Korea is home to hundreds of dishes with different fantastic flavors and tastes. There are savory dishes like bulgogi and samgyeopsal, there are sweet ones like hotteok and songpyeon, and of course, there are the spicy ones like kimchiand nakji-bokkeum.
Also, like most cuisines around the world, Korea has dozens of bizarre foods that not all people eat in the country because they are just too unconventional and different tasting. Here are a few notable weird foods that have originated from Korea.
Hongeo is a dish that is made from fermented raw skates, which are cartilaginous fish that is a close relative of the stingray. These skates are fermented for at least 15 days and are known to produce a pungent odor while fermenting.
Its overpowering smell comes from its skin, which excretes uric acid. Most animals excrete uric acid by urinating; however, since skates don’t have ways to pee, they use their skin to remove the uric acid in their bodies.
Long before the invention of refrigeration, fermented skates have been abundant in Korea since the Goryeo dynasty. As such, skates were the only kind of fish that Koreans can transport outside their country since the fermentation process allows it to not rot for a long time.
Hongeo is served in small slices and is sometimes accompanied by side dishes that include kimchi and slices of cooked pork. The ammonia coming from the dish is said to have such a powerful effect on your taste buds that you may feel like it is burning your tongue. To lessen the burning sensation, people often eat it together with the side dishes to overpower its flavor.
Sundae is a blood sausage that consists of steamed pig or cow blood and intestines as well as other ingredients like vegetables and rice.
Originally served during occasions in Korea, sundae has become a popular food in the country due to the limited supply of meat during the Korean War. Today, it has become a street food that is sold in many markets and food stalls around North and South Korea.
There are many varieties of sundae available in South Korea, and some of the well-known ones are the sundae filled glass noodles or dangmyeon, and the ojingeo-sundae, a variant where the filling is stuffed inside a squid instead of cow or pig intestines.
Gejang is made using raw crabs that are marinated in ganjang (Korean soy sauce) or in a mixture that uses gochugaru (red chili pepper flakes).
Before marinating, the crabs are first put inside a hangari, a kind of earthenware pot, and are fermented inside for six hours using salt. After the being salted, the crabs are then placed in a bowl, and the special marinating sauce is poured on top of the crabs.
The crabs often used in gejang are much younger and smaller than the regular ones because the shell of the smaller crabs is softer compared to the older crabs. Because the shell can also be eaten in the dish, it gives it a crunchy texture.
Due to gejang’s popularity, there is an alley in Sinsa-dong, Seoul called the GanjangGejang Alley, where many restaurants serving gejang are located. This alley has become a tourist spot for those who want to try this raw crab dish.
Beondegi, translated as “pupa” in English, is a street food that is prepared by steaming or boiling silkworm pupae. They are typically sold in food stalls in small cups and can be eaten by skewering a piece of silkworm with a toothpick.
The beondegi is described to be crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. They also tend to have a savory and nutty flavor. After it became widely available in food stalls, the canned variety of the beondegi has now been a well-received snack in PC bangs, a term used by Korean for gaming centers or internet cafes.
For those who want to eat food that will continuously move in their mouths like Pop Rocks, then the sannakji is the perfect dish for them.
Sannakji is made from chopped raw octopus tentacles that are often seasoned with sesame seeds and sesame oil. The dish doesn’t have a strong flavor, so people usually dip it in ganjang, gochujang, or other dipping sauces.
Because the tentacles are still squirming after being served in a plate due to the octopus’ nerves still active, their suckers would most of the time still function. These suckers tend to stick in people’s mouths, and they would often chew it a lot of times before swallowing to prevent the suckers from sticking to their esophagus.
There have been numerous cases of people suffocating and subsequently dying because the tentacles stuck in their throat, so it is best that you follow the rules of eating sannakji if ever you will try it.
Gaebul is similar to sannakji as its meat is also eaten raw, but the one unusual thing about this dish is that it uses a fascinating marine worm as its main ingredient. This marine worm is also called gaebul and is sometimes called the “penis fish” because of the animal’s phallic shape.
To prepare the dish, the raw gaebul is chopped into small pieces and is seasoned with sesame oil. Since its taste is also bland like the sannakji, dipping sauces are also used to improve its flavor.
Yukhoe is a Korean dish that is often compared to steak tartare because it also consists of raw meat that is seasoned with various ingredients.
The common ingredients used for yukhoe are non-marinated raw beef, sesame oil, sugar, salt, garlic, pepper, and sesame seeds. This dish is generally served with an egg yolk in a separate plate.
There are different varieties of yukhoe that are differentiated by the parts of beef used in the dish. There is the dugol-hoe made from cow brain, there’s the ganhoe made from liver, and there is also the kongpat-hoe that uses kidneys as an ingredient.
If you are a dauntless food lover, then you must try at least some of these exotic Korean foods. If you are planning to go to South Korea, be sure to eat these exotic foods at restaurants or food stalls that have been inspected by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) to be sure that what you are ordering there is safe to eat.