How to Make these 3 Delicious Traditional Korean Foods

How to Make these 3 Delicious Traditional Korean Foods

There are many wonderful things that South Korea offers. Things like K-Pop, K-Dramas, Korean skin care, K-Fashion… and so much more. However, amongst all of the great things that South Korea has, we can’t forget about Korean food. If you’re not too familiar with Korean food, I think it would be best to introduce some traditional Korean foods that are not only easy and relatively quick to make, but can also vary to fit your specific taste buds.

Typical Ingredients in Traditional Korean Foods

There are a few ingredients that you will find in most of the dishes Korean cuisine has. Things like rice, sesame oil/sesame seeds, and soy sauce are pretty common throughout each dish. Luckily, these ingredients are also pretty easy to find in most grocery stores, so you won’t have to worry about going to a special store to buy these.

I would definitely recommend putting these on your list of ingredients to buy no matter what Korean dish you’re making. At some point, whether it’s for the main portion of the dish or a side sauce that you’re making, one of these will be included.

Popular Traditional Korean Foods

Overall, you’ll find a bunch of different foods labeled “traditional” in Korean cuisine. But, not all of them are as easy to make or as versatile as the three I’ve decided to talk about. There are, though, a few traditional foods that you might want to check out outside of this article.

For example: kimchi, tteokbokki, or samgyupsal. All three of these dishes are pretty popular for traditional Korean foods and are even popular outside of South Korea. (I’ve personally heard about these dishes a lot when talking about Korean food, so they might be worth checking out in your own time.)

Kimbap (or Gimbap – 김밥)

traditional korean foods kimbap

Kimbap is one of the more famous on-the-go traditional Korean foods. It’s a seaweed rice roll that can be filled with quite literally anything you want. It’s usually a snack food, made for a side in a packed lunch or possibly a snack that you can take with you to have when you’re out and about. And it’s super simple to make once you have all of the ingredients. The only thing that takes awhile to do is chopping up the ingredients to fit into the roll.


To start off, there are a few basic things that you’ll need for any kind of kimbap.

  • White rice
  • Seaweed sheets
  • Sesame oil (this can be optional, but is usually spread on the roll after you’ve finished making it)

From here, you’re free to include anything that you want. Of course, you can look up specific ingredients for specific kinds of kimbap (like a meat kimbap or a vegetable kimbap). If you’re looking for the ingredients to a generic kimbap, then you can read through this list.

  • Yellow pickled radish (this is a bit hard to find in your regular grocery store, so you might need to find the closest Korean market for this ingredient)
  • Eomuk (Fish Cake—also not something typically found in a regular grocery store; it would be best to go to the Korean market for this)
  • Carrots (the big ones, not the baby ones)
  • Spinach
  • Eggs
  • Beef (this can be any kind of beef you’d like, really)
  • Rice wine (mirin)
  • Fine sea salt
  • Braised burdock root (not always included in kimbap unless you like it—easiest to find in a Korean market)
  • Kimbap ham (a substitute for the beef, but usually found in a Korean market)
  • Crab sticks

If you’re a vegetarian/vegan, you can easily substitute the meat (or other foods you might not eat) with tofu or other vegetables. The whole point of kimbap is to include the foods you enjoy eating—so don’t be afraid to mix it up!

How to Make Kimbap

While this isn’t a very difficult traditional Korean dish to make, it does involve a lot of steps to prepare. And a lot of patience!

1. Firstly, you’re going to want to make the rice.

Now, we don’t all have a rice cooker sitting around like they might have in South Korea. But, I promise that using a pot is just as good. (You just need to know how to cook the rice correctly!)

The trick for cooking rice is to make sure you leave the lid on (the whole time) and to let it sit. So, you don’t want to make the rice right before you assemble the kimbap. Make it before you do anything else—including any chopping of the vegetables, cooking of the other ingredients, or the gathering of things to make the kimbap.

Many also suggest to make the rice with a little less water than you would usually to give a stickier texture to it!

If you want to watch a tutorial on how to make rice in a pot, you can watch this video by Maangchi on YouTube.


She has a lot of really good videos on how to make traditional Korean foods that she explains very simply. Plus, she’s super funny once you watch a few of her videos!

Once your rice is set a little bit, but still warm, add sesame oil and salt to season it.

2. Once you’ve got the rice cooked and sitting off to the side, you’ll want to start cutting up a lot of your other ingredients.

Generally, you’ll want long, thin strips. You’ll be laying these ingredients across the length of the seaweed sheet, so try to make sure you’re cutting them longer! And, since you’ll be stuffing a lot into these rice rolls, you’ll want to make sure they’re generally thin.

Here is an example:

korean food kimbap ingredients

3. Prepare your ingredients

Typically, you’ll want to make sure all of your ingredients are fully prepared before you begin the assembling process. In many traditional Korean foods, there’s a lot of individual ingredients to prepare.

This means that you’ll want to cook and season your beef. For half a pound of meat, you’ll need to use: 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of rice wine (or mirin), 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil, and a 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic. You can make this mixture in a bowl before adding the meat. Once you add the mixture to the meat, let it marinate for a little while. Once you’ve done that, you can cook it.

If you use spinach, you’ll need to prepare it by boiling and giving it an ice bath. Once you get some water boiling, you can place the spinach in and cook it for about thirty seconds to a minute (until it’s withered). After that, you’ll want to pull it out and put it right into ice water (or some really cold running water). Once you’re done with that, you can squeeze out the excess water and season it with sesame oil, salt, and maybe some minced garlic if you’d like.

To prepare your eggs, you’ll want to crack and beat them in a bowl until they’re fully mixed. Then you can add a pinch of salt. From here, you’ll want to use a wide pan so that your egg can spread out evenly across the bottom.  Be careful when cooking, you’ll need to make sure the egg is completely cooked before flipping so that you don’t end up with a half circle of egg. Once you’ve cooked the egg, you can cut it into thin strips like everything else.

For everything else, you can cook them briefly so that they’re warm.

4. Assembling!

While this might seem like the easiest part, it’s actually pretty difficult to get right! This is definitely the most hands-on traditional Korean dish you’ll be making!

Firstly, you’ll need to have a bamboo mat (that’s used to roll kimbap) or a flat surface like a cutting board. From here, you’ll need to set down a sheet of the seaweed (shiny side down) and put a thin layer of rice on top of it. Many recommend leaving a one-inch space at the top of your seaweed sheet so that it can close easier. Though, you don’t always need to leave this gap once you get better at making kimbap.

Once your rice is laid across the seaweed evenly, you can start laying your ingredients! You’ll want to put these ingredients closest to the side you’re on (so, near the bottom of the seaweed sheet; not the side where you left the gap of rice).

kimbap before being rolled

And now that your ingredients are all laid out, it’s time to roll! Literally. Whether you’re using a mat or using just your hands, you’ll need to pick up the bottom edge of the seaweed sheet and begin rolling it forward.

kimbap being rolled

Be careful with this! You’ll need to go slow enough that you can hold the ingredients in place while also making sure the seaweed gets rolled correctly. Be sure that you’re pressing the roll firmly as you go, this will help make sure that it sticks together. Once you reach the end of the seaweed sheet, press firmly to assure that the end sticks to the roll (you might need to add a little rice to assure that it sticks).

5. Lastly, cutting the roll!

The last step might be where disaster strikes if you haven’t rolled the kimbap up tightly enough (or perhaps wrapped it too tightly).

First, you’ll need to spread some sesame oil across the roll to give a bit more flavor and a shine. Once you’ve done this, make sure you’ve got a clean and sharp knife. You can spread a bit of sesame oil on your knife to help keep the rice from sticking to it if you’d like.

From here, all you need to do is cut the kimbap! Typically, each slice of kimbap is about half an inch thick, but you can make it as thick as you want.

And with that, your kimbap and first traditional Korean dish is complete! Here is a video on the process of making kimbap. Enjoy~

Bulgogi (불고기)

traditional korean foods bulgogi

Bulgogi is another popular traditional Korean dish that I’ve seen mentioned quite often. Essentially, bulgogi is Korean BBQ beef. You’ll see this meal with a lot of different sides and also at your typical Korean BBQ restaurant. Personally, I find this meal to be the easiest one to make.

Typically, this is a dinner time meal that’s served with a few side dishes and/or put into another meal (like bibimbap, which I will talk about later).


Compared to some other traditional Korean foods, this one consists of pretty straight-forward ingredients. It doesn’t vary too much from meal to meal, so you can plan on having the same ingredients each time you make it. There are a few different parts that you’ll need to have prepared, though.

The meat, the marinade, and the side dishes.

For these, you’ll need these ingredients:

  • Thinly-sliced beef (typically rib eye or top sirloin; any beef similar to this can work or you can buy precut bulgogi meat at a Korean market)
  • Soy sauce
  • Water
  • Sugar
  • Rice wine (mirin)
  • Minced garlic
  • Sesame oil
  • Sesame seeds
  • Korean/Asian pear (you’ll have to go to an Asian market for this. Or, you can replace it with a kiwi!)
  • Pepper
  • A variation of vegetables depending on which sides you’re having.

Typically, bulgogi is eaten with a lettuce leaf, so be sure to have some with you! (Make sure that it’s a big piece of lettuce, not the kind that you’d have as a salad.)

For vegan/vegetarian options, you can simply swap out the meat with mushrooms or tofu. As long as the marinade stays the same, it will definitely be considered bulgogi.

How to Make Bulgogi

Overall, this meal isn’t too difficult to make. The longest thing about making this is the time it takes to marinate it. So make sure to have some time for that. But, for everything else, it will only take a few minutes (even to cook it!)

1. Firstly, preparing the marinade

It’s relatively simple to make this marinade. For a serving of four (2 lbs of meat), you’ll need: 6 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of water, 4 tablespoons of sugar, 2 tablespoons of rice wine/mirin, 2 tablespoons of minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, 2 teaspoons of sesame seeds, 4 tablespoons of grated Korean/Asian pear (or kiwi), and a 1/8 teaspoon of pepper.

From here, you just mix it all together in a bowl.

2. Preparing the meat

While you can buy precut bulgogi meat at a Korean market, you might not always have that option unless there’s one close to you. If you’ve bought the meat yourself, then you’ll also need to cut it yourself.

korean bulgogi thin

To cut it thin enough, you will probably need to freeze it for one to two hours. This will make the meat harder and allows you to cut very thinly. Once you’ve done this, you can add the marinade. Be sure to mix the marinade well into the meat.

Put it in the fridge for half an hour to a couple hours to marinate the meat.

3. Cooking the meat!

After letting your meat marinate for a while, it’s time to cook!

Usually, bulgogi is cooked on a small grill. However, you can use a regular-sized grill or a pan if you’d like. Just be sure that you’re putting tinfoil down first if you’re using a regular, large grill because the meat will fall through the grate.

When cooking the meat, make sure that you’re not overloading the grill or the pan. The meat will cook best when it’s spread out evenly. However, because the meat is so thin, it will cook pretty quickly. Be sure to flip the meat as you’re cooking it to get it thoroughly cooked.

bulgogi being cooked

4. Serving

Like I mentioned earlier, bulgogi is typically eaten with a lettuce leaf. However, you can add a few other things to it. While holding a piece of meat in your lettuce leaf, you can add rice, vegetables, and a bit more sauce to give it a bit more flavoring. Once you’ve done that, just wrap the leaf around it all and dive in!

Bibimbap (비빔밥)

traditional korean food bibimbap

Like kimbap, bibimbap is one of those traditional Korean foods that you can adjust to your tastes. The ingredients are mostly similar, but they’re served very differently. And, opposite of kimbap, bibimbap is typically a dinner meal.

What you’ll find the most common with bibimbap recipes is that they’ll tell you it’s usually just a mixture of whatever side dishes you have just lying around. Which is mostly true! Bibimbap has turned into a meal that you might make when you have side dishes waiting to be eaten from a few days prior or a quick meal that you can have when you don’t have time to make something new.


Like I said, there are no set ingredients for this meal. But you need to make sure that you have rice, since it is a rice bowl.

Typical ingredients include:

  • Rice
  • Beef
  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame seeds/oil
  • Sugar
  • Minced garlic
  • Spinach
  • Soybean sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Salt
  • Eggs
  • Seasoned seaweed
  • Gochujang sauce (this is a red pepper paste that you can usually only find at a Korean/Asian market. It’s only for dipping your food in after you make the bowl, so don’t be too worried if you don’t like red pepper paste… it’s not a main ingredient)
  • Honey

As before, any of these ingredients can be swapped out for things that you like better. The meat can be swapped with tofu or can be removed completely. There’s plenty of recipes that you can find online for vegan/vegetarian bibimbaps.

How to Make Bibimbap

Like with kimbap, the longest part of this is preparing all of the ingredients. If you’ve got the leftover side dishes from other meals, then that step is already complete for you. However, if you don’t, then you will need to prepare everything a bit.

1. Make the rice

Since rice is cooked on its own (without getting stirred), it would be best to put this on to cook first. You can get it cooking and leave it with the lid on while you prepare everything else.

2. Prepare other ingredients

For this meal, instead of cutting everything into long strips, it would be best to have it as smaller pieces.

If you’re including soybean sprouts, you’ll need to prepare these by boiling them for about three minutes with a teaspoon of salt and then rinsing them with cold water. Then you can mix in 1 teaspoon of minced garlic, 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, and a 1/2 teaspoon of sesame seeds.

If you’re including spinach, boil it for about a minute, then rinse it through with cool water. From here, you can add salt and pepper to your liking and maybe a couple minced garlic if you’d like.

For any other vegetables you might include, you can just cook them in a pan for a minute or two so that they’re warm and cooked nicely.

Lastly, for the meat, you’ll only need a little bit to prepare. For a 1/2 pound of beef, you’ll need to mix it with 1 tablespoon of minced garlic, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of honey, 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds.

3. Cooking the ingredients (a few exceptions)

Now, while you do cook a few things in this traditional Korean dish, you don’t always cook everything. For example, you don’t always cook the egg. Sometimes you just include the egg yolk in bibimbap. If you do cook it, though, it’s usually cooked sunny-side-up.

And you don’t always cook the beef either. However, this comes more with the way you serve this dish. If you serve this meal in a stone bowl (called dolsot), then you won’t really need to cook the meat. This stone bowl is typically served hot… meaning that it will pretty much cook your meat while it’s in the bowl. However, if you don’t have the bowl, you can simply cook the meat beforehand.

4. Serving the food

Overall, this is a mixed rice bowl. Rice goes first into the bowl and then everything else gets added on top of it in whatever fashion you deem appropriate. Typically, there’s also a side of gochujang sauce that you can dip each mouthful in before you eat it.

bibimbap in a bowl

But, other than that, it’s up to you have you present the dish!

Are cooking traditional Korean foods worth your time?

I think cooking any kinds of food—no matter where it’s from—is definitely worth your time. Trying various traditions of food is an experience that you can’t quite get with anything else. So try making these meals and give a look at some other traditional Korean foods. I’m positive that you’ll find something you like!

If you’d like to read other things we’ve written about Korean cuisine, you can take a look at our Food Page.

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