Keto Korean Food – Top 10 Low Carb Dishes to Try!
March 23, 2020
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“Keto Korean food? You mean it’s not all rice and noodles?” Far from it! Here are the best low-carb dishes to indulge in at Korean restaurants (or make yourself) without exceeding your current carb limits.
“Annyeonghaseyo 안녕하세요” everyone! Today we’re back in the oriental land of Asia.
I got thinking the other day… I love to explore different cuisines, and my post on keto Japanese food got a great response (thank you all).
It didn’t take long for my imagination to lead me to Japan’s close cousin – South Korea! With many cultural parallels, and yet unique food and traditions, there had to be something fun to learn about Korea’s cuisine…
Without further adieu, here are the top 10 low carb Korean foods for everyone to enjoy. So go on, make the most of your culture trip, restaurant, or home cooking!
1. Seolleongtang (Ox Bone Soup)
Seolleongtang 선릉 탕 (Ox Bone Soup) is the ultimate keto Korean food, much like any other bone broth.
It is thought that ancient sacrifices may have been the origin of this soup, made to feed many people with few ingredients (though times have changed)! However, we may also have to thank the earlier Mongols for its invention – no one’s quite sure.
Anyway, broth made from bones or other connective tissue is easily one of the best ways to boost your your connective tissue and joint health, bursting with beneficial collagen-building glucosaminoglycans and other proteins.
What really sets this Korean masterpiece apart is the method!
Real seolleongtang is a milky broth, made by slowly simmering ox bones in cycles. This concentrates the nutrients and deep flavour into one single batch!
To complete the soup, beef is often soaked and then cooked in the broth alongside herbs and vegetables.
Maangchi’s easy traditional recipe uses just a few simple ingredients so you can make your very own. Some recipes add starch noodles, not this one. If you like noodles anyway, try some keto-friendly options:
- Courgette / zucchini noodles (best option: light flavour and delicate texture) (recipe)
- Butternut squash noodles (recipe)
- Enoki mushrooms
If eating out, definitely look for this dish, but pass on starch noodles if they’re added!
2. Galbitang (Beef Short Rib Soup)
Similar to seolleongtang, galbitang 갈비탕 is a warming, hearty soup made by simmering bones, meat, and vegetables.
However, instead of simmering bones to make a broth and then adding meat to create a soup, galbitang cooks the meat on the bone.
You’ll find this satisfying short rib soup made with Korean radishes as the main vegetable. In addition, a sharp infusion of refreshing vegetables like leeks, onions, and garlic create the base, but these get discarded before serving.
Make it yourself with Kimchimari’s Beef Short Rib Soup Recipe. Thanks JimJoo!
Traditionally, this may be served as a standalone dish with various sides, but may also be made with starch noodles in the soup.
If you’re ordering this at a restaurant, make sure you ask for it without the starch noodles (if they add them).
On the other hand, feel free to use keto-friendly noodles (like courgette / zucchini noodles).
3. Gui (Korean Grilled Food)
You sit around the table, everyone excited with chopsticks in hand. Out come the dishes.
One by one, delicious meats and veggies are laid on a central grill, searing as they release mouthwatering scents into the air.
If you want to enjoy low-carb Korean food with friends and family – especially those who are not on the same diet – look no further.
‘Gui 구이’ simply means grill in Korean. However, this isn’t just any grill. This is often a traditional table grill, where the food is cooked right in front of you.
In fact, you’ve probably heard of it. The world-famous ‘Korean BBQ’ (as described above) is often called ‘gogi-gui 고기구이’ (meat grill)!
All in all, this is some of the finest keto Korean food. With a wide variety of meat and vegetable options, it’s perfect to keep you satisfied and within your carbohydrate limits.
Best Keto-friendly Options
The beauty of gui is the freedom to make your own choices! From fatty cuts of tender beef, to a range of nutrient-dense offal, seafood, and vegetables.
Samgyeopsal (Grilled Pork Belly) 삼겹살 is probably your best bet on keto! High-fat, low-carb, and absolutely mouthwatering. Be prepared to fight for it.
Furthermore, the best part is that samgyeopsal is traditionally unmarinated, meaning you can avoid added sugars.
A few more great choices (low-carb and/or high-fat) include:
Meat / Offal ‘Gogi / Naejang’
- Gopchang gui* (small beef intestines)
- Galbi gui (pork or beef short ribs)
- Jumulleok (pork or beef short steak, marinated in sesame oil)
Seafood ‘Saengseon / Seokhwa’
- Godeungeo gui (mackerel)
- Jangeo gui* (sliced eel)
- Garibi gui (scallops)
- Jeongbok gui (abalone sea snails)
- Beoseot gui (mushrooms)
- Gim gui (gim seaweed / nori)
*Some gui are marinated before cooking, and could contain sugar. See below for more information.
Watch Out for Marinades
Some popular grilled meat dishes at a Korean BBQ are marinated before cooking. The marinades used may contain sugar, however.
If you’re ordering your gui, watch out for these options in particular:
- Bulgogi: Thin pieces of marinated beef (so bulgogi 소불고기), pork (dweji bulgogi), chicken (dak bulgogi), or other meat or seafood. The marinade is soy sauce-based but is sweetened with sugar.
- Galbi: This is similar to bulgogi, but thicker and most often made with pork rather than beef. Some varieties may be unseasoned, so it’s best to ask first.
- Jangeo gui: As we saw above, this means grilled, sliced eel. To add flavour, it is typically marinated in one of two options: gochujang or ganjang (soy sauce). Gochujang is a Korean fermented spice paste made from rice flour, and sometimes contains extra sugar or syrup. If you’re strict on keto, stay away from gochujang. Ganjang is otherwise a great option!
4. Kimchi (Fermented Cabbage)
Everyone’s heard of this one. Kimchi 김치 is no doubt Korean cuisine’s biggest claim to fame, becoming a popular food across the globe.
In simple terms, it’s a pickled (fermented) spiced cabbage dish.
As an excellent source of gut-boosting probiotics and antioxidants, health enthusiasts (like me) boast about its benefits:
- Improved digestion (^)(^)*
- Immune system support (^)(^)(^)(^)*
- Boosted mood and mental health (^)(^)*
- Supported heart health (^)*
- More (^)(^*)
The studies linked above include those about kimchi directly, and also dietary probiotics in general.
You can easily make kimchi at home, or find it online, in restaurants, and at some supermarkets! Make sure you get a fermented type if you purchase it.
On a ketogenic diet, kimchi is one of the best vegetable sources you can have. It uses low carb vegetables, ferments them (reducing carbs further), and packs in nutrients, including the following (^):
- Vitamins (especially A, B vitamins, C and K)
- Minerals (especially manganese, iron, and magnesium)
- Other Antioxidants and phytochemicals
I recommend ‘Mama Kim’s Kimchi’ (buy here), being traditional, cheaper than others, and a best seller!
P.S. Try out my easy homemade pickles if you’re new to fermenting! The same principles will apply to making kimchi (and sauerkraut).
What Is the Difference between Kimchi and Sauerkraut?
Most of you probably think sauerkraut when you hear “fermented cabbage”. But, there are some interesting differences between sauerkraut and kimchi.
The obvious difference is that Kimchi comes from Korea, and Sauerkraut most likely from the Mongols or Chinese (believe it or not). Sauerkraut came to quickly thrive across Europe and the Germanic peoples, hence the German name ‘sour cabbage’.
Most of the time, sauerkraut is purely shredded white or red cabbage and salt. On the other hand, kimchi almost always uses Napa cabbage and incorporates more ingredients.
These include a wide variety of spices and even other vegetables such as radish.
This provides two rather different taste experiences: Traditional sauerkraut has a powerful (and addictive) tangy flavour, but kimchi is often also aromatic and spicy.
5. Gyeran-jjim (Steamed Egg)
Yep, steamed egg! It sounds weird, but gyeran-jjim 계란 찜 certainly looks delicious.
If you enjoy a good omellete, imagine that, but more “cake-like” and fluffy! You can essentially dig into steamed eggs like an umami-rich souffle.
This can be a main dish or a side dish (called ‘banchan’ 반찬 in Korean). As you can imagine, when it comes to keto Korean food, eggs being a staple of the diet makes the dish a perfect way to enjoy this exotic cuisine.
Finally, to serve, the Koreans finish their soft and silky gyeran-jjim with sliced scallions. It’s one of the easiest Korean recipes to make, definitely try your hand at it!
I think this dish has to be one of my favourite keto Korean food ideas: simple, unique, and it has eggs!
6. Cauliflower /Miracle Rice Bibimbap (Rice Bowl)
You know what I like about bibimbap? You can never get bored of it.
Bibimbap 비빔밥 is Korea’s famous traditional mixed rice bowl.
It’s fun to say, fun to make, and endlessly customisable! (A bit like Japanese “shabu-shabu”, one of the best keto Japanese foods).
Bibimbap essentially means mixed rice, and can include cooked vegetables, kimchi, meat, and eggs. Since white rice will quickly send you out of ketosis, you can simply substitute it with cauliflower rice.
Another popular rice substitute for weight loss and keto especially is Miracle Noodle’s “miracle rice”. Also known as “shirataki rice”, this is made from konjac root, and comes in at just 10 calories and 1g net carbs per 3oz serving!
As it’s unlikely you will find such preparations in restaurants, you’ll probably have to make this one yourself.
That’s the good thing, though: You get to choose the meats, veggies, eggs, and whatever else to suit your needs and taste!
I put together some ideas to inspire you (combine, mix, or substitute as you like):
- Sauteed mushrooms
- Sauteed leafy vegetables
- Bean sprouts
- Yukhoe (see below)
- Raw egg yolk
- Sesame seeds
- Chili peppers
- Soy sauce ($2.99)
- Sesame oil ($13.00)
- Kimchi (bulk $23.99)
7. Yukhoe (Raw Beef)
If you’ve ever seen or tried the famous French ‘steak tartare’, think of yukhoe 육회 as the Korean way! Served as raw beef mince and topped with an egg yolk, the dishes are almost identical.
What better way to enjoy beef on keto? This simple combo comes packed with healthy fats and protein, along with essential minerals and vitamins!
In Korea, people enjoy yukhoe topped with sesame seeds. The marinade is usually based on soy sauce and sesame oil, mixed with garlic, spring onions, and a little honey.
Tips for the Marinade
On the other hand, some recipes unfortunately will include sugar. Restaurants will likely let you know if you ask them.
Here are a few ways to work around a sugared marinade:
- Go marinade-free
- Use just soy sauce or sesame oil
- Make your own, omitting the honey (or using a stevia or sugar alcohol substitute)!
Enjoying this on keto as a low carb Korean food is easy either way, with a very insignificant carbohydrate content from the marinade.
Remember that traditional soy sauce is much healthier, too. It’s brewed using natural fermentation. Kikkoman’s ($2.99) is a popular choice you can find online or in most supermarkets, and is the brand I use in my own Asian kitchen crafts.
Is Yukhoe Safe?
Because yukhoe is raw beef, some people have concerns about trying it.
We know supermarket meat raw, especially if it’s already been minced, as this could contain harmful bacteria and lead to food poisoning.
In particular, the largest risk is salmonella. However, it’s also quite well-known beef and lamb can often be – and are – eaten raw.
The main factors which affect the safety of raw beef are the following:
- Processing (minced, sliced, whole, etc.)
- Preparation and hygiene
- Beef quality (farming standards and feed)
If you order yukhoe at a trustworthy restaurant, you can guarantee that the beef will be as fresh as possible and carefully sourced and handled.
If You’re Thinking about Making this Yourself, Here’s What to Know
First of all, you’ll want to find a good source.
Speak to your butchers, not the supermarket, and tell them your plans. They should then be able to advise and give you the freshest meat available.
If you can, go for local meat, and preferably grass-fed.
Secondly, you’ll want to use a whole piece of meat – not premade mince (which uses multiple cows and encounters more bacteria from tools, machinery, handling, and packaging).
For yukhoe, lean cuts work best, such as eye of rounds or top rounds, but you can use fattier cuts, too.
It’s important you get that meat on the same day you intend to use it. This limits storage time and prevent bacterial growth. Keep it refrigerated and well-covered until you use it.
Before preparing, salt the outside of the meat well, wash your hands, and clean any tools. Now you’re all set (and it will be worth it)!
Click here for Food Republic’s recipe. This is the best one I’ve found.
P.S. For the egg yolk, use an egg which has been vaccinated against salmonella. In the UK, the lion mark is what to look out for. As always, free-range, but ideally pastured and organic is best.
8. Maeuntang (Spicy Fish Stew)
This one works up an appetite! I loooove fish, but add spice and there’s something spectacular!
The Korean word ‘maeun’ 마은 means spicy, and you’ve probably noticed that ‘tang’ 탕 means soup / stew by now. This Korean main dish is always made with fish.
At a restaurant or in South Korea, you could be lucky enough to find it made with traditional fish like Domi (red snapper) or Nongeo (black sea bass).
Maangchi’s recipe uses nongeo, but lean fish like pollock can substitute well.
Making this yourself let’s you limit the amount of carbohydrates from soju, bean paste, or vegetables (but you may not need to).
On keto, you’ll want higher fats, too. The best way to get more fats with maeuntang is to enjoy it alongside keto Korean food like gyeran-jjim.
You can also directly add in extra healthy fats or oils, (or stir them into the gyeran-jjim egg mixture)!
9. Nakji Bokkeum (Spicy Stir-fried Octopus)
Getting a little more exotic, here we have octopus! Nakji Bokkeum 낙지볶음 is another superb spicy seafood dish, and is well worth the try.
Octopus is a lean source of protein, but the dish itself allows you to up the fat content – it’s a stir-fry, after all!
In addition, octopus is extremely nutritious. According to nutritiondata.com and other sources, here are just some of the beneficial nutrients that are abundant in octopus meat (85g cooked):
- Protein 51%
- Selenium 109%
- Zinc 19%
- Copper 31%
- Iron 45%
- Vitamin B12 510%
- Vitamin B6 28%
- Vitamin B3 16%
(Percentages listed as per standard USDA daily values)
I want to mention here that the red spicy sauce tends to contain a small amount of added sugar. This is around 2 tbsp (or 25g) per 4 servings, on average.
On top of that, the dish traditionally contains vegetables like carrots.
Here are some ideas for getting around this:
Firstly, if eating out, ask waiters or the chef about the ingredients. If you’re ordering this somewhere where it’s freshly made, perhaps you could ask for no added sugar.
However, it’s easy to use an online recipe and alter it to your needs.
I still decided to add this as one of the best keto Korean foods because of the nutrient density, availability for high fat and protein, and relatively low carbohydrate content compared to a lot of alternative dishes.
For some people going through a keto phase, this added sugar might be absolutely fine. Each individual’s limits differ, depending on factors such as body weight, age, genetics, and metabolism.
By taking the time to make small changes, you can still experience authentic Korean cuisine to its very fullest!
No, I’m not crazy! Tempeh is fermented soy beans, but it’s surprisingly low in carbs.
In a 100g (3.5-ounce) serving of tempeh, there is typically 9.4g of carbs, according to nutritiondata.self.com.
Along with this, there’s plenty of healthy fat (10.8g) and protein (18.5g). Don’t forget that 100g of tempeh could also contain a few grams of fibre.
Because ketosis is different for everyone, some people will be able to consume more than others and maintain their metabolic state. The limit is typically from below 50g per day, but can be as low as 20g per day for some.
Tempeh can still fit into these allowances as a keto Korean food. My recommendation is enjoying it as a delicious banchan (side dish) with a high-fat dish like galbitang! Marinade it in cold-pressed sesame oil for an extra boost of fat.
Can You Make Your Own Tempeh?
Yes, you can absolutely make your own tempeh. It’s an excellent way to learn about fermenting, and is no doubt the freshest you’ll get!
If you’re thinking about making your own (which you definitely should!), Cultures for Health has a great guide you can view here.
By the way, you have more than soybeans at your disposal…
To avoid soy, be it due to the carbs or an allergy, you can simply make tempeh without them. How?
Well, we’ve all heard how great seeds are for keto! They’re similar nutritionally to nuts, and are excellent sources of healthy fats. What you might not have known is how versatile they really are.
Recipes like this creative one by Emillie at fermentingforfoodies.com use seeds just like their legume cousins to create wonderful tempeh!
The recipe above is for sunflower seeds, but you can use almost any kind.
Within just 1-2 days, you can enjoy the complex, nutty flavour and soft texture of your very own homemade tempeh.
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Keto Korean Food Is Easy!
As we’ve seen in this post, enjoying low carb Korean food, that’s authentic, delicious, and varied isn’t as hard as it seems.
Sure, they have noodle and rice dishes, and even high carb sauces. But that doesn’t stop anyone on a ketogenic diet from making the most of this fascinating and unique cuisine.
Rice and noodle alternatives are even an option, such as cauliflower rice and courgette / zucchini noodles!
When it comes down to it, South Korea has a fascinating culture and cuisine. They really know how to make the most of every ingredient (just look at seolleongtang), and that’s something we can all learn to do more!
To enjoy your trip to the country, feel confident at a restaurant, or up your cooking game with new skills, and still stick to a keto diet, these 10 dishes are the best way to start.
That’s all for this post, share your favourite Korean foods below, check out our other articles, and “najung-e boja 나중에 보자” (see you later)!
Until next time, stay healthy
Frequently Asked Questions:
Overall, enjoying low-carb Korean food that’s authentic, delicious, and varied isn’t as hard as it seems. When on a keto diet, there are many options available to enjoy this traditional Asian cuisine. These top 10 foods are the perfect place to start.
Yes, Korean food can certainly be good for weight loss. The cuisine is abundant in filling foods like fibrous vegetables and soup. Along with high protein dishes (such as the Korean BBQ), this is great for reducing appetite. So if you stick to whole foods, both high-carb and low-carb Korean dishes can help your weight loss goals.
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