Call me a weakling, or to be more precise, my tastebuds. They are not the strongest when it comes to anything with a hint of spiciness. Even pepper. Not a big fan of that. And yet I call myself a foodie; well I am a picky foodie. That, however, didn’t make it any easier to try and find not spicy Korean food in Seoul, a city that adores spicy so much they have to run an advertisement on the subway to remind people they might end up in hospital. Says it all.
But I am not one to back down and solely sustain on pasta and sauce (even though they were hard to get in Seoul and very expensive at that) and set out on my quest to find not spicy Korean food in Seoul that would please my picky tastebuds, thirsty foodie heart and adventurer mindset. A basic rule of thumb in Korea is: If it’s red, it’s spicy. But a lot of things are red when it comes to food and sauce is a vital thing for Korean food. So what to do?
To the Streets We Go
First off, street food should provide me with plenty of opportunity to actually see the dishes, watch people’s reactions and have small bites instead of full-on menus. When even pancakes, Bindaetteok, and chicken sticks are spicy, you know you have to be on the lookout. That being said, none of the people were probably as sensitive as I was and so I fell for non spicy food number one: hot dog lookalikes. They are actually fried fish paste with red ginger around a sloppy sausage.
If you do like fishy things that are not spicy, you can try out boiled fish slices on a stick, called oden, which look like wavey dough. It is neither crispy nor soft. It’s hard to explain and not particularly exciting. If you’re keen, you can even drink the water in which it was boiled to get an extra fishy taste.
My absolute favourite not spicy Korean food was Hotteok, an extremely yummy street pastry filled with all different kinds of flavours. I liked cheese but absolutely loved honey and grains! It is basically ambrosia for all pastry lovers. Just a warning, eating more than two can cause your tummy to fall all over itself in raptures and that doesn’t feel as nice as it sounds. Better eat one every day you are in Seoul.
Korean Restaurant Dining
The go-to dish kimchi can be had in a white, non-spicy version, the classic tteokbokki comes in a red sauce. I had a go at tteokbokki and was surprised about how delicious and not too spicy it was. Of course, that depends on where you go! So always ask before you buy. Sometimes you might get a free sample to try. Recommended and a definite must as a (relatively) not spicy Korean Food in Seoul!
Since rice cake – which can be likened to sliced sticky rice pasta – is such a popular Korean dish and I slowly fell in love with it, I couldn’t not have a go at tteokguk. This is a white soup with rice cakes, green onions and is usually eaten for New Years but is good any time. It had a level of zero spiciness and was therefore perfect for me. My tentative conclusion is that everything white is non-spicy.
Speaking of white, rice itself is not spicy and sushi isn’t if you leave out the ginger and wasabi (I know, duh, obvious). Being so (physically) close to Japan, there is a Korean version of sushi as well. It is called gimbap. As opposed to the Japanese dish, gimbap doesn’t use vinegar but sesame oil instead. I actually prefer it – especially since it has large carrot slices on the inside. I am not a big fan of fish, you should know.
Sweet Delights as Your Not Spicy Korean Food in Seoul
A no-brainer, but sweets are generally just that, sweet. Not spicy. And I haven’t come across one dessert that proved this wrong, so there you go, here is my list of must-try sweets. And if you know me, you knew I gladly took it upon myself to eat my way through them just to double-check for you. Oh, the sacrifices I make.
First-off, ice cream. Like their neighbours in Japan, Koreans dote on soft ice cream. Don’t ask me, but it’s a thing. Over here, though, they do not come in such strange flavours but they make up fr it in size and shape! Have you ever seen a giant ice cream cone made out of corn and in the shape of a J, filled from both ends? No, there you go. It has become so popular that it is slowly expanding to South East Asia and you can have it in Indonesia and Malaysia, too. It is called jipangi and it’s birthplace is in Insa-dong, Seoul.
If that is not big enough for your tastebuds, hang on, I’ve got a 32cxm long soft ice serve for you. It’s true, it is that long but the cone is the same. Which is terrible for a klutz like me because my cone and ice cream didn’t get a long and it preferred to plunge into it’s ice cold death. I am still mourning over it. Let’s change the topic, it’s too sad.
Sweet Delights as Your Not Spicy Korean Food in Seoul
For your ultimate near-death coma of your tastebuds, I suggest giving the mega waffles a try. Not only are they sweet already but are 30cm in length and filled with ice cream, whipped cream, topped with sprinkles and sugary sauce in the colours of the rainbow. It tastes as sickeningly sweet as it sounds and I had to control my gag-reflex. And I have you know, I am a major sweet tooth but that was too much even for me. But it is certainly a very much not spicy Korean food.
A German export (from Rothenburg ob der Tauber, to be precise) and a hit in Seoul is the Schneeball. A pastry rolled up into a dough and covered with icing and chocolate. And before carrying away my new price, I had to beat it to a pulp. No kidding, the store vendor gave me a wooden hammer and instructed me to hit hard. I did and it tore up the bag. I guess there is a proper way to do it and I just don’t know how. The price of being so strong as I am (haha).
But what is even more common are churros. Yes, the Spanish, long cinnamon stick which you stick into chocolate sauce. They come in horseshoe shape and you can even have jam with it. I was told I absolutely had to try it and did so without any sauce and it was super yummy. Good advice. I like to follow your suggestions, as well! If you ever have any, shoot me a comment.
No Taste = Not Spicy Korean Food
We keep going strong with ice cream and moving on to the popular and absolutely tasteless version. Shaved ice. It is basically just crushed ice but instead of being crushed, it is shaved. No taste whatsoever. To make it look cool and keep it popular, juices, sauce and fruits are poured over it, which adds colour and taste and makes it look as if it’s something you must try. Don’t bother.
However, if you must, why not have the ultimate Korean thing, Patbingsu. It is shaved ice with red beans. I snubbed this (have had too much of red beans lately) and opted for cheese instead. You read that right, cheese and ice cream. The thing is, Korean cheesecake is more cheese than cake. So it was cheesy cheesecake ice cream. Say that super fast ten times in a row. I challenge you! Oh, and it didn’t taste great. Not bad, but not great.
Moving on from frozen water to actual fluids, finding a non-spicy drink was was supposed to be easy, I thought and so I ordered a Korean punch, Sujeonggwa, as I was in Christmas spirit with all the sparkling neon lights and the hint of cinnamon in the air. I should have known better because that was not only hot but throat-clearingly spicy. I guess if I had bacteria trying to settle in my system, they were wiped out. I still liked the punch, at least while I was till able to taste it. (Keep on mind, that a person with ordinary tastebuds would not feel as strongly about it.)
One drink, however, I adore and that isn’t hot albeit consumed when hot is tea, of course. Korean tea is rather nutty and sometimes served with nuts in it, too! I entreat you to try it! Just ask your hostel, hotel etc. They might have some free tea bags for customers anyway. And coffee isn’t spicy either. I guess there are options, though.
Another go-to drink for Koreans is rice punch. Like the one above, this one doesn’t have any alcohol in it either and is pretty nice. It has a smooth feel and there are some soft rice corns swimming in it. It is especially good to cool down your tongue if you happen to have eaten something spicy.
I could probably go on and on, but wait. I can’t because I am supposed to talk non-spicy food for all those fellow sensitive souls out there. And with this, I am ending my list. If you have found another non-spicy Korean dish, let me know!