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.
1-1. 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
2-5. Jap-chae (잡채)
A stir-fried noodle dish made from sweet potato starch noodles, beef, and vegetables.
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.
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).
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.
3. 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.
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.
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.
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.
4. 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 own coffee or tea instead of buying it at a cafe. Many convenience stores in Korea sell instant coffee and tea packets, and you can easily prepare them in your room.
Some restaurants and cafes in Korea offer free refills on water or tea, so be sure to ask your server if they have such a policy.
Instead of ordering expensive Western-style drinks, try traditional Korean drinks like makgeolli (rice wine), jeju (traditional tea), or sujeonggwa (cinnamon tea). These drinks are often cheaper and offer a unique cultural experience.
Drinking at bars or clubs in Korea can be expensive, especially if you're ordering cocktails or imported beer. Instead, consider visiting a traditional Korean pub or restaurant where prices are usually more affordable.
Some bars and restaurants in Korea offer happy hour deals that can help you save money on drinks. Look for places that offer discounted drinks during off-peak hours or on weekdays.
If you're dining with friends or family, consider sharing a pitcher of water or tea instead of ordering individual drinks. This can help you save money and also reduce waste.
Some Korean dishes, such as bibimbap or kimbap, come with a complimentary drink. Look for these options when ordering, as they can help you save money and also provide a more complete meal.
By following these tips, you can save money on drinks during your trip to Korea and still enjoy the local culture and cuisine.
5. Grocery shopping for Korean ingredients
Guide to grocery shopping for Korean ingredients on a budget, including:
5-1. List of essential Korean ingredients for student cooking
Gochujang (Korean chili paste)
Kimchi (spicy fermented vegetables)
5-2. Affordable substitutes for expensive ingredients
When cooking on a budget or looking for affordable substitutes for expensive ingredients, there are several options you can consider. Here are some ideas:
5-2-1. Protein Substitutes:
Chicken: Chicken is generally more affordable than other meats. Opt for bone-in cuts like chicken thighs or drumsticks as they tend to be cheaper than boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
Eggs: Eggs are an excellent and cost-effective source of protein. They can be used in various dishes, such as omelettes, frittatas, or scrambled eggs.
Legumes: Lentils, beans, and chickpeas are affordable sources of protein that can be used as substitutes for meat in many recipes. They are versatile and can be incorporated into stews, soups, salads, or even made into veggie burgers.
5-2-2. Vegetable Substitutes:
Seasonal Local Produce: Opt for seasonal vegetables as they are usually more affordable and fresh. Local farmers' markets or grocery store specials can be great places to find affordable options.
Frozen Vegetables: Frozen vegetables are often more budget-friendly than fresh ones and retain their nutritional value. They can be used in stir-fries, soups, or stews.
Cabbage: Cabbage is a versatile and inexpensive vegetable that can be used in salads, slaws, stir-fries, or even stuffed cabbage rolls.
5-2-3. Flavor Enhancers
Herbs and Spices: Herbs and spices can add depth and flavor to dishes without breaking the bank. Consider using dried herbs and spices like cumin, paprika, turmeric, or oregano to enhance your meals.
Pantr Instead of buying pre-packaged stocks, make your own by saving vegetable scraps or using bones from previous meals. This can help reduce costs while adding flavor to soups, stews, and sauces.
Lemon or lime juice can provide a bright and tangy flavor to dishes, often serving as a cost-effective substitute for pricier ingredients like vinegars or specialty citrus fruits.
5-2-4. Pantry Staples
Rice and Pasta: Rice and pasta are affordable and versatile staples that can be used as a base for many meals. They can be combined with various ingredients to create filling and budget-friendly dishes.
Canned Goods: Canned vegetables, beans, and tomatoes are often cheaper than fresh ones and can be used in a wide range of recipes, such as stews, casseroles, or pasta dishes.
6. Cooking Korean dishes on a budget
Cooking Korean dishes on a budget is entirely possible with some smart choices and ingredient substitutions.
6-1.Guide to cooking Korean dishes on a budget
Simple recipes using affordable ingredients, such as:
Kim-chi fried rice
Jap-chae with vegetables
Tteok-bokki with vegetables
Naeng-guk (cold rice soup)
6-2. Tips for meal prep and batch cooking
Meal prep and batch cooking can be a time-saving and efficient way to ensure you have delicious and convenient meals throughout the week. Here are some tips for meal prep and batch cooking in Korea.
Start by planning your meals for the week. Consider the Korean dishes you want to prepare and make a list of the ingredients you'll need. This will help you stay organized and ensure you have everything necessary for your meal prep.
Buying ingredients in bulk can be more cost-effective and time-saving. Look for wholesale markets or large supermarkets where you can purchase grains, meats, vegetables, and other staples in larger quantities. You can portion and store them for future meals.
When preparing Korean dishes, consider cooking larger portions. Soups, stews, and braised dishes like jjigae or galbi-jjim can be easily made in larger quantities and stored for later use. Cook a big pot of rice and refrigerate or freeze the excess for quick meals.
Once your meals are cooked, portion them into individual servings. Label each container with the name of the dish and the date it was prepared. This will help you keep track of what you have and ensure you use them before they expire.
Take advantage of your freezer to store prepped meals for longer periods. Most Korean dishes can be frozen, including soups, stews, and marinated meats. Portion them into freezer-safe containers or freezer bags and label them. When you're ready to eat, simply thaw and reheat.
Opt for versatile ingredients that can be used in multiple dishes. For example, roast a large batch of vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, or zucchini, which can be used as a side dish, added to salads, or incorporated into other recipes throughout the week.
By implementing these tips, you'll be able to streamline your meal preparation process and enjoy delicious Korean meals throughout the week with minimal effort.