Busan is a foodie’s dream. From sizzling beachfront sea food to refreshing shaved ice topped with fresh fruit, the city has plenty to get your teeth into. Here’s our guide to the dishes you simply can’t miss, and where you can find them.
This is Busan’s specialty version of the hotteok, a Korean pancake-doughnut hybrid. Small balls of batter are fried and squashed flat with a special tool, then the ssiat hotteok is liberally filled with brown sugar syrup and a mix of chopped nuts and seeds, and served piping hot. The best place to try this iconic Busan treat is BIFF Square, where the hotteok tend to be a little fatter and chewier. To find a street stall selling it, just follow the sound of sizzling oil and the smell of sweet batter.
Fish cakes (eomuk) made in Busan are exported to the whole of Korea. They’re known for being especially delicious thanks to the port city’s abundance of fresh seafood. Concertinaed onto skewers and cooked in hot broth (eomukguk), they’re known as odeng. You can find them at street food stalls all over the city, in metro stations, or you can go to Busan’s oldest fish cake maker Samjin. Samjin’s flagship store is in Yeongdo, and they also have an outlet conveniently located inside Busan Station.
Hot and hearty, dwaeji gukbap is a rich soup made by boiling pork bones for several hours until a milky broth is produced, then adding pork shank, soy sauce, rice wine, miso and sesame oil, and finally green vegetables. Dwaeji gukbap is a Busan specialty that is served with rice (the soup is normally poured over this) and a number of side dishes. It’s said to be good for invalids, so is the perfect meal if you’re feeling fragile after over-indulgence in Busan’s vibrant nightlife. There are lots of great gukbap restaurants in the city, but for the full experience head to Gukbap Alley in Seomyeon, where you can choose from a streetful of gukbap restaurants, all of which are tasty, cheap and emit fragrant soup aromas. If you prefer beef to pork, head to Haeundae’s Beef Gukbap Alley.
Jogae gui, or grilled clams, are a delicacy best enjoyed with beer, soju and some friends in one of Taejongdae’s clam tents. The tents are located on the tip of Yeongdo Island, and the seafood here is ultra-fresh — so fresh, in fact, that you can see clams and mussels being collected from the water just 50 metres away. The prices are roughly the same in all the tents, and they all serve the same fare — shellfish, prawns, and gaebul (otherwise endearingly known as ‘penis fish’) which you grill yourself at your table. It’s a culinary experience which is well worth the bus trek from other parts of the city.
Milmyeon is a dish much beloved by Busanites on a hot summer’s day. It consists of long thin cold wheat noodles, and comes in two varieties: bibim milmyeon is dry, with a spicy gochujang sauce, and mul milmyeon is less spicy, and served in a chicken or beef broth. In very hot weather, the soup may even contain ice cubes to cool you down further. Try a very good version at Gaya Milmyeon: there are a few outlets of this family-run business around the city, including one at the tourist hotspot of Haeundae.
Another must-try seafood experience in Busan is Jagalchi Market. It’s known for its very good ggom jangeo, or grilled eel. Choose your (live!) eel at one of the many stalls on the ground floor, then have it taken up and prepared for you at a restaurant on the floor above. Don’t forget to take a look around the market whilst you’re there — it’s the largest seafood market in Korea, and many weird and wonderful creatures are to be seen for sale.
A tall mound of shaved ice is topped with sweetened condensed milk, sweet rice cakes and other ingredients which may include fresh fruit, fruit syrup, red bean paste and whipped cream. Bingsu (known as patbingsu if the recipe includes red bean paste) is a dessert often shared by couples as a date activity, as it normally comes in large portions. Eat it at Gamcheon Culture Village — the village is full of cafés, all of which have their own take on the dessert. It’s also the perfect thing to cool you down after an afternoon of walking through the village’s winding streets.
And finally, how could you visit Korea without sampling Korean barbecue? Some of the best meat in town can be found at An Ga in Haeundae. Cook toothsome pieces of samgyeopsal (thinly-sliced pieces of pork) on a grill at your table, and enjoy the sizzling meat wrapped in thick lettuce leaves, with a dash of spicy gochujang sauce. Plenty of side dishes are also available.