Korean cuisine is centered around three main food groups – vegetables, rice, and protein – and Korean breakfasts are no different. This can come as something of a culture shock to those used to enjoying a Western-style breakfast. In this post, we’ll explore what to expect from a Korean breakfast and what are the must-try dishes in Korea.
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What Do Koreans Eat For Breakfast?
At first glance, Korean breakfast foods aren’t all that different from dishes being served throughout the day. Breakfast menus remain relatively regional, with different provinces known for different dishes. However, there are some overarching themes that unite them.
Alongside boiled rice, a typical Korean breakfast might include soups, fish or meat stews, and side dishes called banchan. Banchan are small plates of fermented vegetables including the most famous Korean dish, kimchi. These are some of the same dishes you might find on a lunch or dinner menu.
Being one of the most advanced countries in the World, South Korea’s eating habits have changed. The influence of Western-style breakfasts such as cereals, eggs, and breakfast meats has increased. Throughout the country, a cafe culture has sprung up with many Koreans opting for a coffee and pastry for breakfast.
For many travelers to Korea, enjoying a traditional Korean breakfast is what they are after. Thankfully, throughout Korea finding a traditional Korean breakfast doesn’t take much effort. Hotels, guesthouses, and other accommodations offer their guests a Korean-style breakfast. Additionally, many Korean breakfast foods are easily found in restaurants and food markets.
Our Favorite Korean Breakfast Dishes
We’ve been fortunate to have visited South Korea on several occasions. It’s one of our favorite countries in the World for food, including breakfast. For a sense of the main dishes, you can expect at a Korean breakfast, all you have to do is keep reading! Be warned though, this list is going to make you VERY hungry!
Egg Toast Sandwich
Coming closest to the Western idea of breakfast is the Korean egg toast sandwich. These tasty breakfast sandwiches are found on street food stalls throughout the country. If you go searching for them, look for the words tost-u (meaning toast) or gaeran tost-u (meaning egg toast).
You can think of the egg toast sandwich as an omelet smooshed into a sandwich. It features authentic Korean flavors and spices combined with shredded cabbage, onion and carrot. They are added to the egg as it cooks in the pan. Another South Korean twist is the addition of a small amount of brown sugar right at the end when the sandwich is being put together.
A similar dish to the egg toast sandwich is the Korean egg roll or gaeranmari. A gaeranmari is essentially a shredded vegetable omelet rolled up without the bread, making it a handy breakfast when on the go.
Rice Porridge (Juk)
Do any pre-trip research and you’re likely to come across varying opinions on juk rice porridge. That said, there’s no doubting it’s important to any Korean breakfast menu. Juk comes in both savory and sweet variations.
As you might have guessed, the primary ingredient of juk is rice. To make juk, rice is either steamed or boiled until soft. The rice is cooked either in water or with the case dakjuk, in chicken stock. The chicken stock is usually from leftover chicken soup, giving the juk a richer flavor. When the rice is cooked, pieces of pulled chicken are added in.
Other savory versions include pumpkin (hobakjuk) and abalone (jeonbokjuk). The most frequent sweet types of juk you’ll find include patjuk made from red bean paste, and jatjuk flavored with pine nuts.
Considered a Korean comfort food, juk is particularly sought out on chilly Korean winter mornings.
Haejang-guk (Hangover Soup)
There are no prizes for guessing how hangover soup got its name! Sometimes called sulguk, this soup is thought to have exactly the right ingredients to banish even the worst hangovers. Rich in flavor, its bass notes come from a broth traditionally made from ox bones.
To this broth are added bite-sized chunks of any meat (not just beef) and vegetables such as dried Napa (or Chinese) cabbage. Highly regionalized, in Seoul, haejang-guk tends to include soybean paste and coagulated oxblood. In Jeonju in the country’s south, it’s bean sprouts that take the starring role.
Other versions of haejang-guk include sundaeguk, which has slices of Korean blood sausage in it.
Korean Steamed Eggs (Gaeran Jim)
When it comes to texture, gaeran jim lies somewhere between a pancake and a souffle, making it an ideal breakfast in South Korea.
At its most basic, gaeran jim consists of eggs served in an earthenware bowl known as a ttukbaegi. Inside the bowl, the eggs are steamed in boiling water. Immediately before serving, the eggs are then topped with raw sliced scallions.
To make Korean steamed eggs richer in flavor, many Koreans season the eggs before steaming. This is done by cutting them with a small quantity of fish broth or fish sauce. The result is a hit of umami on the tongue that’s incredibly satisfying.
Kimchi And Banchan
No round-up of Korean breakfast dishes is complete without also mentioning kimchi and banchan. Not limited to breakfast, these dishes are equally at home at Korean lunch and dinner tables. Considered the national dish of Korea, kimchi is the single dish that defines Korea and Korean cuisine.
Kimchi is made from fermented vegetables such as cabbage or Korean radishes. A spicy and pungent Korean side dish, kimchi’s nearest western equivalent is sauerkraut, without the spice. Alongside other fermented vegetable dishes, kimchi is one of the many dishes that make up banchan. Found at nearly every meal, kimchi has been proven to provide many health benefits including ensuring a healthy gut.