One of the many benefits of being a world traveler is that you get to try amazing foods from all over the world. I’ve been traveling the world since 2003 and I have had spectacular gastronomical experiences in over 1,100 cities across six continents. But few can compare to the blissful Korean food experiences you must have in Busan, South Korea. This massive city may be better known for its wonderful weather, stunning coastline, and temples, but make no mistake: Busan is a foodie town!
I had the pleasure of visiting Busan twice in May of 2019 as my travel buddy Sam and I criss-crossed the country. Both visits blew my mind and really opened my eyes to what Korean cuisine is. Spice is one of its hallmarks, for sure, but you rarely hear about the variety, freshness, and depth of flavor in its dishes.
From its fresh, crisp vegetables to its incomparable chicken and sweet, hot, and tangy sauces, the food here will tantalize even the pickiest of taste buds. These are the 10 Korean food experiences you must have in Busan, South Korea.
BIFF Square Street Food
Without question, one of the best places in Busan to try Korean street food is BIFF Square. Home to the Busan International Film Festival, this square also features many street food vendors, each selling tasty and unique treats.
My favorite street food in Korea is a dish called tteok-bokki, which consists of dense, finger-like rice cakes in a spicy and sometimes sweet sauce. It’s tangy and flavorful, as are the spongy fish cake called odeng and the meaty blood sausage known as sundae.
I also highly suggest the crispy, pan-fried dumplings called mandu, which are filled with fresh vegetables. The garibi, a grilled scallop topped with corn, onion, a tasty sauce, and torched cheese, is smoky and succulent. And if you want to try the best fried chicken in the world, get some dakgangjeong, which is unbelievably fresh and coated in a sweet and spicy glaze.
The truly adventurous can try a fried silkworm larva dish called beondegi, but others may want to substitute that with a dessert item. From giant, roasted marshmallows filled with ice cream to waffle balls with white bean curd inside, sweets lovers will rejoice in the options here. They make eating at BIFF Square one of the top Korean food experiences you must have in Busan!
Royal Korean Feast at Bansang Restaurant
When you travel to South Korea, you would be remiss if you didn’t enjoy a hangjeongsik, the local name for a full-course meal. One of the best places in Busan to have one is at Bansang Restaurant, which opens at noon daily. It’s located on the seventh floor of a building near Haeundae Beach and boasts spectacular views of the water.
Your hangjeongsik will begin with a mixed plate of fatty and gamy duck, a salad, and a rather bland bean curd. But the options ramp up as the courses continue with a fatty pork with onions and chilies, teriyaki pumpkin, and some fantastic sweet potato glass noodles. The was also an intensely flavorful shrimp with carrot and egg, an unreal marinated beef with a hint of sweetness, and a crunchy eel tempura.
Some of my favorites included the fermented soybean and tofu soup with crab, the wild mushrooms and the spicy kimchi. Wash it all down with some a rakia-like black raspberry wine called Bokbunjajoo and a tasty plum wine. With so much variety in flavors and textures, it’s no wonder a royal hangjeongsik is a food experience you must have in Busan!
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Korean Chinese Food in Gyeongju
While you’re in Busan, I highly recommend you take a day trip about 47 miles north of the city to Gyeongju. Not only can you visit fascinating royal tombs from the Silla Kingdom there, but you can also have some of the best Korean Chinese food in the country! I recommend having your Korean Chinese dinner at a nice, slightly fancy spot called Eohyang-Won.
I suggest starting your meal with some tangsuyuk, which is fried pieces of breaded pork in a thick sweet and sour sauce with onions, pineapple, and carrots. The pork is chewy with a nice crispiness from the frying process.
From the tangsuyuk, move on to a dish called jajangmyeon, or Korean Chinese noodles in a black bean paste. This is not a diet food, that’s for sure! It’s rich and flavorful and contains meaty chunks of pork and a generous amount of pork fat! This yummy dish alone is among the top Korean food experiences you must have in Busan.
I also really enjoyed the jjamppong, which is a spicy seafood soup with noodles and the pork-filled dumplings called gun-mandu. Try the gun-mandu in the provided black sauce, which adds a whole new level of flavor.
Korean Baseball Game Food at Sajik Stadium
Believe it or not, one of the top Korean food experiences you must have in Busan is at a baseball stadium! When you go to see the Lotte Giants play at Sajik Stadium, skip the street food outside and head to the concession to have the best stadium food of your life!
While the food served at baseball games in the States is generally awful and overpriced, Korean stadium food is out of this world and very affordable. I’ve talked about Korean fried chicken already, but it’s worth another mention here. It’s coated in a mouthwatering sweet and spicy sauce that had my taste buds dancing!
I also can’t talk about the food at Sajik Stadium without talking about the spicy tteok-bokki and its creamy, hot, and tangy sauce. It came with odeng, or a delicious Korean fish cake, and was absolutely phenomenal. They’re all must-haves when you visit Busan!
Korean Bapsang Breakfast
Speaking of tasty, inexpensive food in Busan, there are few things more delicious or more affordable than a bapsang. A bapsang is a huge, Korean meal that centers around meat, vegetables, soups, and sides. For a fantastic introduction into the world of bapsang, I suggest a visit to Sigol Bapsang Busan, a 24-hour restaurant in the city.
There, you can enjoy a 14-dish spread that includes 3 main dishes and 11 sides. The main dishes are jeyuk-bokkeum (spicy, stir-fried pork in gochujang sauce), fish with squash, and a spicy crab and tofu stew called sundubu jjigae. The jeyuk-bokkeum is meant to be eaten wrapped in the provided lettuce. It results in a fresh and savory bite that is truly out of this world!
The sides include greasy glass noodles called japchae, tender fish cakes, and a tasty and cloudy seaweed soup called miyeok-guk. I also really enjoyed a creamy mixture of crunchy roots and mushrooms, wilted greens, and a fiery kimchi. There was also a salad with a sweet black sesame dressing that almost had a chocolatey flavor. Another highlight was the pajeon, which is a savory spring onion pancake.
This bapsang is the biggest feast I had in South Korea. At only 9,000 won, or about $7.41 U.S., it is an inexpensive and tasty Korean food experience you must have in Busan!
Exotic Raw Seafood at Taejongdae Clam Tents
Travelers with an adventurous palate can’t miss the Taejongdae Clam Tents. At Tent #5, you can enjoy one of the most exotic feasts in the world. Beware, this $50 meal is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart!
This meal is an entirely raw seafood feast. It consists of several relatively familiar items like clams, oysters, and mussels, but also includes things I had never seen before. Those are the side dishes. The main course is a freshly-killed and chopped-up octopus. It’s so fresh that the tentacles still squirm and writhe around on the platter.
The clams and mussels are quite delicious, especially with the spicy ketchup-like sauce that’s served on the side. They’re fresh and succulent and were the highlight of the meal for me. The items I couldn’t identify ranged from tough to pleasantly tasty.
The octopus is fresh and chewy, as you’d expect octopus to be. However, eating it is a bit of a chore. You have to chew it thoroughly before you swallow, or you run the risk of it latching to the inside of your esophagus. Even as you chew, you can feel it grabbing your tongue and the inside of your cheeks!
Regardless of whether you enjoy it or not, there’s no doubt this is one seafood feast you will never forget. That’s what makes it one of the best Korean food experiences you must have in Busan!
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Unique Korean Street Food in Gamcheon Culture Village
Gamcheon Culture Village is a quirky, vibrant area right in the heart of Busan. It’s an amazing tourist destination and a good place to try some of South Korea’s more unique street foods.
There, you can try a decent, if not slightly underwhelming, deep-fried fish paste cake with shrimp called a hot bar. An option I liked better was the bungeo-ppang, which is a fish-shaped waffle with red bean paste filling. It was quite tasty and reminiscent of a dish I tried in Japan months earlier.
You can also try a bizarre frozen beer, which was so unique that I didn’t quite know what to make of it. The highlight was a ball of orange gelatin that comes with powdered peanuts on the side. This odd dish was easily my favorite and is easily a Korean food experience you must have in Busan!
Korean Buffet at Vips
You’ll find another amazing gastronomical experience at a fantastic buffet restaurant called Vips. Like many Korean eateries, they provide you with anti-bacterial wipes so you can clean your hands before you eat.
The options at Vips are wide-ranging, so I recommend trying a bit of everything that catches your eye. I suggest going with the cold and spicy glass noodles and a crunchy and spicy salad with cabbage and spring onions to start. I couldn’t pass up another opportunity to have some tangy tteok-bokki, which wasn’t as hot as other varieties I’d had.
You can’t miss the juicy and tender barbecue pork and succulent shrimp, which had a sweet glaze on it. I also recommend the fantastic fried chicken, which was coated in a sweet and sour honey glaze. Wash it all down with a light and hoppy craft beer from Jeju Island!
Dakgalbi in Bujeon-dong
During my second visit to Busan, my travel buddy Sam and I stayed in the bright and vibrant Bujeon-dong area. There, you’ll find a fantastic spot serving dakgalbi, a barbecued chicken dish with cabbage, green peppers, spring onion, rice cakes, and red peppers.
The dish is prepared on a grill right at your table. It smells heavenly as the chicken and vegetables pop and sizzle, and the flavors of the meat, vegetables, and gochujang sauce are even better. It’s tender, bursting with flavor, and is one of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever had.
After you eat about half of your dakgalbi, you can order fried rice with chicken and cheese, which is mixed with the dakgalbi and stir-fried to create a bokkeumbap. The cheese melts throughout and the rice on the bottom gets crispy, which adds more flavor and texture. This dish is one of the best Korean food experiences you must have in Busan and had me in gastronomical heaven!
Chobap at Jalgachi Fish Market
Without a doubt, one of the best Korean food experiences you must have in Busan is eating chobap. This raw fish dish is comparable to Japanese sushi and is made in a similar fashion. The best spot to try it is at Jalgachi Fish Market, the largest fish market in all of Korea!
Explore the stalls of the first level of the multi-story market to find a fish you’d like to eat. There are 900 stalls, so there are tons of options. The variety of seafood available is mind-blowing and a little overwhelming! But once you find the fish you want, the vendor will prepare it for you and send it up to the third level, where there is a dining hall.
There, you’ll enjoy your chobap feast. Mine was a 24-piece spread that included eight pieces of three different types of fish each, including the flounder I had chosen downstairs. This was the freshest and tastiest raw seafood I’d ever had in my life! I liked that it had a thicker cut than Japanese sushi, and the chef had even added wasabi between the fish and sticky rice.
As much as I love Japanese sushi, I must admit, Korean chobap became my favorite raw fish dish after this meal. The meat was tender and succulent, and the assortment of sauces (soy sauce, sriracha, and gochujang) was unparalleled. You haven’t lived until you’ve had raw fish with gochujang sauce!
After you’ve finished your chobap, I recommend diving into the banchan. They included ginger, carrots, syrupy corn, a flavorless jelly, and edamame. The ginger is fantastic! The main side is a mouthwatering fish head soup with a tangy, spicy broth that’s bursting with Korean flavors. It is to die for and is easily one of the top Korean food experiences you must have in Busan!
BONUS: Buddhist Monk Food at Beomeosa Temple
Hands down, the most immersive experience you can have in Busan is an overnight stay at Beomeosa Temple. There, you’ll learn about Korean Buddhism from the resident monks and enjoy two fantastic, traditional meals.
You’ll dine on mats with the monks, who will explain how to properly eat. There are lots of rules, so be sure to pay attention! During my stay, I enjoyed a bowl of white rice and a delicious seaweed soup for dinner. Don’t take more than you can eat because you have to finish it all! You also can’t talk during your meal, and have to hold your bowl up to your face until you’re finished.
Breakfast the next morning consisted of rice, spicy kimchi, and crunchy and earthy seaweed. You follow that a bit later with tea and an orange. It’s simple food, using simple ingredients, and yet it’s magnificent. It’s only amplified by the peaceful surroundings and it yet another Korean food experience you must have in Busan.
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Busan may not yet be recognized as one of the big food cities of the world, but it should be. There is so much variety there, which makes you appreciate the scope and breadth of Korean cuisine. Whether you like pork, vegetables, or seafood, you can find prominent dishes that feature it. Each flavor and texture combination is more unique and surprising than the last and is like taking your taste buds on a fantastic journey. I cannot recommend this city more highly to anyone planning on visiting South Korea. Book a trip to Busan today to experience its culinary delights for yourself!
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