There is a Korean saying that “food is medicine,” meaning eating good food is a great way to maintain good health. While getting sick on vacation isn’t on anyone’s itinerary, it can happen if you don’t pay attention to what you eat when traveling. In Korea, the best foods to keep up your energy are hearty and filling, from chicken dishes to noodles and seafood. Be sure to add these to your must-eat list for the next time you’re in Korea or at a Korean restaurant.
Chicken based dishes – samgyetang & nurungji baeksuk
Samgyetang, ginseng chicken soup, is by far the most commonly enjoyed food on this list, thanks to healthy ingredients that are easy to get. To make this dish, a small chicken is stuffed with rice, garlic, ginseng, and medicinal herbs and boiled, creating a flavorful broth. This broth is also great at warming up your insides, revitalizing your body.
Another popular chicken dish is nurungji baeksuk, whole chicken soup with scorched rice. While samgyetang comes in single-serving sizes, nurungji baeksuk uses a much larger chicken that is shared with others. The chicken must also be boiled for a longer period of time, meaning you’ll want to place your order before arriving at the restaurant. Many baeksuk restaurants are located along valley streams, making this a great choice for a summer dinner after playing in the water. After eating the baeksuk, the scorched rice is added to the broth for the second course, a filling chicken rice porridge.
To make your baeksuk even better, order a side of deodeok gui, grilled bellflower root. This root has a high level of saponin, the medicinal component in ginseng, without having such a bitter taste. It pairs perfectly with the rich flavors of the chicken soup while boosting the health benefits.
Noodle based dishes – chogye guksu & kongguksu
Chogye guksu is a cold dish, with noodles in an icy broth seasoned with vinegar and mustard sauce, and topped with shredded chicken and julienned pear and cucumber. While the noodles and chicken are the main part of this dish, the tangy broth is what really pulls it all together with a refreshing taste.
Another cool noodle dish to try is kongguksu, noodles in cold soybean broth. The ground soybeans make this dish high in protein, while also giving the broth a thicker consistency. Each noodle is coated in the sauce-like broth for a savory, nutty flavor. You can make your meal even tastier by ordering a side of bossam (vegetable wraps with pork)!
Seafood based dishes – jeonbok & haesintang
Seafood is another ingredient full of healthy nutrients; some of the best dishes to revive your energy use jeonbok, or abalone, as the main ingredient. Known to boost the immune system abalone has a savory flavor. One of the easiest jeonbok dishes to find is jeonbok juk, or abalone rice porridge, made using finely chopped jeonbok. Other popular cooking choices include jeonbok gui (grilled abalone) and bibimbap topped with chopped, cooked abalone.
For a really healthy meal, try haesintang, a soup that combines chicken, abalone, and octopus all in one! The addition of octopus adds the benefit of taurine which helps with fatigue recovery. Since seafood takes on more of a rubbery texture the longer it cooks, it's best to eat the abalone, octopus, and other seafood before the chicken. After getting your fill of the meat, you can add kalguksu (noodles) to the rich broth for a second serving.