Korean BBQ and Korean food are now recognized around the world for their delicious taste. Koreans love to eat/drink and most are very adventurous when it comes to food. However, some of the types of food locals really enjoy might be seen as very bizarre in the west. If you go to an open street market in Korea, you are sure to notice some of the most bizarre foods in Korea. But because they might be bizarre does not mean they are not delicious. Don’t get me wrong, some are flat-out nasty but all are worth at least a taste. The list is not in any particular order but for those that feel adventurous make this a checklist when visiting Korea.
Live Octopus – Sannakji
Sannakji is a “live octopus”. The octopus is relatively small and is sometimes called “baby octopus”. It raw octopus is cut into small pieces and these small pieces of the octopus move because the nerves are still active. It is typically dipped in sesame oil or gochujang (Korean chili paste). The suction cups on the arms of the octopus are still active, therefore you must chew the octopus properly before swallowing. The best place to have Sannakji in Korea is at Noryangjin Fish Market. However, you can find Sannakji in any open seafood market in Korea. The taste is minimal and the vast majority of the flavor comes from the sauce or oil you dip it in. The bizarre factor is that you are eating something that is moving which is a very interesting eating experience. Good luck trying to pick it up off the plate!
Raw Fermented Skate – Hongeo
By far the nastiest Korean food I have ever eaten in Korea. Everything on this list is something I can eat again but eating Hongeo is something I would want to do just once in my life. It is made from skate which has been fermented. It has a very strong ammonia-like odor and taste. Think eating an outdoor toilet stall. Ammonia is what preserves the fish which is why you don’t need to use salt. It is served sashimi style and usually eaten by itself. Others like to wrap it in lettuce and kimchi. What you will notice right away is the ammonia which hits your nose like a ton of bricks. Again worth a taste but not something most people will find delicious. However, the few that like it, tend to REALLY like it.
Chicken Feet – Dakbal
One of the spiciest Korean foods you will try is Dakbal. Dakbal is chicken feet that have been grilled. It consists of skin, tendons, and has no muscle. Dakbal has a very gelatinous texture and is covered in a very spicy chili sauce. It is a popular dish to have with Korean soju and the taste is pretty much like spicy chicken. The main issue is the way it looks. It looks exactly like what you would think chicken feet would look like. Those that are tired of eating Korean fried chicken should try Dakbal every once in a while if they can handle the heat.
Silkworm Larvae – Beondegi
Beondegi is sold by Korean street food vendors all across Korea. It is so popular amongst Koreans that they even sell canned Beondegi in convenience stores and markets in Korea. Beondegi it boiled or steamed silkworm pupae. They are about the size of a raisin and you don’t just buy one. You buy a whole cup full of Beondegi which you eat with a toothpick. It has a very gritty/nutty taste and is packed full of protein. It is recommended to have Beondegi from the street vendor as they are a lot fresher and have that crunchy texture.
Blood Sausage – Sundae
One of the most popular Korean street foods has to be Sundae. Wherever Tteokbokki is being sold, you can bet they are also selling Sundae. It is a type of blood sausage generally made from the intestines of cows or pigs. These intestines are stuffed with various ingredients such as minced meat, rice, and vegetables. However, the most popular Sundae in Korea is made by mixing pork blood with cellophane noodles and rice. The texture is dense and chewy and is best with salt or some kind of chili powder. It is one of the tastier bizarre foods in Korea. We recommend you try it with Tteokbokki sauce.
Dog Meat Soup – Bosintang
Bosintang restaurants will not be easy to find in Korea. It is a soup made with dog meat and vegetables. Many Koreans believe that it will increase a man’s virility. While it was popular in Korea decades ago, it is no longer a common dish Koreans eat. In fact, if you ask 10 random Koreans on the street, you will be lucky to find 1-2 that have tried Bosintang. That number is lower the younger the person. Eating dog meat is not illegal in Korea however many of the restaurants that sell Bosintang have closed. You will need to go outside of Seoul to find one.
Pig’s Feet – Jokbal
We already know Koreans like chicken feet but they also like to eat Pig’s feet. It is the second feet to come up on our list of the most bizarre foods in Korea. Pig’s Feet is called Jokbal and is made by cooking pig’s feet in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and rice wine. Once it is cooked it is deboned and cut into slices. It is best to eat Jokbal with fermented shrimp sauce called saeujeot. Jokbal is similar to Bossam but more rubbery and greasy. It can be eaten hot or cold. The best place to eat Jokbal is at open street markets in Korea.
Live Spoon Worms – Gaebul
Yes, it looks like a penis but it is not. However, Koreans feel that Gaebul helps a man’s performance in bed. Gaebul is a type of spoon worm that lives under the sand on the seafloor. It is sometimes called Penis fish and is harvested along the west coasts of Korea. Gaebul has a very chewy texture and similar to live octopus, has little taste to it. If you have to compare its taste to anything, it has the taste of a clam but just fishier. It can be eaten raw with sesame oil or gochujang similar to Sannakji but it is mostly grilled.
Raw Crab – Gejang
The most delicious bizarre Korean food has to be Gejang. Gejang is made by marinating fresh raw crabs (blue crabs) in soy sauce or chili pepper sauce. It tastes great but can be difficult to eat because it requires you to scrape out the raw crab meat or bite into the shell. Female crabs are considered the best because they contain a lot of roe and fatty liver. It is best to have it with rice eaten straight out of the shell. It is very savory and the soy sauce-based brine brings that extra level of flavor.
Acorn Jelly – Dotorimuk
No, this is not brown tofu. It is a jelly that is made from acorn starch. It is one of the bizarre foods in Korea you would not think is bizarre but no one really knows what it is when they see it. Acorns from oak trees are opened and the nutmeat is grounded into a type of paste. The pate is then stirred into water and the acorn’s fiber is separated from the starch. The starch water mixture is collected and drained. The dried starch is then broken down and packaged. This can be mixed with water and boiled to make the puddling-like Dotorimuk. It is a very common side dish in Korea. It is usually seasoned with a soy sauce/chili powder mix.