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Dispatch from Seoul: 5 Unforgettable Korean Foods

South Korea has become ground zero for innovation in the last few years (BB creams, anyone?). Lucky for us, former Birchbox copywriter Mai is teaching English in Seoul this summer—and sending us weekly updates about her finds in beauty, food, and beyond. Here, she presents some of the most memorable Korean dishes she’s come across.

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You’ll find tons of premade side dishes at any Korean grocery store—including spicy dried squid shaped like bricks (bottom right). 

I’ve always considered myself an adventurous eater, but nothing prepared me for Korea. This country’s love of spicy food puts American buffalo wings to shame, and I’ve eaten dishes so bizarro exotic that I feel like I’ve earned a gold star for adventurousness. The upside of all my culinary adventures? I’ve definitely learned to expand my palate. Here are a few of my new favorite dishes, plus some that I’m still too scared to try:

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Traditional Korean sundae has nothing in common with the ice cream dessert. A street-food staple, it’s a sausage of pork blood and clear noodles stuffed into a clear casing, then steamed and cut into pieces. 

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Acorn jelly (aka dotorimuk) has a consistency somewhere between tofu and gelatin. It’s made from ground acorn nuts that have been processed to remove their bitter tannins. This side dish is topped with pepper flakes, sesame oil, and scallions. 

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I found these canned silkworms at my local convenience store, but I couldn’t bring myself to try them. Known as beondegi, they’re a popular snack food and also found in street stalls. 

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Korean jokbal is sliced pig’s feet braised in soy sauce and rice wine and served with fermented shrimp paste. There’s even a Jokbal Street in Seoul filled with restaurants devoted to the dish, but this prepackaged version comes from a grocery store. 

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I think of dukboki as the Korean version of gnocchi, only ten thousand times spicier. It’s a dish of sliced rice cakes boiled in spicy pepper paste—my taste buds were begging for mercy after just one bite.

Which of these Korean foods would you be willing to try?

—Mai 

Browse our editors’ favorite kitchen picks in the Birchbox Shop.

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