Food in Korean: Useful Vocabulary to Know

Learn the important vocabulary so you can talk about different types of food in Korean.

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By Keehwan Kim · February 9, 2024 · 12 minute read

The popularity of Korean food is growing every day. People all over the world are enjoying the rich flavors at Korean barbecue restaurants, trying Korean street food like 떡볶이 (Tteokbokki, spicy rice cake), and eating spicy instant noodles like 신라면 (Shin Ramyun). However, Korean food has so much more to offer, and in this article, we are going to take you on a guided tour of traditional food in Korean. We’ll teach you useful words to talk about different types of ingredients, vegetables, fruit, drinks and traditional food in Korean.

Hungry to learn more Korean food vocabulary?

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Before eating, you can say “Jal meok-kke-seum-ni-da.” to show appreciation before your meal! Fill yourself with lots of words and phrases about food in Korean via Busuu’s online courses and learning resources!

Talking about main meals in Korean

The Korean word for food is 음식 (eumsik). It is a general word for food and it can be used to talk about all types of food in Korean.

To refer to different meals throughout the day, we can use the words 아침, 점심 and 저녁.

Names of Korean main meals

Korean Pronunciation English
보리 [barley] barley
기장 [gi-jang] proso millet
[kong] dinner
[jo] foxtail millet

Soups in Korean: 국, 탕, 찌개

Korean meals are almost always accompanied by a soup dish. Most often, a person would be served his or her own soup alongside their 밥 (rice). There are also times where a large soup is served so that it can be shared with others. There are three types of soup dishes.

국 [guk]

국 [guk] is the most common soup dish in Korea. 국 has a lot of soup and it contains some solid ingredients, such as meat and vegetables. We mainly eat 국 for the broth, rather than the solid ingredients. In general, 국 is served individually and it’s regarded as a dish that served the rice, so it’s usually served in a small bowl. Below are some common types of 국.

Common 국 soup dishes in Korean

Korean Pronunciation Description
미역국 [mi-yeok-guk] Soup made with kelp
김치국 [kim-chi-guk] Soup made with kimchi
콩나물국 [kong-na-mul-guk] Soup made with soybean sprout
북어국 [bu-geo-guk] Soup made with dried pollack

탕 [tang]

탕 [tang] is similar to 국 as it contains a lot of soup, but the soup is often made by boiling for a long period, which results in a thicker soup than 국. 탕 is generally served individually and it’s often served in a large bowl as the main meal. Below are some common types of 탕.

Common 탕 soup dishes

Korean Pronunciation Description
갈비탕 [gal-bi-tang] Soup made with beef ribs
삼계탕 [sam-gye-tang] Soup made with chicken
설렁탕 [seo-leong-tang] Soup made with ox bone
대구탕 [dae-gu-tang] Soup made with cod

찌개 [jji-gae]

The major difference between 찌개 and the other types of soup is that 찌개 has less water and it has a lot of solid ingredients. So people eat 찌개 for its broth but also for its solid ingredients. 찌개 can be served individually, but it’s more commonly shared by diners. Below are some common types of 찌개.

Common 찌개 soup dishes

Korean Pronunciation Description
된장찌개 [doen-jang-jji-gae] Soup made with soybean paste, and often contains clam and tofu
김치찌개 [kim-chi-jji-gae] Soup made with kimchi, and often contains tofu and pork
동태찌개 [dong-tae-jji-gae] Soup made with pollock, and often contains tofu
부대찌개 [bu-dae-jji-gae] Spicy soup dish that contains various ingredients, such as kimchi, sausage, ham, and tofu

Korean main dishes

Korean meals are often served with a main dish which is shared with other diners. These main dishes are often made with different kinds of fish and meat. Meat in Korean is 고기 [go-gi], and to refer to different kinds of meat, we add the name of the animal in front of 고기. For example, ‘pig’ in Korean is 돼지 [dwae-ji], so ‘pork’ is 돼지고기.

Names of meat in Korean

Korean Pronunciation English
돼지고기 [dwae-ji-go-gi] pork
소고기 [so-go-gi] beef
닭고기 [dak-go-gi] chicken
양고기 [yang-go-gi] lamb
소시지 [so-si-ji] sausage
베이컨 [be-i-keon] bacon

Fish in Korean is 생선 [saeng-seon], but we actually have two words for fish. One is 생선 and we use this word to refer to fish that has been caught for food. So when we see fish for sale in the supermarket, or when we refer to fish on the dining table, we refer to that fish as 생선. The other word is 물고기 [mul-go-gi], and we use this word to refer to fish swimming in the water, whether it be the river or the sea. Below are some common fish eaten in Korea.

Names of fish in Korean

Korean Pronunciation English
고등어 [go-deung-eo] mackerel
대구 [dae-gu] cod
조기 [jo-gi] croaker
꽁치 [kkong-chi] saury
가자미 [ga-ja-mi] plaice
광어 [gwang-eo] halibut
장어 [jang-eo] eel

As different kinds of meat and fish are made into certain dishes, they can take on different names, such as 대구탕 (cod soup). Below are some common main dishes made with different kinds of meat and fish.

Common traditional food in Korean

Korean Pronunciation Description
닭도리탕 [dak-do-ri-tang] spicy braised chicken with soup
갈비찜 [gal-bi-jjim] braised short ribs
고등어조림 [go-deung-eo-jo-rim] braised mackerel
꽁치구이 [bu-dae-jji-gae] grilled saury

A lot of main dish names end with words that describe what that dish is like, or how that dish is cooked.

  • 탕 as we learned before refers to soup-based dishes.
  • 찜 refers to dishes that made by steaming the food
  • 조림 refers to dishes that are made by braising the food
  • 구이 refers to food that has been grilled.

Side dishes in Korean: 반찬

Korean meals are often served with many side dishes, and these side dishes are shared with other diners. Elaborate meals can have more than 10 side dishes, while a simple meal at home can have 3 to 5 side dishes. The most common side dish is 김치 (kimchi).

김치 [kim-chi]

김치 is the famous side dish, and there are many different types of 김치. The most common is made with 배추 [bae-chu], napa cabbage, and because it is fermented, it is high in probiotics.

Common types of 김치 side dishes in Korean

Korean Pronunciation English
배추김치 [bae-chu-kim-chi] napa cabbage kimchi
총각김치 [chong-gak-kim-chi] ponytail radish kimchi
오이소박이 [o-i-so-ba-gi] cucumber kimchi
파김치 [pa-kim-chi] scallion kimchi
깍두기 [kkak-du-gi] cubed radish kimchi
백김치 [baek-kim-chi] white kimchi
동치미 [dong-chi-mi] radish water kimchi

Korean vegetables 나물 [na-mul]

나물 refers to seasoned vegetables. 나물 can be made with many different kinds of vegetables, many of which grow in the wild, and they are often made by boiling or frying them and then seasoning them with various spices and sesame oil. Many 나물 dish names end in 무침 [mu-chim] which means seasoned.

Common types of 나물무침 Korean vegetables

Korean Pronunciation English
시금치무침 [shi-geum-chi-mu-chim] seasoned spinach
고사리무침 [naeng-i-mu-chim] seasoned bracken
쑥무침 [go-sa-ri-mu-chim] seasoned mugwort
미나리무침 [mi-na-ri-mu-chim] seasoned dropwort
달래무침 [dal-rae-mu-chim] seasoned pickled-peel garlic

볶음 [bo-kkeum]

뽁음 simply means ‘fried’, and it refers to various stir-fried side dishes. One of the most common side dishes is 김치볶음 (fried kimchi), but there are many different types of 볶음 side dishes.

Common types of 볶음 side dishes

Korean Pronunciation English
김치볶음 [kim-chi-bo-kkeum] stir-fried kimchi
두부볶음 [du-bu-bo-kkeum] stir-fried tofu
버섯볶음 [beo-seot-bo-kkeum] stir-fried mushroom
미역줄기볶음 [my-yeok-jul-gi-bo-kkeum] stir-fried seaweed stem
콩나물볶음 [kong-na-mul-bo-kkeum] stir-fried bean sprout

젓갈 [jeot-gal]

젓갈 refers to salted seafood. Salted seafood can be made with various fish and seafood, such as anchovies, clams, and shrimps, but it can also be made with various fish roe. 젓갈 is very salty, and we usually eat a small amount at a time. When we refer to different types of 젓갈, we often refer to them as just 젓.

Common types of 젓갈 salted seafood

Korean Pronunciation English
새우젓 [sae-woo-jeot] salted shrimp
조개젓 [jo-gae-jeot] salted clam
멸치젓 [myeol-chi-jeot] salted anchovies
명란젓 [myeong-ran-jeot] salted pollack roe
오징어젓 [o-jing-eo-jeot] salted squid

Below are some other common side dishes in Korea

Other traditional side dishes in Korea

Korean Pronunciation English
[kim] dried seaweed
깻잎 [kkaen-nip] seasoned sesame leaf seasoned sesame leaf
두부조림 [du-bu-jo-rim] braised tofu
계란찜 [gye-ran-jjim] steamed egg
소고기 장조림 [so-go-gi jang-jo-rim] braised beef in soy sauce

Learn all the names of delicious Korean dishes!


With Busuu’s free online courses, you can practice using Korean food names like gim-bap 김밥 (seaweed rice roll) and other dishes that you have learned, and know what to order in your daily conversation easily!

Korean drinks: 음료수 & 술

음료수 [eum-nyu-su] means beverage, and we tend to think of non-alcoholic soft drinks, such as cola, when we hear this word. However, the most common type of drink served during meals is water. Sometimes tea can be served during meals, though they are likely to be served cold. When Koreans eat western meals, they may drink sodas, such as cola, but it’s less common to drink sodas during a Korean meal.

Names of 음료수 Korean drinks

Korean Pronunciation English
[mul] water
보리차 [bo-ri-cha] barley tea
콜라 [col-la] cola
사이다 [sa-i-da] lemon-flavored drinks, such as sprite
주스 [ju-seu] juice
사과주스 [sa-gwa-ju-seu] apple juice

In 보리차 (barley tea), 보리 means ‘barley’, and 차 means ‘tea’.

Many Korean meals are eaten with 술 [sul], an alcoholic drink. It’s no secret that Koreans like to drink alcohol - the best selling spirit brand in the world is none other than 참이슬, a brand of soju (fermented white rice) from Korea (we’re not sure whether to be proud or embarrassed). While Korean drinks like soju are still the most popular among Koreans, more and more people drink Western drinks like wine and beer.

Names of 술 Korean drinks

Korean Pronunciation English
소주 [so-ju] soju
막걸리 [mak-geol-li] Korean rice wine
맥주 [maek-ju] beer
와인 [wa-in] wine
레드와인 [le-deu-wa-in] red wine
화이트와인 [hwa-i-teu-wa-in] white wine
위스키 [wi-seu-ki] whisky

Korean dessert 후식

The Korean word for dessert is 후식 [hu-shik], but Koreans also often say the English word phonetically in Korean, 디저트 [di-jeo-teu]. Having 후식 is becoming more common, and many restaurants do serve their own dessert. However, it’s still not a common practice in most restaurants.

Common 후식 desserts in Korea

Korean Pronunciation English
커피 [keo-pi] coffee
녹차 [nok-cha] green tea
과일 [gwa-il] fruit
식혜 [shik-hye] sweet rice punch
[tteok] rice cake
케이크 [ke-i-keu] cake

When fruit is served as dessert, many different kinds of fruit can be served. Below is a list of common fruits in Korea.

Korean fruit

Korean Pronunciation English
사과 [sa-gwa] apple
[bae] pear
수박 [su-bak] watermelon
오렌지 [o-ren-ji] orange
[gyul] tangerine
포도 [po-do] grape
[gam] persimmon
딸기 [ttal-gi] strawberry
자몽 [ja-mong] grapefruit
자두 [ja-du] plum
석류 [seong-nyu] pomegranate
바나나 [ba-na-na] banana
레몬 [le-mon] lemon
망고 [mang-go] mango
파인애플 [pa-in-ae-peul] pineapple
멜론 [mel-lon] melon
블루베리 [beul-ru-be-ri] blueberry

Korean vegetables and cooking ingredients

Now let's learn some useful food vocabulary. Firstly, we will learn names of common Korean vegetables. Firstly, it’s important to learn vegetable in Korean: 야채 [ya-chae]

Common Korean vegetables

Korean Pronunciation English
배추 [bae-chu] napa cabbage
양배추 [yang-bae-chu] cabbage
상추 [sang-chu] lettuce
고추 [go-chu] chili pepper
깻잎 [kkaen-nip] sesame leaf
[pa] scallion
양파 [yang-pa] onion
오이 [o-i] cucumber
마늘 [ma-neul] garlic
당근 [dang-geun] carrot
[mu] white radish
피망 [pi-mang] bell pepper
버섯 [beo-seot] mushroom
감자 [gam-ja] potato
고구마 [go-gu-ma] sweet potato
가지 [ga-ji] eggplant
토마토 [to-ma-to] tomato
[kong] bean
시금치 [yang-bae-chu] spinach
호박 [ho-bak] pumpkin
애호박 [yang-bae-chu] zucchini

Korean dishes require a lot of different food ingredients. Let’s learn words for the ingredients we use.

Common ingredients used in traditional food in Korean

식초 [sik-cho] vinegar
설탕 [seol-tang] sugar
밀가루 [mil-ga-ru] flour
[kkul] honey

Finally, let’s learn the names of popular Korean dishes, and also the names of popular Korean street food.

Popular food in Korean

Korean Pronunciation English
비빔밥 [bi-bim-bap] bibimbap
냉면 [naeng-myeon] Korean cold noodle
칼국수 [kal-guk-su] Korean chopped noodle
불고기 [bul-go-gi] seasoned barbequed beef
자장면 [ja-jang-myeon] black bean noodle
삼겹살 [sam-gyeop-sal] pork belly
떡국 [tteok-guk] rice cake soup
잡채 [jap-chae] stir fried glass noodles
후라이드 치킨 [hu-ra-i-deu chi-kin] fried chicken

Popular Korean street food

Korean Pronunciation English
떡볶이 [tteok-bo-kki] spicy rice cake
순대 [sun-dae] Korean blood sausage
튀김 [twi-gim] Korean tempura
만두 [man-du] Korean dumpling
어묵 [eo-muk] Korean fish cake
호떡 [ho-tteok] Korean sweet pancake
붕어빵 [bung-eo-ppang] Korean fish shaped pastry
핫도그 [hat-do-geu] Korean corn dog
호두과자 [ho-du-gwa-ja] Korean walnut cake

Wrapping up with Korean food

Korean cuisine is becoming more and more popular all over the world, and it is one of the reasons why people choose to travel to Korea.

In this article, we’ve covered lots of useful words to talk about food, drinks, ingredients and cooking in Korean. With this knowledge and understanding of Korean cuisine, you will have a much more enjoyable experience eating Korean food at home or when visiting South Korea. As always, practice makes perfect, so why not head over to the Busuu app and practice ordering food at a Korean restaurant!

Hungry for more?

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