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Exploring Korean Cuisine on a Student Budget

Exploring Korean Cuisine on a Student Budget

You don’t have to break the bank to have an enjoyable and memorable experience in South Korea. Bigger cities such as Seoul will have activities at every price level - street markets are a great way to explore authentic cuisine while on the cheap.


1. Introduction

Brief overview of Korean cuisine and its popularity

1-1. Brief overview of Korean cuisine and its popularity

Korean cuisine has gained significant popularity in recent years, and for good reason. It's known for its bold flavors, vibrant colors, and diverse array of dishes that cater to various tastes and dietary preferences. From spicy fermented kimchi to sweet and savory bibimbap, Korean cuisine offers a wide range of delicious and nutritious options.

Korean food is also deeply rooted in the country's history and culture. Many traditional Korean dishes have been passed down through generations, and they often reflect the country's agricultural and culinary traditions. For example, kimchi, a staple in Korean cuisine, is made from fermented vegetables and is a great source of probiotics and vitamins.

Korean cuisine has become increasingly popular worldwide, and it's not hard to see why. The cuisine's emphasis on fresh ingredients, seasonality, and bold flavors has resonated with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Additionally, the rise of Korean pop culture, such as K-pop and Korean dramas, has helped to increase interest in Korean food.


1-2. Importance of exploring cultural cuisine on a student budget

Now, let's talk about the importance of exploring cultural cuisine on a student budget. Trying new foods and cuisines can be a great way to broaden your horizons and learn about different cultures. It's also a great way to expand your palate and discover new flavors that you may not have tried before.

However, we understand that students often have limited budgets, and trying new foods can be daunting, especially when you're on a tight budget. Here are some tips for exploring Korean cuisine without breaking the bank.


2. Affordable Korean dishes

Affordable Korean dishes

List of popular Korean dishes that are affordable and student-friendly, such as:


2-1. Bi-bim-bap (비빔밥)

A rice bowl dish topped with an assortment of vegetables, meat (usually beef), and a fried egg. The name "bibimbap" literally means "mixed rice," and that's

exactly what you do - mix all the ingredients together to create a delicious and nutritious meal.

Bi-bim-bap (비빔밥)

2-2. Kim-chi stew (김치 찌개) : Kim-chi-jji-gae

Kimchi stew is a hearty and comforting dish made with kimchi, tofu, vegetables, and rice. It's a great way to use up leftover kimchi and rice, and it's very affordable.

Kim-chi stew (김치 찌개) : Kim-chi-jji-gae

2-3. Tofu soup (순두부 찌개)

Tofu soup is a simple and comforting dish made with tofu, vegetables, and a flavorful broth. It's a great option for a weeknight dinner and can be made with affordable ingredients.

Tofu soup (순두부 찌개)

2-4. Pa-jeon (파전)

Pajeon is a Korean-style savory pancake made with a batter of flour, eggs, and scallions. It's a popular street food in Korea and can be made at home using affordable ingredients.

Pa-jeon (파전)

2-5. Jap-chae (잡채)

A stir-fried noodle dish made from sweet potato starch noodles, beef, and vegetables.

Jap-chae  (잡채)

2-6. Kim-bap (김밥)

Kimbap Cheonguk is a Korean fast-food chain that specializes in kimbap, which is a Korean-style sushi roll. They offer a variety of kimbap options at affordable prices.

Kim-bap (김밥)

2-7. Tteok-bok-ki (떡볶이)

A popular street food dish made from chewy rice cakes that have been cooked in a spicy sauce made from gochujang (Korean chili paste).

Tteok-bok-ki (떡볶이)

2-8. Naeng-myeon (냉면)

Naengmyeon, also known as cold noodles, is a popular Korean dish that is typically enjoyed during the summer months. It consists of long, thin noodles made from various ingredients such as buckwheat, sweet potato starch, or arrowroot starch. Naengmyeon is typically served in a chilled broth and topped with various ingredients.

Naengmyeon is commonly enjoyed in Korea, and there are also variations of the dish specific to different regions. It has gained popularity internationally and can be found in Korean restaurants around the world.

Naeng-myeon (냉면)

3. Budget-friendly Korean restaurants

Budget-friendly Korean restaurants

Finding specific Korean restaurants can vary depending on your location. However, I can provide you with a list of popular and affordable Korean restaurant chains that are known for offering authentic Korean cuisine. Please note that availability may vary depending on your area.

List of affordable Korean restaurants that offer authentic Korean cuisine, including:


3-1. Bi-bim-bap restaurants

Bibimbap restaurants specialize in serving the popular Korean dish called bibimbap, which is a bowl of rice topped with various vegetables, meat, and a fried or poached egg, often accompanied by spicy gochujang sauce. These restaurants typically offer a variety of bibimbap options, allowing you to customize your bowl with different ingredients and flavors.


3-2. Korean BBQ restaurants

Korean BBQ restaurants are known for their tabletop grills, where customers can cook their own meat and enjoy a communal dining experience. These restaurants offer a selection of marinated and non-marinated meats, such as bulgogi (marinated beef), samgyeopsal (pork belly), and galbi (beef short ribs). Alongside the grilled meat, you'll find a range of side dishes, including kimchi, pickled vegetables, and rice.


3-3. Street food stalls

Street food stalls are a vibrant part of Korean food culture, offering a wide array of quick and tasty snacks and small dishes. You can find street food stalls in bustling markets, busy streets, and near tourist attractions. Some popular street food items include tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), hotteok (sweet filled pancakes), gimbap (Korean sushi rolls), odeng (fish cake skewers), and more. These stalls are perfect for grabbing a quick bite while exploring the city.


3-4. Food courts

Food courts in Korea are typically located in shopping malls or large department stores, offering a variety of dining options in one centralized area. You can find a range of Korean and international cuisines, including Korean dishes like bibimbap, Korean soups, fried chicken, kimchi stew, and more. Food courts provide a convenient and diverse dining experience, allowing you to choose from different vendors and enjoy a variety of foods in one place.


3-5. Kyo-chon Chicken (교촌치킨)

Known for its delicious Korean-style fried chicken, Kyo-Chon Chicken has locations in various countries and offers a range of Korean dishes beyond chicken, such as bibimbap, bulgogi, and kimchi.

Kyo-chon Chicken (교촌치킨)

3-6. Bi-bi-go (비비고)

Bibigo is a Korean restaurant chain with locations in the United States and other countries. They offer a variety of traditional Korean dishes like bibimbap, bulgogi, dumplings, and Korean BBQ.


3-7. Kogi BBQ

Operating in Los Angeles, California, Kogi BBQ is a popular food truck that specializes in Korean-Mexican fusion cuisine. They offer affordable and tasty dishes like Korean BBQ tacos, burritos, and sliders.


3-8. Jjukku Jjukku BBQ

Jjukku Jjukku BBQ is a Korean BBQ restaurant chain with locations in South Korea. They are known for their affordable all-you-can-eat BBQ options, where you can grill your own meat at the table.


3-9. Yoo-gane (유가네)

Yoo-ga-ne is a well-known Korean restaurant chain that specializes in Dakgalbi, a spicy stir-fried chicken dish. They have branches in South Korea and other countries, serving delicious and affordable Korean comfort food.

Yoo-gane (유가네)

3-10. Kim-bap Cheon-guk (김밥천국)

Kimbap Cheonguk is a popular Korean fast-food chain that offers a variety of affordable Korean dishes. They are known for their kimbap (rice rolls), bibimbap, and other simple yet tasty Korean fare.

Kim-bap Cheon-guk (김밥천국)

3-11. Mom's Touch (맘스터치)

Mom's Touch is a Korean fast-food chain that serves affordable and delicious Korean-style burgers and fried chicken. They have locations in South Korea and other countries.

Mom's Touch (맘스터치)

4. Tips for dining on a budget

Tips for dining on a budget

Tips for saving money while dining at Korean restaurants, such as:


4-1. Ordering banchan (side dishes) to share

Ban-chan, 반찬 in Korean, is a collective word for Korean side dishes usually served with rice. These smaller bites come in all sorts of variations, but today we want to look at the vegetarian options made out of vegetables.

Most of banchan are fermented foods, meaning that fresh produce has been pickled for a certain amount of time to increase the storage life of the ingredients. This tradition originated in the need to safeguard crops over the cold winter month where no fresh food could be grown. Koreas agriculture mainly focused on agriculture, not livestock, meaning the most available products were grains and vegetables. Being surrounded and isolated from mountains on all sides, it became necessary to store food for long periods in the Korean countryside. Spices like gochujang were and are still used to enhance the flavor of produce. Kimchi is an excellent example of the enrichment caused by fermentation and seasoning. Other banchan are seasoned with fermented soy products, herbs, and perilla oils.

Some popular banchan dishes to consider ordering include:

  • Kimchi stew (김치찌개) - a spicy, savory stew made with kimchi, tofu, and pork or seafood.

  • Stir-fried vegetables (야채볶음) - a variety of vegetables stir-fried with garlic, ginger, and chili flakes.

  • Kimchi side dish (김치) - a traditional Korean side dish made with fermented cabbage, chili peppers, and garlic.

  • Sweet and sour kimchi (초코김치) - a variation of kimchi that's sweeter and sourer than traditional kimchi.

  • Tofu side dish (두부) - a simple side dish made with boiled tofu, soy sauce, and garlic.

  • Fried tofu (두부 튀김) - crispy fried tofu that's often served with a dipping sauce.

  • Seaweed side dish (김의 맛) - a simple side dish made with dried seaweed, soy sauce, and sesame oil.


4-2. Choosing smaller or set menus

When dining in Korea, you may encounter both smaller menus and set menus. Here are some considerations to help you decide which option to choose:

If you want to sample a broader range of dishes and flavors, a set menu is usually the better choice. Set menus often offer a selection of dishes that complement each other, providing a more comprehensive dining experience. This is particularly beneficial if you're interested in exploring different Korean culinary specialties.

Smaller menus are ideal if you have a smaller appetite or prefer lighter meals. They typically consist of a single main dish or a limited number of smaller portions. Choosing a smaller menu allows you to enjoy a satisfying meal without feeling overwhelmed by large portions.

Consider your budget when making a decision. Smaller menus are generally more affordable since they contain fewer items. Set menus, on the other hand, may be priced higher due to the variety and number of dishes included. If you're looking for a cost-effective option, a smaller menu might be the way to go.

Take into account any dietary restrictions or preferences you have. Whether you're vegetarian, vegan, or have specific dietary needs, check if the restaurant offers suitable options in both smaller and set menus. Set menus may provide more flexibility in accommodating various dietary requirements, but it's always a good idea to inquire in advance.


4-3. Avoiding expensive drinks and sticking to water or tea

Bring a refillable water bottle with you wherever you go. Tap water in Korea is safe to drink, and you can easily refill your bottle at public water fountains or restrooms.

When dining out, ask for water or tea instead of ordering expensive drinks like coffee or soda. Water is usually free or very cheap, and tea is a popular beverage in Korea that is also affordable.

Coffee shops in Korea can be quite expensive, so try to limit your visits or opt for a simpler drink like americano or drip coffee instead of fancy lattes or cappuccinos.

If you're staying in a hotel or Airbnb, consider making your ow