Koreans enjoy different refreshing foods to beat the summer heat. Here are some popular Korean summer foods and drinks to try this year. We’re focusing more on items that you can enjoy at a restaurant or picnic – check out this blog if you’re looking for more snack-themed content!
Dinner Under the Sun
Image Credits: Joanne Wan via Flickr
Naengmyeon is one of the quintessential summer Korean foods, although it was originally eaten during the winter. The basic dish consists of thin buckwheat noodles served in a chilled broth. There are two main variations: mul naengmyeon (물 냉면, shown above), typically made with beef broth; and bibim naengmyeon (비빔 냉면), mixed with a gochujang-based sauce. Both varieties are often served with sliced cucumbers, boiled eggs, and sesame seeds on top. There are other popular Korean cold noodle dishes, including kongguksu (콩국수), but naengmyeon has stood the test of time as the King of Cold Noodles.
Image Credits: pelican via Flickr
Let’s go in the opposite direction now. Samgyetang was traditionally eaten during the hottest days of the year, and it’s still eaten to replenish the nutrients people lose due to the summer heat. The soup features a whole young chicken, which is stuffed and simmered with glutinous rice, ginseng, garlic, and jujubes. You can find Korean restaurants that only serve this dish, made with secret recipes. Samgyetang is one of those foods that not only tastes good but is also a vital part of Korean culture, particularly traditional medicine.
Image Credits: elnina via Flickr
We’re back to cold noodles, this time without the broth. Translating to “mixed noodles,” bibim-guksu is thin wheat noodles (somyeon, 소면) tossed in a sauce containing red chili paste (gochujang, 고추장), red pepper powder, minced garlic, and other seasonings. Toppings include sliced cucumbers, pickled radish, and sesame seeds. A pleasant mix of spicy, crunchy, and chewy, bibim-guksu can be customized with any ingredient from your kitchen, making it a popular dish for the summer.
Oi Muchim (오이무침)
Image Credits: Kenneth Moore via Flickr
Keep the spice coming. Oi muchim, also called Korean cucumber salad, will add a burst of flavor to any meal. The cucumbers are thinly sliced and tossed in a sauce made with chili pepper flakes (gochugaru, 고추가루), sesame oil and seeds, garlic, scallion, and other ingredients. This is the perfect side dish (banchan, 반찬) for a barbeque or a picnic, or if you’re simply looking for something to use up those surplus cucumbers. Like bibim-guksu, it’s a symphony of flavors and textures that you can adjust to your personal tastes. Make this your summer go-to!
Image Credits: Image via Delicious
We can’t forget this classic pairing! A portmanteau of “chicken” and the Korean word for beer (maekju, 맥주), chimaek is the combination of Korean fried chicken and a serving of cold beer. Enjoyed throughout the year, chimaek is especially welcomed during the hot, lazy spring and summer months. There’s even a summer festival dedicated to it! Whether your chicken is plain or dipped in spicy sauce, and your beer is a Hite or a local craft, chimaek is the perfect choice for a day out with friends, family, and loved ones.
Image Credits: Artisee via lili on Flickr
Bingsu is a beloved Korean dessert that has gained widespread popularity over the last few years. The base is shaved ice, milk, and sweetened condensed milk, and when it comes to flavorings, the sky’s the limit! By far, the most popular flavor is red bean or patbingsu (팥빙수, shown above), but you can find so many other variations: soybean rice cake (injeolmi, 인절미), matcha, strawberry, coffee, etc. It looks and tastes delicious, making bingsu a delightful and satisfying experience for everyone.
Ice Cream-Filled Bungeoppang (붕어빵)
Image Credits: Mingsze Ho via Flickr
The original version of this popular Korean street food is filled with red bean paste and eaten during the cold winter months. However, you can also get bungeoppang from street stalls filled with ice cream. Or, if you’re in the store looking for a different kind of ice cream, you can find Samanco ice cream sandwiches shaped like bungeoppangs. Flavors include red bean, green tea, sweet potato, and strawberry. Whether it’s made warm and fresh from the market or pulled out nice and cold from the fridge at home, this cute twist on a classic will bring a smile to your face and give you a nostalgia boost.
Melona Ice Cream (메로나)
Image Credits: Hyeon-Jeong Suk via Wikimedia Commons
Speaking of ice cream, Melona has captured the hearts of Koreans and foreigners alike. It’s famous for its vibrant green color, distinct honeydew melon taste, and creamy mouthfeel, making it a popular choice for hot summer days. Besides melon, Melona can be found in mango, strawberry, banana, and several other flavors. Simple yet delectable, it is an iconic symbol of Korean frozen treats, inviting people to savor the taste of summer with every bite.
Image Credits: Robyn Lee via Flickr
If strawberries are Koreans’ favorite spring fruit, then watermelon, or subak, is Koreans’ favorite fruit for summer. Watermelon holds a special place in Koreans’ hearts and can be consumed in various ways. Besides slicing it, you can add it to ice cream (as a topping or the dessert itself) and cold drinks. The most popular way, however, is by making a watermelon punch (subak-hwachae, 수박화채), using the fruit itself as the serving bowl (shown above). It’s even better if you add soju! No matter what you do with it, watermelon will keep you hydrated and cool while offering fewer calories and the vitamins that you need to stay healthy.
A Cool Drink
Image Credits: Todd via Alpha on Flickr
When it comes to traditional Korean cold beverages, Sikhye ranks very high. This aromatic and sweet drink is made by fermenting cooked rice in malt water. It’s typically enjoyed as a dessert after large meals and celebrations, meant to help with digestion and relieving hangovers. Variations include Andong sikhye made with red pepper and hobak sikhye made with pumpkin. You can easily make your own or find canned sikhye at a convenience store.
Image Credits: Gemfinder via Flickr
Another traditional drink, sujjeongwa is punch made with cinnamon, ginger, and persimmons. Besides honey or brown sugar, most of the taste comes from the fruits and spices, making it a healthier drink (in moderation!). Historically made for New Year’s Day, sujjeongwa can be drunk throughout the year, although it’s usually enjoyed chilled in the summer. You can also find variations that use lotus flowers and pears. Sujjeongwa is best enjoyed in a relaxing environment and clear glass, so that you can fully appreciate its appearance and taste.
Iced Coffee and Tea
Image Credits: Image via The Korea Herald
You probably know this already, but iced Americano (shown above) is the coffee of choice for Koreans, especially in winter! However, with the hot temperatures, its cold boost is also welcome during the summer. Besides that and other iced coffee flavors, Koreans like drinking cold versions of their favorite tea. This includes green tea; citron (yuja) tea; and barley tea, or boricha. You’ll get the nutrients you need while staying cool this summer.
Image Credits: aohcumberland.org via Pinterest
An iconic childhood drink that celebrities including BTS’ Jungkook can’t live without! Binggrae’s banana milk is made with real bananas and has a distinct banana flavor and smooth texture. Besides the taste, the drink is well-known for its cute and colorful packaging. While you can find the milk in other flavors like strawberry and melon, the original remains everyone’s favorite. Banana milk is another nostalgic snack that people of all ages can enjoy. (We’ve included this drink in past Seoulboxes so our Seoulmates can experience the same feeling!)
Image Credits: nona <3 via Pinterest
Our final drink is another classic summer beverage. Milkis is a milky carbonated drink that sounds like it shouldn’t work but does! The smoothness of the milk mixes with the effervescence of soda, resulting in a creamy fizzy drink perfect for summer picnics. Its cans also contain delightful designs that have kept much of the original design from 30 years ago. On its own or in cocktails and mocktails, milkis is something that everyone should try at least once in their lives. We included it in our May 2023 Han River Picnic box for that very reason!
Seoulbox: A Taste of Korean Summer
If you’re unable to make it to Korea this summer, then don’t worry. Order one of our snack boxes – Seoulbox Signature or V, if you’re vegetarian – for the ultimate Korean snack experience. It's less than a week until our Travel to Korea-themed box is gone. You don’t want to miss out on real Korean chips, cookies, cakes, merch, and more!
Image Credits: Image via Seoulbox
Which of these foods is your favorite? What are you hoping to try? Let us know in the comments. And don’t forget to drink water, wear a hat and sunscreen, and stay cool. Happy summer, Seoulmates!