This is a very belated post, but since my last trip afforded such good food, I couldn’t bear to leave it off the blog! P and I went to Seoul over Easter break for a short three-day trip. Again, as with the Taipei trip, I spent precious hours scouring the web for the best food options. I’ve listed some of our favorites here, but in Seoul, addresses are a bit useless; due to a somewhat-random numbering system and twisty-turny alleyways, everyone relies on landmarks for directions. And, since I can’t read Korean, business cards were no use to me either. If you can’t find these places, don’t fret. In general, I found that it’s very easy to find good food in Seoul. Just follow your nose. Good luck!
In my research, I came across this blog post from What’s Cooking at Soomeenshee’s. The description of the dak galbi, or BBQ chicken, was so delicious. I knew I had to find it. Fortunately, P and I were staying in Myeongdong and a quick early-morning stroll accidentally got us to this restaurant. When we went back later that night, it was packed with dak galbi lovers.
At every table there’s a flat grill; when you order, the waiters bring a pan and the ingredients and cook it in front of your eyes. If you want to feel useful, after they leave for the next table, you can also shove things around for a bit. There are many options for the chicken, and we chose the regular and the “extra spicy” variety just for kicks. After eyeing the next table, we also got a side of fried rice, which the waiters mix in with the chicken.
I think cooking is part of the experience itself, since I don’t go to many DIY restaurants in HK (and definitely not in South Dakota!). Personally, I believe the food tastes better after you know your love and sweat has gone into it (however much you can muster in about 10 minutes). Anyways, the chicken was great – the spicy, slightly sour marinade was delicious, though it effectively set our lips on fire! Each order of dak galbi also came with potatoes, rice cakes, and cabbage. In my opinion, though, there was too much of the latter and not enough of the other two. The banchan also left something to be desired, but hey, when you’re here for the chicken, everything else pales in comparison. The fried rice was great too, especially at the end when the bottom of the rice started burning slightly, for the crispy finish I love.
On a side note, the owner (?) is an avid record collector and while we were dining, we heard everything from The Velvet Underground to Peter, Paul, and Mary. He’s got a massive collection and if you bug him enough, he’ll take requests. Yoogane is definitely a fun experience, and nice pit stop in the shopping mecca of Myeongdong.
(02) 3789 3392
Cost: 8000 KRW/person
One night P and I went to the Hongik University area, which was hopping with tons of bars, restaurants, and trendy students. We read it had a great music scene but didn’t quite make it to the venues as we got sidetracked at dinner. We literally stumbled into this Korean BBQ place; its Korean name roughly translates into “Stone House” (thanks to L for the interpretation!). The menu had six items (and there were more drink than food options!) and every table had its own wood-fire grill.
Again, when we ordered, we had no idea what we were doing. But, in between checking out other people’s food and communicating in pidgin English with the waitress, we managed to get some kind of pork to grill, and a pan of bibimbap.
The open fire seemed raw and edgy, as if we had returned to the roots of humanity and were now cooking like our ancestors (or so it seemed to me, after two quick shots of soju!).
The side dishes were not too impressive, but there was a wonderful soybean-based soup with onions that was salty but a little grainy too, like the miso soup served at Japanese restaurants. Anyways, we patiently grilled our pork, garlic and mushrooms. When it was done, we dutifully drenched the pork in sauce and wrapped it in lettuce leaves – delicious. Nothing like taking your meal off the grill yourself.
The bibimbap was also mouthwatering. We set the pan directly on the grill and waited until the bottom turned nice and crispy. A great side for our BBQ. And of course, great drinking food for our soju!
“Stone House” (벽돌집)
The back streets of Hongik
Cost: Anywhere from 9000 – 14,000 KRW for meats
INSADONG TEA HOUSE
Yes, Insadong is the name of the “old town” part of Seoul, but it’s also the name of a traditional tea house in the area. P and I met up with M and J, two Seoul locals who exchanged at my school in HK last year, and they took us to this charming place.
The inside has three separate seating areas: a front area with wooden decor, a middle courtyard for outdoor seating, and a set of back rooms designed like a Korean hanok.
M and J helped me order the “Five Flavors Tea,” or omijacha, a gorgeous blood-orange tea that tasted sour, sweet, bitter, salty, and pungent (didn’t know that was a flavor) all at once. I loved the distinct taste.
Insadong Tea House
Insadong-gil (the main street)
SEOUL STREET FOOD
I saved my favorite food adventure for last: Street Food! P and I took one afternoon to wander around Myeongdong and stuffed ourselves silly. There are tons of stands selling everything from novelty-shaped flat cookies to fried potato chips on a stick to…well, everything else on a stick.
I definitely loved the small sausages and sausage-wrapped rice cake kebabs at one stand. Dress it up with mustard and ketchup and you’re good to go.
We also had fried chicken on a stick on the first day, delicious with a sweet and sour sauce on top.
I think my favorite street food, though, was gunmandu, or grilled dumplings. The stand was located in front of Noon Square, and P and I spent several minutes admiring the grilling station.