The Ultimate Busan Food Guide For Your Gastronomic Pleasure
Busan has increasingly become a popular vacation destination for international travelers. For food aficionados, the city’s fantastic food scene is one great reason to hop on a train to Busan. If you are wondering what to eat in Busan, this article has your answers, according to Koreans (i.e., me and my brother, a long-time resident of Busan).
As for the largest port city in Korea, it is not surprising to see abundant fresh seafood all over Busan. However, to me, what makes a gastronomic trip to the city worthwhile is the new interpretation of Korean cuisine with a local twist.
If you are interested in eating like locals, read this Ultimate Busan Food Guide. I have compiled 10 things to eat in Busan you should not miss – including an extraordinary dish only local foodies know (see #10). This guide also includes the best local restaurants or areas to forage.
By the way, in this post, I would not introduce general Korean dishes you can eat elsewhere in the country. I am compelled to put together a more thorough list in a separate post.
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Before visiting Korea, read my other articles about Busan:
- Busan Itinerary: How to spend 2-5 Days in Busan
- Ananti Cove Busan: A Luxury Seaside Resort Town
- Spa Land Centum City Busan: Best Luxury Jimjilbang in Korea
- 6 Best Areas to Stay in Busan
Busan Food in Korean History
Before getting your mouth watery, let’s get a brief Korean history crash course. Why Korean history for Busan food? Hold that thought for a second.
Upon the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Busan became the city of refugees and the last bastion for democratic Korea. (There was only one Korea before the War split the country into South and North Koreas.) At that time, millions of Korean refugees from all over the Korean Peninsula fled to and settled in Busan.
This is, of course, way before Busan became a developed modern city, as you see today. During wartime, there was not enough food to eat or place to live with the sudden influx of population.
In every crisis, there is an opportunity. To survive, Koreans had to get creative with cooking to feed their families. Only using the limited ingredients available – mostly coming from the U.N. troops, they created a new iteration of traditional Korean cuisine. Many of these recipes remain today and make up for Busan’s unique food with a local twist (See #1, #2, #3 & #7 below).
I won’t bore you with more history. If you are interested, watch this movie: “Ode to My Father (국제시장).” This is a well-made Korean movie that I highly recommend watching for entertainment. But if you are heading to Busan, it will make you understand the city better and appreciate more. (By the way, this is the first movie that made me bawl in the theater since Marley & Me. So be ready to grab Kleenex.)
#1. Pork Rice Soup (Dwaeji Gukbap)
Pork Rice Soup or Dwaeji Gukbap (돼지국밥) is the most famous local dish in Busan. There are many different ways to make Gukbap in different regions of Korea. Jeonju is famous for Bean Spout Rice Soup, for example. Nevertheless, in general, beef is a more popular choice of meat in making Gukbap. During the Korean War, the refugees started making Gukbap with pork bones, surplus parts the U.S. troops did not use for cooking. Voila, that was the birth of Busan’s staple Dwaeji Gukbap!
Pork bones are braised for many hours in a vat with rice wine, garlic, and other seasonings. Before serving, the milky broth is poured into a Korean clay pot with rice and glass noodles. If you make close observation on the preparation process, you might be able to witness toryeom, a Korean method of warming up rice/noodles and clay pot by pouring and draining hot broth repeatedly. Then, the bowl of Gukbap is topped with thick slices of pork.
Grab a piping hot bowl of Dwaeji Gukbap when you want to sweat off a cold or warm up from wind chill. The soup soothes your throat and easy on your stomach. It also makes a great hangover food to eat at 2 a.m. after the party or the morning after.
How to Eat Like Koreans
Add a dollop of Dadaegi sauce. Many foreigners mistakenly think it as Gochujang (Korean red pepper paste); however, Dadaegi is a mixture of lots of seasoning, including red pepper powder. Alternatively, you can add fermented shrimps to your liking. Gukbap pairs well with diced radish kimchi, pickled onions, and seasoned chives.
#2. Cold Wheat Noodles (Milmyeon)
You might assume that Korea’s summer favorite dish, Spicy Cold Noodles (냉면), is a seasonal treat from the Southern region. In fact, the popular dish is originated from Pyongyang – i.e., the capital city of North Korea today.
The Korean War refugees from the North use wheat flours handed by the U.N. troops – as opposed to traditional buckwheat – to make what is the closest to their hometown food. That became Busan Milmyeon. Milmyeon literally means wheat noodles.
Just like Spicy Cold Noodles, Milmyeon also has two versions: Wet (Mul Milmyeon; 물밀면) and Dry (Bibim Milmyeon; 비빔밀면). Mul Milmyeon comes in icy cold broth, and you can add vinegar and/or mustard to your liking. For Bibim Milmyeon, mix the spicy gochujang sauce with noodles.
How to Eat Like Koreans
Feel free to pour hot broth (usually in thermos or pot) into a cup to drink before the meal. It’s complimentary. Use the scissors to cut your noodles once or twice across.
Also, Koreans like to eat cold noodles with dumplings (만두). It pairs well together and is more fulfilling.
Image Credit: Kim Jiho, Korea Tourism Organization
#3. Spicy Glass Noodle (Bibim Dangmyeon)
Another unique dish you can only find in Busan is Spicy Glass Noodle or Bibim Dangmyeon (비빔당면).
Similar to Milmyeon, Bibim Dangmyeon also came from the Korea War period. During/after the War, the Busanites had to improvise something simple to fill up their hungry stomach with whatever ingredients they could get. They made noodles out of sweet potatoes (or potatoes) and mixed it with the magical gochujang sauce. (If you have not noticed yet, a dollop of gochujang is the secret sauce to Korean cuisine.)
Today, it is still a simple dish, served with only a few topping, such as eomuk (see #4), pickled radish, and spinach. Despite its humble origin and understated appearance, Bibim Dangmyeon is regarded as healthy diet food. Apparently, glass noodles contain much fewer calories than other types of noodles and fulfill your stomach for a long time. Who would have thought?!
How to Eat Like Koreans
Find a row of food stalls in Gukje Market and plop down in a plastic stool. Korean ajummas (elderly ladies) will serve Bibim Dangmyeon in a plastic-wrapped bowl. Mix it quickly before noodles expand and slurp away.
Where to Find Spicy Glass Noodles in Busan
Arirang Street [Open Google Map] in Gukjet Market has a row of food stalls serving Bibim Dangmyeon. You will also find many eateries for Bibim Dangmyeon in Bupyeong Market and BIFF Square.
#4. Busan Fish Cake (Eomuk)
Fish cake or Eomuk (어묵) is popular street food in Korea. Don’t let the English translation fool you, though. Eomuk is neither dessert nor sweet. It is made of various ground white fish that are pressed into different shapes and fried. (Think of crab cake.)
As the largest port city in the country, fresh seafood is abundant in Busan. Busan Eomuk is believed to have much higher fish content and less flour mixture. No wonder why Koreans regard it as the best quality of its kind. Although Busan Eomuk is a brand name, it became a generic term for all eomuk from the region, like Kleenex.
Traditionally, street vendors sell eomuk in a skewer boiled in the hot broth. The broth is flavored with radish and dried fish flakes or crabs. You can self-serve this fish broth at no additional costs.
Nowadays, there is a new generation of boutique shops that specialize in high-end and creative eomuk. (Think of how tacos have evolved in the U.S.) Even street vendors sell different shapes and flavors of eomuk. Eomuk varieties are wrapped or filled with cheese, sesame leaves, vegetable medley, sausage, crab meats, etc. There are also boiled, baked, and deep-fried kinds for you to choose.
How to Eat Like Koreans
Brave into the standing food stall on the street. Don’t be shy to grab eomuk skewers and help yourself with fish broth. (Fish broth is not too fishy, by the way.) Count how many skewers you had and pay cash.
Spicy food lovers can also try Maewun Eomuk brushed with spicy gochujang sauce. If you are not interested in tasting eomuk by itself, opt for tteokbokki with eomuk instead.
Where to Find Fish Cake in Busan
Honestly, anywhere in Busan (or Korea), you will have no problem finding eomuk. But if you’re looking for the more sophisticated establishment, here are two I’d recommend checking out:
Busan Daewon Eomuk (대원어묵), Bupyeong Market A-14, Bupyeong 1-gil, Jung-gu, Busan [Open Google Map], 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Samjin Eomuk Bakery (삼진어묵), 36 Taejong-ro, 99 beon-gil, Yeongdo-gu, Busan [Open Google Map], 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.
>> Interested in making your own eomuk? Join this eomuk-making class at Samjin Eomuk Bakery, followed by Jagalchi and Gukje market tour.
[Image Credit: Eunyoung Lee, Pixabay]
#5. Seed Pancake (Ssiat Hotteok)
Hotteok is a sweet Korean-style pancake filled with the caramelized brown sugar, peanut bits, and cinnamon powder mixture. It is a popular snack that sweeps the streets of Korea in winter. Although I always end up spilling sticky syrup all over my jacket and hands, it is worth for this sweet treats.
While you can find a variety of Hotteok all over Korea, Ssiat Hotteok (씨앗호떡) originates from Busan. A pocketful of seeds – commonly peanuts, almonds, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds – are filled inside the pita-like pancake. As a result, Busan’s version is much larger, thicker, and crunchier, but less sweet than the traditional kind.
Ssiat Hotteok is so popular that it sells like hotcakes. Now you can find it even in the streets of Seoul. But if you are in Busan, why not grab the original one along the Gukje Market Food Street?
How to Eat Like Koreans
Be very careful not to burn your tongue. It is super hot (and messy), and you will pay for your impatience. I usually take a tiny bite on the top corner to get the steam out first.
Where to Find Ssiat Hotteok in Busan
Find Ssiat Hotteok at Gukje Market Food Street. Many food stalls claim to be the original, and some have been on TV. You can try any of these, but if you are determined to eat the best, get on the longest line.
Or, simply join this night market tour with a local guide who can lead you to all the good stuff you can feast on in Nampo and Bupyeong.
Gukje Market Food Street (국제시장 먹자골목), 36 Junggu-ro, Gwangbok-dong, Jung-gu, Busan [Open Google Map]
#6. Codfish Soup (Daegutang)
Codfish Soup or Daegu Tang (대구탕) is another dish you should not miss in Busan. Not to be confused with Busan’s neighboring city, Daegu is also the Korean name for codfish.
Daegutang is also called Daegu Jiritang (대구지리탕). The thick soup is slowly boiled over a long time. Fresh codfish is added later to cook soft and chewy. You can sprinkle peppers, or add Dadaegi sauce or vinegar to adjust the flavor profile. A heaping bowl of codfish in clear broth is perfect for hangover morning, lunch or dinner.
If you never had a clear broth fish soup, you may concern about the unpleasant fishy smell. Believe me, I would be the first to notice if there is any. After tasting it per my brother’s recommendation, it became my favorite dish in Busan. If you have time for one local meal in Busan, make it Daegutang.
How to Eat Like Koreans
Depending on the restaurants, they might add Goni (곤이), which are codfish intestines. I guess I’m not Korean enough to eat fish intestines in my soup. But if you want to try, ask for it when you order. There is an extra charge.
Where to Find Codfish Soup in Busan
Soksiwonhan Daegutang (속시원한대구탕), 229 Dalmaji-gil, Haeundae-gu, Busan [Open Google Map], 7 a.m. – 8 p.m.
#7. Haeundae Hagfish (Gomjangeo)
Gomjangeo (곰장어) is inshore hagfish. While it looks like eels and Japanese Anago, and is sometimes even called slime eels, they are not the same.
Koreans used to dispose of hagfish flesh after using its skin for leather goods. However, out of the desperate need for survival during wartime, people started to eat the meat, so I was told. Despite its unappetizing appearance, it is one of the most popular tent bar foods in Korea.
Since Busan is known for Gomjangeo, the Big O and I gave it a try. We decided that it was not for us. We have no problem eating Nakji (octopus), so we cannot blame its scary snake-like body on the grill. It tasted a little too fishy and raw for us. At least, we braved it and earned the right to say so.
I do not want to discourage first-timers with my experience. Although I would say Gomjangeo is an acquired taste, try it yourself. It’s gotta work for some of you as many other Koreans love it.
If this makes you feel any better, all hagfish are wild-caught (“natural”) because it is not possible to farm-raise them. And they are a great source of protein and vitamin A.
How to Eat like Koreans
Koreans love to eat it marinated or salted over soju. You can make a ssam, wrapped in lettuce, sesame leaf with chives and sliced garlic.
Where to Find Gomjangeo in Busan
Haeundae Hagfish Alley (해운대곰장어골목) near Haeundae Beach is lined with numerous Gomjangeo specialty restaurants. [Open Google Map]
#8. Sliced Raw Fish (Hoe)
Sliced raw fish, often referred to as Sashimi or “Hoe (회)” in Korean, is one of the must-eat foods in the seashore city of Busan.
If this is your first time trying Korean Hoe, you will soon realize that it is undoubtedly different from the Japanese version of sashimi. First, you get two choices of dipping sauces. In addition to wasabi and soy sauce, you can dip in cho-gochujang (초고추장), a Korean red pepper paste vinegar sauce.
Also, Hoe is typically served as a course meal in restaurants. It comes with a variety of side dishes such as vegetable salad, cold seafood salad, steamed eggs, corn cheese, stir fry, deep-fried dish, etc. The last course is typically Maeuntang (매운탕), which a spicy soup made with fish bones, vegetables, and hand-pulled dough.
How to Eat like Koreans
I like to dip my Hoe in sweet, tangy, and spicy cho-gochujang and make a lettuce wrap “ssam.” Add in a sesame leaf, a slice of garlic, chili pepper, seasoned green onion, etc. Yes, Koreans like to make a ssam for everything, even with raw fish!
Where to Find Sliced Raw Fish in Busan
Everywhere in Busan! Walk around Haeundae, Gwangalli Beach, and Jagalchi Market, and you will easily find one. But be aware that some of these establishments in tourist-heavy areas have higher mark-ups, which in my opinion is unavoidable.
Alternatively, you can buy your own seafood at Jagalchi and Bupyeong markets to cook by joining this market tour + cooking class.
#9. Shellfish BBQ (Jogae-gui)
Don’t leave Busan without trying barbecue grilled shellfish, or Jogae-gui (조개구이). When a server brings out a bucket full of shellfish mountains, you won’t be disappointed.
Just like other Korean barbecues, a charcoal grill is set up on the table. In the bucket, you will find a variety of shellfish – mussels, shrimps, clams, conches, and scallops. Grab a few to put on a grill, then sprinkle some ground cheese and diced onion on top. What’s there not to like about cheesy, buttery, chewy clams popping in your mouth?
It takes a while to grill, and you can only cook a few at the same time. If you get inpatient, get steamed shellfish or Jogae-jjim (조개찜) as well. A variety of steamed seafood piled up in layers -including octopus, shrimps, oysters, clams, and corn cheese – comes out in a gigantic metal basin. Jogae-jjim is already cooked in the kitchen and ready for instant chopstick actions.
How to Eat like Koreans
For the final finish, do yourself a favor and get Haemul Ramen (해물라면). Koreans don’t let any food go waste. The restaurant will chop all the leftover seafood into pieces and dunk in your ramen. Call it the ultimate seafood ramen!
Where to Find Shellfish BBQ in Busan
Cheongsapo Seafood Town (청사포 조개구이촌) has a row of shellfish grill restaurants along the shore. You can enjoy delicious Jogae-gui while gazing at the beautiful sunset.
Google Maps does not mark Cheongsapo Seafood Town. It starts from GS25 [Open Google Map] on Cheongsapo-ro, 128 beon-gil, Haeundae-gu, Busan.
#10. Duck Clam (Galmi Jogae)
Duck Clam or Galmi Jogae (갈미조개) is a special ingredient you can only find in the particular area of Busan. Quite possibly, even the Busanites might not have tasted yet due to its geographical limitation. We only got lucky to get a taste of it, thanks to my brother.
It is a type of duck clam only lives in clean water, where the salty ocean meets freshwater. In Busan, this unusual clam is only caught around the offshore of Myeongji in the far west of the city. The best season to eat Galmi Jogae is from November to April.
One of the best ways to enjoy Galmi Jogae is to grill with samgyupssal (pork belly), called Galsam-gui (갈삼구이). Throw some Galmi Jogae, samgyupssal, kimchi, and bean sprouts on the grill. Make a lettuce wrap with all of these ingredients, plus whichever side dishes you’d like. For a feast in your mouth, take the ssam in one bite.
Unfortunately, it takes a bit of effort to try this extraordinary dish. Because the annual produce of Galmi Jogae is limited, you will need to travel to Myeongji, where they are caught. But if you are a foodie, going the extra mile is a small price to pay for your gastronomic pleasure.
How to Eat Like Koreans
Leave some grilled pork and clams, and ask for fried rice. The server will help you cook rice on the grill with kimchi, bean sprout, and leftover proteins. It is the best way to finish up your meal.
Where to Find Galmi Jogae in Busan
Daemadeng (대마등), 574 Renault samsung-daero, Myeongji-dong, Gangseo-gu, Busan [Open Google Map], 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Pro Tips on Finding the Recommended Restaurants
Please feel free to explore the city and find any establishments you like. But if you want to dine at my recommended restaurants, let me share some tips on how to find the right one.
Use the right Map
I recommend you downloading Kakao Map [iTune, Google Play] or Naver Map [iTune, Google Play]. I marked restaurant locations on Google Maps in this post. However, note that Google Maps does not work in Korea as the way it serves in other countries.
Find the right Name
Often, the English name of the restaurant does not match the Korean name. Plus, there are too many similar names and copycats. Some restaurants only have one establishment. Still, your search will generate multiple results (major frustration!). Copy and paste the Korean name I included in a parenthesis, and double-check the address.