10 Affordable and Filling Korean Foods

Korean cuisine is renowned for its rich flavors and diverse dishes, but you don’t need to empty your wallet to enjoy it. In this article, we’ll introduce you to 10 affordable and filling Korean foods that offer a delightful culinary experience without breaking the bank. From savory soups to crispy snacks, we’ve got your taste buds covered.


Introduction

Korean food has gained worldwide popularity for its bold flavors and unique combinations. While dining at high-end Korean restaurants can be a treat, there are plenty of affordable options that allow you to savor the essence of Korean cuisine without overspending. In this article, we’ll take you on a culinary journey through 10 budget-friendly and satisfying Korean dishes that you can enjoy both in South Korea and around the world.


1. Kimchi Bokkeumbap (Kimchi Fried Rice)

Kimchi bokkeumbap is a quintessential Korean comfort food that harmoniously blends the bold and tangy flavors of kimchi with fragrant fried rice. This culinary masterpiece offers a tantalizing experience for the taste buds, featuring a melange of spicy, sour, and savory notes that dance across the palate. Beyond its culinary prowess, kimchi bokkeumbap holds a special place in Korean households, known not only for its irresistible taste but also for its budget-friendly appeal.

One intriguing aspect of kimchi bokkeumbap is its versatility. While the core ingredients include kimchi, rice, and various seasonings, it’s a dish that readily accommodates additional elements. Common additions can include vegetables like carrots, bell peppers, and scallions, as well as protein sources such as pork, beef, or tofu. This adaptability allows cooks to tailor the dish to their preferences and make the most of available ingredients.

10 affordable and filling Korean foods.
Kimchi Bokkeumbap and Samgyeopsal on the side

Fun Fact: Kimchi bokkeumbap is not only a beloved home-cooked dish but also a popular choice at Korean street food stalls and casual eateries. It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of kimchi, a staple of Korean cuisine. Kimchi itself is a fermented dish made from cabbage and other vegetables, seasoned with a mixture of ingredients that typically includes gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), garlic, ginger, and fish sauce. The fermentation process not only enhances its flavor but also preserves the vegetables, making kimchi a practical and nutritious addition to the Korean diet.


2. Japchae (Stir-Fried Glass Noodles)

Japchae, often dubbed “Korean glass noodle stir-fry,” is a delightful and versatile dish that exemplifies the harmonious blend of flavors and textures in Korean cuisine. At the heart of japchae are translucent and chewy glass noodles, made from sweet potato starch, which serve as a canvas for a vibrant medley of vegetables and, frequently, a protein source like tender slices of beef or tofu. These ingredients are masterfully stir-fried in a savory and slightly sweet soy sauce-based marinade, resulting in a dish that’s as pleasing to the palate as it is to the eye.

One remarkable aspect of japchae is its adaptability. While it traditionally features vegetables like spinach, carrots, bell peppers, and pyogo mushroom(shiitake), it can easily accommodate seasonal produce or personal preferences. This flexibility allows japchae to be a dynamic and ever-evolving dish, making it suitable for a wide range of occasions, from everyday family meals to festive gatherings. Its affordability also makes it a popular choice, as it offers a sumptuous and satisfying meal without straining the budget.

10 affordable and filling Korean foods.
Japchae or Korean Glass Noodle?

Fun Fact: The word “japchae” translates to “mixed vegetables” in Korean, highlighting the dish’s emphasis on the colorful array of vegetables used in its preparation. While it’s known for its savory and slightly sweet flavor profile today, japchae’s history traces back to the Joseon Dynasty, where it was initially served as a royal banquet dish. Back then, the dish featured only vegetables and mushrooms, without the addition of meat or noodles. It wasn’t until the 20th century that japchae as we know it today, with the inclusion of meat and glass noodles, became popular among the general population.


3. Tteokbokki (Spicy Rice Cakes)

Tteokbokki, the undisputed champion of Korean street food, is a dish that’s as thrilling as it is fiery. This iconic delicacy is characterized by chewy rice cakes, which are generously coated in a vibrant and spicy red chili sauce. While the ingredients may seem deceptively simple, tteokbokki’s appeal lies in its ability to deliver an explosion of flavor that captivates the senses. It’s not only an inviting treat for the taste buds but also a budget-friendly option that has captured the hearts of both locals and tourists.

At the heart of tteokbokki are the rice cakes, known as “tteok” in Korean. These cylindrical or oval-shaped rice cakes have a unique chewy texture that’s incredibly satisfying to bite into. The sauce, often made from gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), gochujang (Korean red chili paste), garlic, and soy sauce, contributes to the dish’s fiery and savory character. It’s a fine balance of heat and savory taste that keeps enthusiasts coming back for more.

Fun Fact: Tteokbokki has a special day dedicated to celebrating its delectable presence in Korean cuisine. On April 29th, South Korea observes “Tteokbokki Day.” This date was chosen because the numbers “4-2-9” in Korean can be read as “sa-i-gu,” which sounds similar to “ssa-ga” meaning “stir-fry” in Korean. Tteokbokki Day is a delightful culinary celebration where people from all walks of life gather to savor this beloved street food and its many variations. Whether enjoyed as a quick snack or a hearty meal, tteokbokki’s enduring popularity continues to spice up the Korean food scene.


4. Samgyeopsal (Grilled Pork Belly)

Samgyeopsal, the darling of Korean BBQ aficionados, is a culinary experience that beautifully marries affordability with sheer deliciousness. This beloved dish consists of thin slices of succulent pork belly, which are grilled to perfection right at your table. What sets samgyeopsal apart is not just its mouthwatering taste but also the interactive nature of the dining experience. As you savor each bite, you’ll discover the joy of wrapping the grilled pork in crisp lettuce leaves and pairing it with an array of accompaniments such as kimchi and dipping sauces.

One of the defining characteristics of samgyeopsal is its accessibility. Unlike some high-end Korean BBQ options, samgyeopsal is known for its affordability, making it an ideal choice for diners looking to enjoy a satisfying meal without breaking the bank. Whether you’re dining with friends, family, or colleagues, the communal aspect of grilling your own meat at the table adds an element of fun and togetherness to the experience, making it a favorite choice for social gatherings.

Fun Fact: The name “samgyeopsal” is a combination of two Korean words: “sam” meaning “three” and “gyeopsal” meaning “layered flesh.” This name originates from the unique structure of pork belly, which consists of three distinct layers—meat, fat, and skin. These layers are carefully selected and sliced into thin pieces, resulting in a delectable balance of flavors and textures when grilled. It’s this combination that elevates samgyeopsal to a beloved status in Korean cuisine, offering a delightful play of meaty richness and crispy textures.

10 affordable and filling Korean foods.
Samgyeopsal, Dubu Jjigae and Steamed Rice


5. Sundubu Jjigae (Soft Tofu Stew)5

Sundubu jjigae, the ultimate comfort food in Korean cuisine, is a hearty and heartwarming stew that brings together the velvety softness of tofu with the fiery embrace of a spicy broth. This dish is a soothing balm for the soul, offering comfort in every spoonful. Beyond its deliciousness, sundubu jjigae is renowned for its budget-friendly appeal, making it a cherished option for those seeking both warmth and flavor in their meals.

At the heart of sundubu jjigae is soft tofu, often referred to as “sundubu” in Korean. This type of tofu is known for its silky texture and delicate flavor. The stew’s spicy broth, made with gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), garlic, ginger, and soy sauce, provides a kick of heat that complements the tofu’s creaminess. Sundubu jjigae is a versatile dish, often adorned with an assortment of ingredients such as mushrooms, seafood like clams or shrimp, and vegetables like zucchini or spinach. This medley of elements creates a harmonious balance of flavors and textures that’s both invigorating and comforting.

Fun Fact: Sundubu jjigae is not just a beloved dish in Korea; it’s also known for its role in Korean pop culture. In the popular Korean drama “My ID is Gangnam Beauty,” the character played by actress Im Soo-hyang is seen frequently enjoying sundubu jjigae at a local restaurant. This portrayal of the dish sparked a surge in its popularity, with fans of the show flocking to try the stew for themselves. It’s a testament to the influence of Korean dramas on culinary trends and a reminder of the power of food to connect with people on a cultural and emotional level.


6. Gimbap (Korean Rice Rolls)

Gimbap offers a delightful take on rice rolls, distinct from sushi. These cylindrical wonders are crafted with expertise, involving layers of seaweed, seasoned rice, a vibrant assortment of ingredients, and your choice of protein. Unlike sushi, gimbap doesn’t rely on wasabi and vinegar in its preparation. It proudly showcases its unique flavors and components, making it a culinary gem in its own right. What sets gimbap apart is its practicality—it’s easily portable, budget-friendly, and an ideal choice for a quick and satisfying meal on the go.

Gimbap’s core ingredients are rice and seaweed, but the creative possibilities are endless. Traditional gimbap often includes julienned vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, and spinach, as well as pickled radish for a delightful crunch and a touch of sweetness. The protein options can vary, with popular choices including cooked beef, ham, or even fish cakes. The art of rolling gimbap lies in achieving a tight and compact cylinder, ensuring that each bite offers a harmonious blend of flavors and textures.

Fun Fact: Gimbap holds a special place in Korean culture, not just as a beloved snack but also as a symbol of unity and togetherness. It’s a common sight at picnics, school outings, and family gatherings in Korea. Interestingly, gimbap has even ventured into space! South Korea’s first astronaut, Yi So-yeon, brought specially prepared gimbap to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2008. This unique journey made gimbap not just a cultural icon but also a cosmic culinary delight, proving that its appeal knows no bounds, even beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.


7. Mandu (Korean Dumplings)

Mandu, the delectable Korean dumplings, take the culinary spotlight with their diverse forms and irresistible fillings. These dumplings come in various preparations, including steamed, fried, and boiled, each offering a unique textural and flavor experience. At their core, mandu are pockets of joy, filled with a flavorful mixture of meat, vegetables, and seasonings. Their appeal extends beyond taste, as they are not only a delicious snack but also a budget-friendly choice that perfectly complements larger meals.

The variety of mandu preparations reflects the culinary creativity of Korean cuisine. Steamed mandu, known as “jjin mandu,” are prized for their delicate, translucent wrappers and tender fillings. Fried mandu, or “gun mandu,” boast a crispy exterior that contrasts beautifully with the savory interior. Boiled mandu, or “mul mandu,” are immersed in a clear, comforting broth that infuses them with subtle flavors. The fillings of mandu are equally diverse, with combinations that may include ground pork or beef, tofu, scallions, garlic, and various seasonings.

Fun Fact: Mandu has its own dedicated day in Korean culture known as “Tteokmandu Day.” Celebrated on January 27th, this special day marks the convergence of two beloved Korean dishes—mandu and tteokguk, a rice cake soup traditionally enjoyed on Lunar New Year. On Tteokmandu Day, people savor both dishes to welcome good luck and prosperity in the coming year. This culinary tradition highlights the cultural significance of mandu and its role in festive celebrations, making it a cherished part of Korean culinary heritage.


8. Hotteok (Sweet Pancakes)

Hotteok, the beloved Korean sweet pancakes, are a testament to the culinary magic that happens when brown sugar, cinnamon, and chopped nuts come together. These delectable treats are a symphony of textures and flavors, with a crispy and golden-brown exterior that gives way to a gooey and indulgent filling. Hotteok’s popularity as a street food in Korea is a testament to its irresistible appeal, offering a delightful experience that’s as budget-friendly as it is delicious.

10 affordable and filling Korean foods.
Hotteok in the making.

At the heart of Hotteok’s allure is the dough, made from a mixture of flour, water, milk, and yeast. This dough is generously filled with a sweet and aromatic blend of brown sugar, cinnamon, and chopped nuts, often including ingredients like peanuts or walnuts. The pancake is then pan-fried until it achieves its characteristic golden hue and crispy exterior. What makes Hotteok particularly special is its contrast of textures—the satisfying crunch on the outside and the warm, gooey, and fragrant center that oozes with sweetness.

Fun Fact: Hotteok holds a special place in Korean street food culture and is a popular choice during the winter months. In South Korea, there’s even a dedicated Hotteok Day, celebrated on December 4th. This date was chosen because the numbers “1-2-4” sound like “il-i-i,” which is similar to the sizzling sound Hotteok makes when it’s pan-fried to perfection. On Hotteok Day, street vendors and restaurants across Korea serve up these sweet pancakes to warm the hearts and taste buds of locals and visitors alike, further solidifying Hotteok’s status as a cherished winter treat.


9. Pajeon (Scallion Pancakes)

Pajeon, the beloved Korean scallion pancakes, occupy a special place in the hearts and appetites of those who relish Korean street food. These crispy and savory delights are a testament to the simple yet extraordinary joy of fresh scallions. Beyond their deliciousness, pajeon is renowned for being an affordable snack that captivates the taste buds with its irresistible combination of textures and flavors. These pancakes are a flavorful canvas that often features not only scallions but also a delightful medley of other ingredients like seafood or kimchi.

The star ingredient in pajeon is undoubtedly the scallion, or “pa” in Korean, which gives the dish its name. These fresh green onions are finely chopped and incorporated into a batter made from flour, water, and sometimes egg. The result is a pancake that’s crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, with bursts of scallion freshness in every bite. Depending on regional preferences and individual tastes, pajeon can also include additional elements such as seafood like shrimp or squid, or even spicy kimchi for an extra kick of flavor.

Fun Fact: Pajeon has a close cousin in Korean cuisine known as “haemul pajeon,” which translates to “seafood scallion pancakes.” This variation adds a delightful twist by incorporating seafood like shrimp, squid, and sometimes oysters into the pancake batter. Haemul pajeon is a popular choice in Korean restaurants and street food stalls, especially in coastal regions where fresh seafood is abundant. It’s a testament to the versatility of scallion pancakes, which can easily adapt to various regional flavors and preferences, making them a beloved and ever-evolving culinary tradition in Korea.


10. Bindaetteok (Mung Bean Pancakes)

Bindaetteok, the delectable mung bean pancakes of Korean cuisine, offer a unique and flavorful experience that’s both nutritious and budget-friendly. These pancakes are crafted from ground mung beans and a medley of vegetables, creating a delightful contrast of textures and a savory depth of flavor. Pan-fried to crispy perfection, bindaetteok is a beloved dish that has stood the test of time, satisfying both the taste buds and the wallet.

The star ingredient in bindaetteok is mung beans, which are soaked, ground into a batter, and then mixed with an array of vegetables such as kimchi, bean sprouts, and scallions. This combination of ingredients not only adds a pleasing crunch but also imparts a complex and savory taste profile to the pancakes. Once pan-fried to golden crispiness, bindaetteok is often served with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, vinegar, and a touch of sesame oil. It’s a wholesome and satisfying dish that’s cherished for its balance of flavors and affordability.

Fun Fact: Bindaetteok has a special connection to Korean holidays and traditions, particularly Chuseok, the Korean harvest festival. During Chuseok, it’s customary to prepare and enjoy bindaetteok as a symbol of the bountiful harvest. Families come together to make and share these savory pancakes, celebrating the abundance of the season. Bindaetteok’s round shape and golden color also symbolize the full moon, which plays a significant role in Chuseok festivities. So, beyond being a delicious dish, bindaetteok holds cultural significance in Korean celebrations, embodying the spirit of unity and gratitude during harvest festivals.


FAQs

Is Korean food spicy?

Korean cuisine is known for its bold and spicy flavors, but not all dishes are extremely spicy. You can find a wide range of options, from mildly seasoned to intensely hot dishes. It all depends on your personal preference.

Are Korean dishes vegetarian-friendly?

While Korean cuisine does include many meat-based dishes, there are also plenty of vegetarian options available. Dishes like bibimbap, vegetable jjigae, and various tofu dishes are popular choices for vegetarians.

Can I find affordable Korean food outside of Korea?

Yes, you can enjoy affordable Korean food in many places around the world, thanks to the global popularity of Korean cuisine. Look for Korean restaurants or food trucks in your area to savor these delicious dishes.

What is the best way to experience Korean food in South Korea?

To fully experience Korean food in South Korea, consider visiting local markets, street food stalls, and traditional restaurants. These places offer a wide variety of authentic dishes at reasonable prices.

Are Korean dishes healthy?

Korean cuisine often includes a variety of vegetables, seafood, and lean meats, making it a relatively healthy choice. However, like any cuisine, it’s essential to balance your choices and enjoy everything in moderation.

Can I make Korean dishes at home?

Absolutely! Many Korean recipes are accessible for home cooks. You can find ingredients at Asian grocery stores and online markets. Experimenting with Korean cooking can be a fun and rewarding experience.


Conclusion

Exploring the world of Korean foods doesn’t have to strain your budget. These 10 affordable and filling Korean foods offer a taste of Korea’s culinary richness without emptying your wallet. Whether you’re a spicy food lover or prefer something milder, Korean cuisine has something to satisfy every palate without breaking the bank.

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