I will always love Busan. It was my second trip to city — and while I remember having a blast and eating all the delicious food when I visited the first time, I knew I had to do it all over again. I was in the city for a little more than a week for Korean lessons with the language centre, Lexis Busan (read about it here) — so in between classes, chilling with friends, visiting some of the sights I hadn’t seen the first time round… I spent the rest of the time eating all that Busan food.
I love Korean food. With a capital L.O.V.E. Even spicy chicken feet, cold pork belly and raw weird-looking sea creatures have taken my fancy. However, in this list of the top 10 things to eat in Busan… I have included the milder and less-bizarre food that you definitely must try on your visit to Busan. It includes some of Busan’s specialties, and some of my favorite Korean dishes. And maybe, a few that requires a more… acquired taste. But make sure you try them all on your next visit!
1. Seafood in Jagalchi Market (자갈치 시장)
Jagalchi Market is not only a place you should go to eat seafood (해물), it is also the one place to visit to get a little taste of what Busan is all about — after all, it is the largest seafood market in Korea. Located on the edge of the Nampo Port; fishermen come to the market with their freshest catch, and middle-aged ahjummas (ladies) stand by their stalls, calling out to you to buy their seafood. The variety here is endless — from crabs, to fish, to shellfish, to squid… and a whole array of weird looking creatures I have never seen before.
The restaurants are located above the market. So just choose a stall to buy from, select your fish, and they will serve it to you at one of the restaurants. On my first visit to the market, I had raw salmon, clams, scallops and crabs — and on this visit I knew I had to have a snow crab again. So that was what I ordered, along with sanakji (raw baby octopus)! It was a delicious, and somewhat adventures meal (because of the moving octopus). I guess the seafood can’t get any fresher that that!!
2. Grilled Eel at Eel Street, Haeundae Market
It can be quite appalling watching all the eels in the aquarium squirming and swimming around each other. That was how I felt when I walked through Eel Street at Haeundae Market the first time I was there. I didn’t stop by the restaurants to have a taste of their specialty, grilled eel (장어구이) — because if I remember correctly, my parents were not really up for it, and the sight of live eels being skinned left me quite horrified.
This time though, I decided that I must give it a try. There must be a reason why the queues at some of the restaurants along this street are really quite long — but I choose a smaller, less packed restaurant to get my taste of the eel. A small serving costs about KR₩30,000~ US$30 (a little expensive, I think); but I found it really, really delicious, and I must admit that I would definitely head back for another meal the next time I return to Busan.
3. Dwaeji Gukbap at Gukbap Alley, Seomyeon
I had the dwaeji gukbap (돼지국밥) at Haeundae Market the first time I was in Busan — and I knew I had to get another taste of one of my favorite dishes of the city. The language centre where I was studying Korean is located in the commercial hub of Seomyeon; and I was told that there is a street dedicated to this dish. So where else better to get my meal than at the Seomyeon Gukbap Alley?
It is believed that this street has been around since the Korean War (and looks exactly the same). One of its most popular restaurants is the Songjeong Sam Dae Gukbap (송정3대국밥), with the words ‘3rd generation’ in its name. And boy is the dwaeji gukbap here legendary. With chives and salted baby shrimps added to my bowl filled with pork meat, rice and delicious soup — I was a very, very happy and satisfied girl.
4. Fish Cakes at Goresa Fish Cake (고래사 어묵)
Fish cakes (어묵) are one of Busan‘s most popular snacks, or street food — the city is, after all, located by the sea and known for their fresh seafood. There are many fish cake makers in the city, from dedicated restaurants to street side stalls. During my trip to Busan, I visited the Goresa Fish Cake Shop along Haeundae Beach. The local chain has several other branches throughout the city.
Just like most fish cakes shops, Goresa leaves you spoiled for choice. I had a whole variety of fish cakes to choose from — cheese, sweet potato, shrimp, and octopus fish cakes, as well as so many more displayed for me to put on my tray. I never thought that I’d be full from a meal of just fish cakes, but I was. My friend on the other hand, ordered a bowl of noodles, which was considered a side dish. So yes, those fish cakes come first!
5. Korean BBQ at Matchandeul Wang Sogeum-Gui
This was definitely the best meal I had in Busan on my visit this time. I love Korean BBQ (고기구이), and never fail to go for at least a couple of meals during my trips to South Korea (and more when I come home to Malaysia). During my jaunt around Nampo-dong, we came across this Korean BBQ Restaurant, Matchandeul Wang Sogeum-Gui, that had a line outside the restaurant. The wait didn’t seem that long, so we stood in line and were seated just a few minutes later.
We soon found out that the restaurant is a popular local chain, and only serves pork meat for their BBQ. It didn’t matter to us — I was in fact, craving for some samgyeopsal (pork belly), which was their signature cut and only one of two options. The restaurant requires a minimum order of 3 servings, so we ordered 2 samgyeopsal and 1 pork neck. The meat was extremely tender and flavorful, and I never had a better cut of meat than at Matchandeul. The samgyeopsal cut was more than 3cm thick, and the staff helped us grill all that delicious meat. It was just enough for the 2 of us, but I really wouldn’t have minded more!
6. Milmyeon/Naengmyeon – Cold Noodles (밀면/냉먄)
I was in Busan during the height of summer, so the weather was humid and scorching. In South Korea, one of the best ways to beat the heat is a meal of cold milmyeon (밀면) or naengmyeon (냉먄). Milmyeon is a local specialty that originates from Busan, with noodles made from flour. Naengmyeon on the other hand, is made of buckwheat. Both can be cooked with a chilled broth (mul milmyeon), or with spicy bibim sauce.
During summer, you can spot lots of locals having a cold meal of naengmyeon or milmyeon, and restaurants can be found everywhere. I had a bowl of naengmyeon after language classes in the Seomyeon area. My dish was accompanied with some delicious grilled beef and meat dumplings.
7. Samgyetang – Ginseng Chicken Soup (삼계탕)
Another South Korean dish that can help cool off the body during hot summer days is samgyetang (삼계탕), or Korean ginseng chicken soup. This dish is believed to promote health because one of its main ingredients is ginseng, a herbal plant used in traditional Chinese medicine. The taste of ginseng is an acquired taste (you either like it or hate it) — and because I am a fan of all things cooked with ginseng, the samgyetang is also one of my favorite Korean dishes!
Samgyetang is a hot broth boiled with a whole young chicken stuffed with sweet rice and ginseng. The dish is usually served with a small complimentary bottle of ginseng wine (insam-ju) at most restaurants in South Korea. During my first visit to Busan, I had it at Nampo Samgyetang in the Nampo-dong district. On my trip this time, I visited the Haeundae Somunnan Samgyetang near Haeundae Beach. I just can’t be in the country and not have samgyetang… especially during summer!
8. Chimaek – Fried Chicken and Beer (치맥)
Chimaek (치맥) is not only a popular dish, it has also become a popular past time. After classes on some days, a great way for us to chill out and relax is to head for some chimaek — which is made up of the words ‘chikin (치킨)’ for fried chicken, and ‘maekju (맥주)’ for beer. So when in Busan, head out for a good time, and some chimaek!
During my recent visit to the city, I spent most of my time in the bustling area of Seomyeom and visited several chimaek restaurants in the district. A couple of my favorites are the popular Kyochon branch that allowed me to choose my fried chicken meal with ALL drumsticks; and Choongman Chicken (an international chain available in the US). There are of course tons of other local chimaek joints all over the city — just pick and choose and enjoy what probably everyone in the world would agree to love… fried chicken and beer.
9. Street Food at Changseon-dong Meokja Golmok
There’s nothing that screams local than having a go at the local street food. You can’t say you’ve been to Busan if you haven’t eaten (or at least bought a snack) from a local street food stall! For one of the biggest and most popular street food areas, head to Nampo-dong and search for the Changseon-dong Meokja Golmok (Eatery Alley). It’s a whole street of food stalls selling everything from spicy bibimdangmyeon (mixed noodles), tteokbokki (Korean rice cake), pajeon (onion pancake), kimbap (rice rolls), and so much more!
There are areas where you can take a seat on the small stools in front of the stalls — so just pick one and sit down, point to the dish you want, watch the ladies prepare your food, and eat it right there. And while you’re feasting on street food, don’t forget to get your hands on the ssiat hotteok (씨앗호떡). It is Busan’s very own version of the hotteok, a Korean style sweet pancake with brown sugar filling. The Busan-style fills the pancake with a whole bunch of seeds — and it makes a pretty yummy dessert.
10. Cafe Culture: Coffee and Bingsu (커피와 빙수)
The cafe culture has penetrated South Korea too and is pretty big in most of the larger cities in the country. Busan is no exception. You can find a charming (and instagrammable) cafe on every corner of the city, together with many of the international chains like Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Holly’s and Pascucci, just to name a few. I need my coffee every morning and evening — so in the morning before classes I would grab a cuppa from one of the many ‘take-away’ window shops, and then chill out at a cafe come evening to study, or write. Most of the local cafes are either themed, serve the cutest coffee, or offer fantastic views — so you’ll be spoiled for choice.
And while in Busan, don’t forget to try the bingsu (빙수). It is my favorite Korean dessert of shaved ice served with either fruits or the traditional red bean — I absolutely love the mango yogurt one (because mango is my favorite fruit)! Sulbing (설빙) is a South Korean dessert cafe chain that I frequent quite a bit, because they have a branch in the Seomyeon district.