong and pervasive ammonia-like smell, so strong that it will make your eyes water!
This dish has such an offensive smell that you will sometimes come across it as an eating challenge on a Korean entertainment show – that’s how bizarre the dish is!
However, if you’re game enough to try it, just know that the taste is nowhere near as powerful as the smell. We highly recommend you eat it along with the condiments it is served with, usually kimchi and other side dishes.
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8. Gopchang (Grilled Intestines)
At Korean BBQ restaurants, you will have tables going hard with premium sliced pork and beef, and you will have tables with copious amounts of marinated intestines.
Intestines are a fantastic option at BBQ restaurants, especially if you’re a fan of chewy textures. Once grilled, the intestines are usually enjoyed with onions, garlic, green onions, mushrooms, and hot peppers with various dipping sauces.
In terms of the strangeness of the food, the intestines are relatively inoffensive. If eaten with your eyes closed, they taste somewhat similar to a chewier cut of pork.
9. Dakttongjip (Chicken Gizzard)
Dakttongjip is a popular Korean dish that’s commonly eaten with beer. What may turn the uninitiated away is that the main component is, of course, the chicken gizzards. Gizzards are basically the digestive tracks that operate similar to a filter for food going through the body.
Gizzards contain almost zero fat and are full of muscle meat, making each mouthful of them thick and chewy. Koreans eat this dish not only for the delightful texture but also because it’s believed to cure hangovers as well as give you glowing skin.
The chicken gizzards are usually stir-fried with gochujang, garlic, onions, capsicum, and Korean peppers.
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10. Bokjili (Blowfish Soup)
Bokjili is Korea’s answer to Japan’s ‘fugu’ – the infamous deadly blowfish dish that can quite literally kill you if not prepared properly – albeit it’s got a much more relaxed approach to the preparation.
It’s an affordable and fun seafood dish that you can get at coastal restaurants around Korea. This hearty soup is comprised of blowfish meat, vegetables, and lots of herbs and spices. The texture of the blowfish is known to be quite tender and fluffy, almost like cotton candy.
For those who are a bit hesitant given the blowfish reputation in Japan, there’s nothing to worry about with this dish. The toxic liquids are always carefully drained before the blowfish is thoroughly cleaned, cut, and cooked in the soup.
The wide range of Korean cuisine means that within one restaurant setting, you could be enjoying a serving of Korean fried chicken alongside a serving of the same chicken’s gizzards!
The wonderful thing about Korean food is that each dish has been tempered to suit the palates of those who enjoy the distinct seasoning and taste of Korean flavors.
Whether you’re enjoying a cheeky plate of sannakji or engulfing an entire plate of jokbal, the palpable Korean essence shines through with each dish. Ultimately you will end up falling for at least one (if not all!) of these unique and weird Korean dishes – if only you’d give them a chance.