Call my tastebuds wusses, but they seriously can’t handle spicy food. (Hey, I’m German, we have rather bland and fatty food.)
So when I visited Korea, I was in dire need of non spicy Korean food so I wouldn’t starve. Trust me, finding actually non spicy food was hard.
After all, South Korea is famous for it’s yummy but spicy cuisine. And here’s a word of warning: don’t believe Koreans when they say it’s not spicy. It is at least a little bit. If it’s red, it definitely is!
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Table of Contents
- 1 How to Best Sample Korean Food
- 2 Where to Get the Best Korean Food in Seoul
- 3 Non-Spicy Korean Food You Can Try at Home
- 4 Why You Should Be Wary of Spiciness Levels
- 5 Savoury Non Spicy Korean Food in Seoul
- 5.1 Bulgogi (불고기)
- 5.2 Tteokbokki (궁중 떡볶이)
- 5.3 Odeng (오뎅)
- 5.4 Spicy Food Surprises
- 5.5 Eomuk Bokkeum (간장 어묵 볶음)
- 5.6 Naengmyeon (랭면)
- 5.7 Japchae (잡채)
- 5.8 Kal-guksu (칼국수)
- 5.9 Dak Kalguksu (닭칼국수)
- 5.10 Saengseon-Hoe (회; 膾/鱠)
- 5.11 Seolleong Tang (설렁탕)
- 5.12 Jajangmyeon (자장면)
- 5.13 Tteok-Galbi (떡갈비)
- 5.14 Korean fried chicken (치킨)
- 5.15 Donkatsu (치킨)
- 5.16 Mandu (만두; 饅頭)
- 5.17 Tteokmandu Guk (떡만두국)
- 5.18 HweDeopBap (회덮밥)
- 5.19 Jogae-gui (조개구이)
- 5.20 Samgyeopsal (삼겹살구이)
- 5.21 So-Galbi-Gui (소갈비구이)
- 6 Savoury Vegetarian Non Spicy Korean Food in Seoul
- 7 Sweet Non Spicy Korean Food in Seoul
- 8 Is It Possible to Eat Non Spicy Korean Food?
How to Best Sample Korean Food
I was super lucky that my Korean friend showed me around various markets, Korean restaurants and dishes. Otherwise I would have felt completely lost. Not being able to read or understand the language proved hard as English isn’t fluently spoken everywhere. Especially not on the off-the-beaten paths or food stalls.
So if you are headed for South Korea and really want to dive right into the Korean food in Seoul, I recommend a guided tour. This way, you have a local guide who knows the best spots and can help you translate. (And ask for an adjusted spiciness level if need be.)
If you want to try out a specific item from my 20 non spicy Korean dishes, you can just tell your guide and he can help you find it instead of trying to hunt it down yourself. That would be quite a waste of time particularly if you have only a few days in Seoul.
To give you some inspiration of how you can combine the best sights with the best Korean BBQ in Seoul, check out these tours:
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- Korean BBQ & Local Street Food Tour at Namdaemun Market – Namdaemun is THE place for mixing and matching your Korean mini dishes. Plus, on this tour you’ll get plenty of food as well as on site cooking demonstrations. (There is a night version as well.)
- Traditional Korean Cooking Class – In case you want to get off the streets and real hands on, why not join a cooking class? I mean, when will you get to make a four course meal in a professional cooking environment again? Plus, cooking is different in every country and thi way you will learn the basics for Korean food preparation.
- Moonlight Riverview Bike Ride & Korean Market Food Tour – If you want to truly ‘earn’ your food, then go for a scenic night ride along the Hangang River. Seoul’s lit up skyline is truly a marvellous sight! And then there’s all the great market food after.
Where to Get the Best Korean Food in Seoul
When it comes to Asian countries, street food is everything. It’s a must try. The same goes for Korea. The best two places for epic Korean street food in Seoul are the districts Hongdae and Insa-dong, if you ask me.
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- Hongdae is the edgy, hip district with colourful shopping stores and delicious restaurants in the day and epic street dances and clubs at night. It’s one of the coolest places in Seoul! There are tons of things you can try. Don’t shy away from neither the street vendors nor the stores between the clothing and accessories shops.
- Then, head to Dongdaemun and say hello to the nice old lady with the glasses who will feed you with gimbap. (Literally, she will feed you.) This is THE place to get your Korean BBQ in Seoul. Wander through the giant halls and pick and choose your various smaller dishes, skewers and pancakes.
- Insa-Dong is great for sweet Korean desserts, such as crazy shaped ice creams, poop shaped pasties as well as a variety of restaurants. Plus, it’s great for shopping and quirky architecture and street art.
Non-Spicy Korean Food You Can Try at Home
When I travel I write down particularly yummy dishes and desserts to recreate at home. Sometimes I even take a cooking book with me (if I can read it) so it’s as authentic as possible. Plus, pair you knowledge with a local cooking class during your Korea trip and you’re good to go.
If you want to try your hand at the basic Korean dishes, such as (non spicy) bibimpab and fried chicken, consult the Seoul Food Korean Cookbook.
Then there is the Korean Julia Child, Maangchi, who published her own cookbook on Korean food staples called Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking. It has a lot of spicy dishes in it but also pickled and bulgogi dishes, which aren’t spicy.
Should the art of Korean BBQ really be your main focus, it’you’ll be happy to hear there is a cook book on exactly that. Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces will introduce you to differnt sauces and flavours (including not spicy Korean sauces). Once you got that down, invest in a small Korean BBQ grill.
Why You Should Be Wary of Spiciness Levels
Ok, look everyone has a different tolerance for spicy food. A lot of it has to deal with the food you were used to eating when you grew up and what you’re currently used to. Different cultures use different flavours and spiciness.
That’s all good and fine. But when you’re not actually used to spicy food and you get REALLY spicy food, it can actually cause a mild (to heavy) burn in your throat. (Same with too hot food.) If you burn your throat a lot throughout your life, it can increase the risk of throat cancer. (Yes, that’s a thing.)
This information isn’t to scare you, if you are sensible and don’t overestimate your abilities, you are absolutely fine. But there are enough people out there who don’t want to act all cool and eat spicier than they can handle. This isn’t a contest.
On another note, the best way to “cool” down our mouth when it gets too hot is to drink milk. The casein in the milk can bind the a fat soluble capsein, which causes the spiciness, and washes it away.
Not drinking anything is better than drinking water cause it will just distribute the spiciness to the rest of your tastebuds and it will burn even more. A vegan alternative are coconut flakes or salty peanuts.
Savoury Non Spicy Korean Food in Seoul
Korean love their meat – mostly spicy but also non spicy. Many of these dishes come with meat even those that are mostly vegetable based. Often, you can ask to skip the beef or pork, but might need to do that in Korean. So I included an extra section for vegetarians below.
Sweet meat? Bulgogi makes it happen with its pleasantly sweet marinade made from soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and ginger. You can eat it with side dishes, such as lettuce, rice and dipping sauces or as part of a wrap. Plus, the leftover marinade makes for great sauce on plain rice.
Tteokbokki (궁중 떡볶이)
Tteokbokki itself is vegetarian as it merely is made from white rice cake. However, it typicall comes with beef and vegetables in a bubbling red sauce. Remember red alert? Yes, depending on where you go, this can be a very spicy Korean dish. So ask in advance if they can make it non spicy. Sometimes you might get a free sample to try.
Korean odeng is essentially long strips of boiled fish on a stick, pushed together so it looks like a wave. The stick is boiled in miso soup, so you can drink that as well as you can get it in a cup with the broth.
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Spicy Food Surprises
Beware of the Korean-style mung bean pancakes known as bindaetteok (빈대떡); that’s spicy Korean food due to kimchi. Also, if you see a vendor selling what looks like tiny hotdogs, that’s spicy. These are made from fried fish paste rolled in red ginger sauce and draped around a sloppy sausage.
Eomuk Bokkeum (간장 어묵 볶음)
In case you prefer your fish sit fried instead of boiled, grab a hold of eomuk bokkeum. Eomuk is made from pureed fish and kinda resembles fish cake. You can get it in soup at Korean street food stalls. The best eomuk is said to be served in Busan, by the way.
In summer, this Korean dish is ideal as it is often served cold. With naengmyeon, you get buckwheat noodles in vinegar broth. To top it off, you get eggs, meats and veggies. Fun fact: There are K Pop Songs dedicated to this not hot Korean food.
This noodle dish is quite unique in that the near transparent noodles are actually made from sweet potatoes. After cooking, they are combined with sesame oil, sugar, soy sauce and strips of beef and given as a side dish. You might be able to get a vegetarian version.
A noodle dish for meat or seafood lovers! Kal-guksu is made with hand cut noodles that float around in shellfish or meat broth. Depending on the version you get, added ingredients include potatoes, clams or ground beef.
Dak Kalguksu (닭칼국수)
Dak-kal-guksu is th Korean version of chicken soup. It is made by boiling an entire chicken in noodle soup.
Saengseon-Hoe (회; 膾/鱠)
You know how the Japanese have sashimi? Koreans have Saengseon-hoe, sliced raw fish. It is typically eaten with sweet and spicy red chili sauce, so opt for soy sauce instead.
Seolleong Tang (설렁탕)
Seolleongtang is a milky soup made from boiling ox bones for half a day and served with slices of boiled beef (suyuk). This is a dish commonly slurped in cold winter times or to cure nasty hangovers.
Jjajangmyun is made with noodles dancing in dark black bean sauce. It’s actually a Chinese-Korean fusion dish and has a mild flavor. Traditionally, it is eaten during when you move into a new home. It also often contains diced onions, pork or beef.
Rib lovers will devour these grilled short rib patties made from minced meat. It has just the right texture between soft and slightly chewy.
Korean fried chicken (치킨)
You definitely cannot go wrong with fried chicken. It’s fried twice, making it extra crispy and flavourful. To make sure you don’t get the spicy version, ask for huraideu chikin (후라이드 치킨) or the plain fried chicken and leave out the spicy coat.
Should pork be more your thing, then donkatsu is your alternative to fried chicken. Here, you get fried pork accompanied by rice, miso soup, salad and BBQ sauce.
Mandu (만두; 饅頭)
This wouldn’t be a food post by me if I didn’t include dumplings. (I even visited a dumpling museum in Germany once cause I love them so much!) Korean dumplings come with different fillings, such as beef, kimchi, garlic or ginger. You can eat them plain or in soup (manduguk – 만두국).
Tteokmandu Guk (떡만두국)
As an added bonus to the regular dumpling soup, get your hands on this soup. You get dumplings AND rice cake in it – or just rice cake! Whatever you like better.
Here, you get steamed rice with sliced or cubed raw fish as well as veggies, sesame leaves and oil and the special chogochujang sauce. The latter is made from vinegar, gochujang, and sugar.
With South Korea being surrounded by the sea on three sides, there is little wonder Korean cuisine incorporates a lot of fish and seafood. For jogae-gui this is grilled shellfish and you eat it with green onions and avoid the spicy dipping sauce.
Unseasoned, grilled pork belly definitely doesn’t count among spicy Korean food and isn’t particularly flavourful but a life saver when you order Korean BBQ and feel a bit overwhelmed. Use it with the dips, like sesame oil or salt and pepper to add taste.
Instead of pork, you can also opt for Korean barbequed beef short ribs. It is served in sweet marinade that will leave you wanting more.
Savoury Vegetarian Non Spicy Korean Food in Seoul
In case you are on a special no meat and fish diet (or are a convinced vegarian), there is not spicy Korean food to be found as well! A lot of it isn’t particularly main meal material, so you might have to order multiples of these dishes.
If you like Japanese food, you’ll love Seoul’s Hongdae or Dongdaemun. Try okonomiyaki in the small local foodie shops. Okonomiyaki is absolutely delicious and can be roughly described as Japanesecabbage and noodle pancakes. They are freshly prepared by a skilled okonomiyaki master on a super hot surface and you eat it with tiny spatulas. If you want an exciting blend of both Japanese and Korean pancakes with added seafood, sample Pajeonoyaki.
Should you be on a light non spicy Koran food diet (no judging), go for this steamed egg dish. It’ super simple and maybe only spiced with salt and pepper and decorative green onions on top. Actually, it’s an ideal side dish or a light meal for when you’re in a hurry.
Don’t mistake kimpab for sushi. They might look similar and have similar ingredients but are quite different. The base is rolled sticky rice in seaweed that is stuffed with cucumber, spam, pickled radish, egg, spinach and carrots. (Often they stick out and aren’t as neatly chopped away as with Japanese sushi). You can get kimpap with fish as well.
This dish is a simple drinking seaweed soup that tastes very fishy. It’s a tradition to drink it on your birthday.
This is another vegetarian noodle soup made for hot summer days. The kong-guksu broth is made with cold soy milk. Its taste is quite strong.
For those feeling a little sick or just don’t wanting a light meal, juk is the answer. It’s simply porridge made from boiled rice or beans and aids digestion. For a little more flavor, get it with sweet pumpkin (Danhobak-juk) or red bean flavour (patjuk).
Han-Jeongsik (한정식; 韓定食)
As is often the case with Korean food, you don’t just get one dish, you can a main dish with multiple side dishes in little bowls. The same applies to han-jeongsik, where you will get rice, soup and veggies. Eat everything together or separate.
This isn’t a full meal but if you want a special bowl of rice to go with your other non spicy Korean dish, try yeonip-bap. For its special flavor and health benefits, the rice is steamd together with a lotus leaf.
Yes, there is such a thing as non spicy kimchi!! This white kimchi is mild thanks to it being flavoured with fruity salty kimchi brine.
Sweet Non Spicy Korean Food in Seoul
A no-brainer, but sweets are generally just that, sweet. Not spicy. And I haven’t come across one dessert that proved this wrong, so there you go, here is my list of must-try sweets. And if you know me, you knew I gladly took it upon myself to eat my way through them just to double-check for you. Oh, the sacrifices I make.
My absolute favourite non spicy Korean food is Hotteok, an extremely yummy fried dough pancake filled with all different kinds of flavours. I liked cheese but absolutely loved honey and grains! It is basically ambrosia for all pastry lovers. Just a warning, eat in moderation, they are rich.
It is pretty much like taiyaki; it’s bread in the shape of a carp. The usual filling is red bean paste (which is sweet) and served warm. As opposed to taiyaki, it is therefore commonly eaten in winter for extra warmth.
Have you ever seen a giant ice cream cone made out of corn and in the shape of a J, filled from both ends? No, there you go. It has become so popular that it is slowly expanding to South East Asia and you can have it in Indonesia and Malaysia, too. It is called jipangi and it’s birthplace is in Insa-dong, Seoul.
Soft Serve Ice Cream
If regular soft serve ice cream isn’t big enough for your tastebuds, there are 32cm long ones to be had in Seoul. Just don’t be a klutz like me because my cone and ice cream didn’t make it that far until gravity let it to an untimely end. Very tragic.
Sticking with obscene sizes, you might like the monstrous, rainbow coloured waffles served at Waffle House in Hongdae. They are 30cm in length and filled with ice cream, whipped cream, topped with sprinkles and sugary sauce. Just be warned, they taste incredibly sweet and artificial.
A German export (from Rothenburg ob der Tauber, to be precise) and a hit in Seoul is the Schneeball. A pastry rolled up into a dough and covered with icing and chocolate. And before carrying away my new price, I had to beat it to a pulp. No kidding, the store vendor gave me a wooden hammer and instructed me to hit hard. I did and it tore up the bag. I guess there is a proper way to do it and I just don’t know how. The price of being so strong as I am (haha).
Yes, the Spanish, long cinnamon stick made it to Korea. Here, they come in large horseshoe shape and with chocolate or jam dippings.
Shaved ice is basically just crushed ice but instead of being crushed, it is shaved. No taste in itself. To make it look cool and add taste, juices, sauce and fruits are poured over it. I was very unimpressed.
Shaved ice itself is flavourless as it’s literally just shaved ice. So you need to pick your flavour and toppings to get the most out of it and the Korean staple dish is Patbingsu. It is shaved ice with red beans.
Corn Ice Cream
Instead of just eating ice cream in J shaped cones made from corn, there’s also the version of ice cream made out of corn. You can get that in regular supermarkets or kiosks. Would you try it?
Is It Possible to Eat Non Spicy Korean Food?
Yes, absolutely! I wish I had had this blog post as reference on my last trip all over Seoul. It would have saved me so much trouble because Korean cuisine is absolutely delicious. Eating street food can be easily cheaper than cooking for yourself (especially if it’s Western food like pasta). So now armed with new found knowledge on the best Korean food in its non spicy form, you can fully enjoy your trip. Check out my sightseeing and hiking tips for Korea as well.
Tell me, have I whet your appetite? Which non spicy Korean food is for you?