I still remember the first time I went to a Korean restaurant, not knowing what I should order. When the menu came, I didn't know most of the words, and the menu's list of ingredients didn't really help me figure out what I wanted. When the waiter came by to take my order, I just blurted out a random dish, and my pronunciation was iffy, so I wasn't surprised when I tried to order noodles and got rice instead. 

Since then, I've become obsessed with a Korean drama called "Let's Eat," or Siksyareul Habsida. One of the best parts about this show is that the actors are filmed eating different Korean dishes every episode. Watching the actors eat makes you want to go to restaurants and try it for yourself, and that's how I started exploring all sorts of Korean restaurants. Every Korean dish has very unique flavor combinations, so the following section is a list of very popular Korean dishes (rated on a scale of 1 to 10 for different flavor profiles) to help you get an idea of what you should try the next time you visit a Korean restaurant.

1. Bibimbap (bee-bim-bop)

Wen Yuan

Spicy: 5/10

Salty: 7/10

Sweet: 2/10

Sour: 1/10

I would say that bibimbap is the most popular item found at Korean restaurants, probably because of its simplicity and its subtle but delicious flavors. Bibimbap is a dish that incorporates a colorful assortment of several different vegetables, such as spinach, bean sprouts, carrots, and radishes, which are usually arranged on top of the rice in a wheel-like pattern. It can also be served with a runny egg on top, a choice of protein, and a spicy reddish sauce to give it flavor. Although you might find it a pity to ruin such a beautifully arranged dish, bibimbap is supposed to be eaten by mixing everything together, until you can get a spoonful of everything in one bite. If you prefer rice over noodles, this is the #1 dish I would recommend. I would also highly recommend this dish for vegetarians because bibimbap is super delicious with tofu and vegetables instead of meat or egg. 

2. Tteokbokki (tohk-bohk-key)

topokki, Stir-Fried Rice Cake

KOREA.NET - Official page of the Republic of Korea on Flickr

Spicy: 8/10

Salty: 7/10

Sweet: 4/10

Sour: 0/10 

Tteokbokki is a very famous Korean street food that is often served at Korean restaurants, especially in the US. It is mainly made up of chewy rice cakes and a sweet and spicy sauce. The most unique ingredient in tteokbokki is a Korean delicacy called eomuk, or fish cake, which is spongey tofu that is made of fish and other seafood. Tteokbokki may also have hard-boiled eggs, cabbage, green peppers, onions, and scallions, and you can even add a pack of ramen or some cheese to make it even more delicious. I think that tteokbokki has a similar flavor to most spicy instant ramen noodles, but the sauce is much thicker and richer. The texture of the rice cakes is also much chewier than regular ramen noodles. I would highly recommend this dish if you enjoy spicy and chewy food, or if you're eating out with three to four friends and want something to share, because tteokbokki tends to be very heavy. 

3. Japchae (jap-ch-eh)

Spicy: 0/10

Salty: 5/10

Sweet: 8/10

Sour: 0/10

Japchae is one of my favorite noodle dishes because of its sweet and savory flavor. The potato starch noodles in japchae are more transparent than other noodles, with a chewy texture. The noodles are often mixed with beef, spinach, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, and onions. The dish as a whole has a sweeter taste. If you have a sweet tooth and often enjoy a sweet and salty mix, I would recommend that you order japchae at a Korean restaurant. However, japchae can be overly sweet at times, so I would also recommend eating kimchi or a savory/spicy appetizer with japchae because it is easy to get sick of the sweet flavor after several bites. I think that those who enjoy eating Chinese stir-fried noodles would also like japchae because it also has a soy sauce base. In my experience, not all Korean restaurants that I have eaten at served japchae, but it is definitely worth looking for a Korean restaurant that does.

4. Kimchi Jjigae (kim-chee jee-gay)

Kimchi jjigae キムチチゲ

jetalone on Flickr

Spicy: 7/10

Salty: 7/10

Sweet: 1/10

Sour: 4/10

Kimchi jjigae is a stew that is often made with kimchi, tofu, bean sprouts, and pork belly. Although I would rank this dish as higher than average on the spice scale, if you think that kimchi is tolerable, then this stew shouldn't be too spicy at all. I think that this dish would suit those who like soft, mushy textures and those who tend to crave soups with rice over drier dishes like fried rice or stir-fried noodles. This dish isn't as sweet as the other ones on this list, but the highlight of kimchi jjigae, in my opinion, is its savory and slightly sour taste. If you like Thai tom yum soup, I would recommend trying kimchi jjigae because of its similar hot and sour flavor. I also think that kimchi jjigae is one of the most nutritious items that can be found on a menu at a Korean restaurant, so if you feel like eating a healthier dish, then this would be a good choice.

5. Naengmyeon (nang-myun)

Bibim Naengmyun

KFoodaddict on Flickr

Spicy: 3/10

Salty: 5/10

Sweet: 5/10

Sour: 5/10

Naengmyeon is a Korean cold noodle dish that is usually served with cucumber, radish, soba-like noodles, hard-boiled egg, and a reddish sauce that gives it a spicy flavor. Some Korean restaurants do not serve this dish with a spicy sauce, so in that case, naengmyeon would not be spicy at all but would be very refreshing and cool instead. I would highly recommend eating naengmyeon during the summer season, especially because the sweet and sour flavor of the noodles complements the coldness of the dish very well. Naengmyeon is also a great option if you're eating Korean barbecue, since it is often eaten alongside a main dish, in place of a dessert. If you often like eating Japanese cold soba or cold udon dishes, then naengmyeon is a similar Korean-style dish that is also worth ordering. Or, if you and your friends want to try something a little different, then this would be a good thing to split. Naengmyeon is particularly tasty if you are craving something cold, and it doesn't leave you grabbing for a large glass of water like other saltier Korean dishes do.  

6. Kimbap (kim-bop)

Korea: Kimbap

sstrieu on Flickr

Spicy: 0/10

Salty: 5/10

Sweet: 3/10

Sour: 2/10

Kimbap is also a popular street food in Korea. Kimbap is often referred to as the Korean sushi roll, and it is a convenient snack food that can easily be taken on the go. Even though both are wrapped with seaweed and rice, kimbap is slightly different from sushi in that most of the ingredients wrapped inside are cooked, the most common ingredients being blanched spinach, stir-fried carrots, stir-fried beef, egg omelet slices, and a sweet and sour yellow pickled radish called danmuji. Kimbap can easily be shared with friends at a restaurant, and it is also quite easy to make at home. Its simple and subtle flavors make kimbap a great choice for someone who is looking for a light meal and who likes bite-sized foods.

Don't miss out on the opportunity to try these six delicious Korean dishes, and hopefully the one you choose will truly suit your taste preferences.