Seoul. An incredible destination for scrumptious food in every corner. It is literally everywhere. From street vendors to restaurants, one will definitely be able to find something that tickles their fancy and give them a culinary experience to remember for life.
Of course we all know our favourite bibimbap, dobokki and patbingsu. But are there actually more beyond these to be discovered in Korea? Why yes! During our trip to Seoul we’ve discovered that there was so many hidden gems to explore and taste in order to truly experience the Korean food culture. Koreans are so passionate about their food that no matter where you go, you’ll most likely able to come across delicious food.
During our one week adventure in Seoul, Miss M and I did our very best to cover as many variety as possible, digging through foods that are not commonly known and discovering a few gems along the way. Unfortunately I did not capture the location for most of the restaurant locations. Thus, this rough guide acts as a list of the type of foods for hunt for when you’re in Korea. Enjoy!
1. Andong Jjimdak (안동찜닭)
Jjimdak is a braised chicken dish that is quite popular in Korea. It is a savoury dish with a good balance of salt, sweetness and kick of spice. Prior to this, I did not realise that Korea had regarded braised chicken to be an admired dish among locals. Tourists visiting Korea will most likely miss out this one. As the name of the dish suggests, this dish is originated from the city of Andong. It is usually made with various vegetables and sweet potato noodles marinated in soy sauce.
On the first night, Miss M and I were strolling through the Myeongdong shopping district and we started to hunt for a restaurant that serves jjimdak. Miss M was a huge fan of cheese, so when we saw a signboard that said ‘Premium Cheese Jjimdak’, we were sold. Turns out we had one of the best meal in Seoul!
Who would’ve thought that cheese would go so well with soy marinated braised chicken! In fact we both wished there was more cheese 😛
Unfortunately, I did not capture the exact location. However, I can highly recomend this restaurant if you happen to come across this entrance whilst roaming in Myeongdong.
On a side note, we also tried a popular restaurant called Bongchu Jjimdak. Miss M said it is the oldest restaurant that serves jjimdak in Korea. However, this one really fell short because it tasted like an ordinary chinese braised chicken dish. On top of that, the chicken was fairly dry which was quite disappointing.
2. Bibimbap (비빔밥)
Bibimbap is Korea’s signature dish. Known all around the world, it is simple and healthy dish that is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with several ingredients such as seasoned vegetables, gochujang (chilli paste), seawedd, a raw egg and sliced beef. The diner will then mix everything together and enjoy it as a mixed dish.
Every restaurant has their own version of Bibimbap with a slight variation for each store. Some restaurants also serve this dish on a hot stone pot, which helps to slightly cook the ingredients and keep it warm at the same time. On top of that, it’s just enjoyable to hear it sizzle 😀
Miss M and I had our first bibimbap towards the end of the trip. On that particular day, we headed to Common Grounds, a small little container themed shopping area and we went into a restaurant selling Bibimbap for lunch.
The restaurant was empty, but wow did they put out a great bowl of bibimbap. I guess you can’t really go wrong with Bibimbap due to it’s simplicity 🙂
Just before leaving Korea, we also had another round of bibimbap as our very last meal. Had this one at the airport just before the departure gate 🙂
3. Dakgalbi (닭갈비)
Dakgalbi is a very popular Korean dish made by stir frying marinated chicken seasoned with gochujang (chili paste), a variety of vegetables and rice cakes. The most popular international food chain that serves dakgalbi is Yoogane. Yoogane has branches in Singapore, Philippines and Indonesia, but not yet in Malaysia 😦
Miss M and I have tried Yoogane in Bugis, Singapore. So when we saw the same restaurant in Myeongdong, we had to try the original! In Yoogane, each table has a burner and as you select your choice, the waiter will bring a large hot plate with your selected dish. The waiter will then help you to cook the entire dish from scratch. Quite a cool concept.
I must say though, I actually preferred the Yoogane in Singapore. I felt that the chicken served in Singapore was very fresh compared to this particular store in Myeongdong. Nevertheless, at least we have tried the original Yoogane in Korea 🙂
4. Samgyetang (삼계탕)
Samgyetang is Korea’s delightful ginseng chicken soup. The chicken is stuffed with garlic, rice, scallion, a ginseng root and a few other spices. I always thought that this dish would be perfect for a cold rainy day, but according to wikipedia, it says samgyetang is a warm soup suitable for hot summer days. Hmm.
Korea has gained quite a lot of popularity for their Samgyetang with their flagship restaurant Tosokchon helming the ginseng chicken soup business.
I wrote a whole post about this experience. Head over to this link to check it out 🙂
5. Budae Jjigae (부대찌개)
Budae Jjiage, meaning army stew, is a well known dish across Korea due to it’s simplicity and the use of cheap ingredients to create a really delicious pot of stew. After the Korean War, food was scarce and people started to use canned foods such as hot dogs and ham, incorporating them into a spicy soup flavoured with gochujang (red chili paste) and kimchi.
Fast forward to the modern world, this dish started to become commercial with the addition of several ingredients such as instant noodles, cheese, onions, tofu, mushroom and many more. It is the spicy kick from the soup that really gets people coming back for more.
On one of the nights in Seoul, we roamed around Myeongdong hunting for army stew. We tried to search for the ‘best’ budae jjigae in google, but we ended up just following the biggest signboard that advertises the dish 😛
We also had a second round of budae jjigae at Hongdae. This restaurant serves a modern version of budae jjiage, with a large ring around the stew that contains chicken, potato croquette and lots of cheese!
6. Gogigui, Korean BBQ (고기구이)
Korean BBQ is one of the best ways to experience the Korean eating culture. The three main meat that makes up the main portion of a Korean BBQ is bulgogi (beef), samgyeopsal (pork belly) and chicken. Other popular side dishes include lettuce, mushroom, corn and many more. To top this, restaurants also serve a wide range of refillable condiments such as kimchi, bean sprouts, fish cakes and anchovies to go with your meal and to fill your table space. The possibilities are endless!
In most of these establishments, there is also a ventilation system with each table having it’s own exhaust fan in order to prevent the smoke from spreading throughout the restaurant. Some restaurants even provide traditional charcoal as a form of heat to cook your food which brings another dimension of flavour to your BBQ.
Miss M and I had two Korean barbecue experiences. One during a day tour and another at Hongdae. For the Hongdae restaurant, we ordered a set menu for ₩12,000 each which offered unlimited pork belly and unlimited marinated beef. I was shocked when I saw the portion of the pork! I’ve never had such a huge slab of pork on a barbecue in my life. Previously, I have only experienced small slices of samgyupsal so this was quite an experience.
By the way, the right way to enjoy Korean BBQ is to wrap your grilled meat in lettuce, dip it in your preferred sauce and savour every bite 🙂
As for our other experience, we ordered chicken marinated in two ways. The restaurant was in a secluded area but their food was just incredible. The marination was top notch. Miss M and I were very happy people after that meal.
7. Juk (죽)
Juk loosely translates to Korean Porridge. It may sound like a fairly simple dish with nothing really special to shout about. I mean, how far can one go with porridge? Korea has proven us wrong with how they have created a large variety of porridge choices, incorporating different flavours, meat and vegetables.
One of the most popular restaurant chain in Korea that serves Korean porridge is Bonjuk. We popped by one of their restaurants while we were exploring the vicinity of Buckhon.
At Bonjuk, they serve a huge variety of porridge that you don’t see on your everyday menu such as octopus kimchi porridge, sweet pumpkin porridge, red bean porridge, mushroom oyster porridge, black sesame porridge and more!
Miss M and I however, had our eyes on their abalone porridge for ₩15,000. So we decided to order one to share.
To be honest, we couldn’t really taste much of the abalone. But the condiments made up for the dish. There was one particular condiment that tasted like salted beef and we kept going back for a refill. So good!
8. Injeolmi Toast (인절미토스트)
Injeolmi is a variation from the traditional Korean rice cake made from rice flour. Using this ingredient, it can be made into many types of food but one of the dish that stands out is the Injeolmi Toast which can be found in a Korean dessert cafe called Sulbing. Miss M and I made our way to a branch in Hongdae.
So basically it is a toast that has glutinous injeolmi within the toast, topped with injeolmi powder and almond flakes. It is then cut into 8 pieces to create a really photogenic look. It actually looks like an earthquake.
Overall it was pretty good! On the side, there was also condensed milk with some already being drizzled around the toast. One of the hidden gems you can find in Seoul.
9. Bingsu (빙수)
Of course, bingsu. Bingsu is a shaved ice dessert with sweet toppings such as fruit, milk, syrup and azuki beans. Patbingsu, shaved ice with red beans, is by far the most popular dessert in Korea.
However, we did not have the opportunity to try patbingsu. Instead, we had injeolmi bingsu! Following the previous injeolmi toast, we also had injeolmi bingsu at the same time.
The shaved ice was layered with injeolmi powder throughout so you could get that yummy injeolmi goodness with every bite. On top there’s also red bean and some mochi-like injeolmi for another layer of texture.
10. Chimaek, Fried Chicken & Beer (치맥)
Chimaek is combination of two words – Chicken and Maekju, the Korean word for beer. Chimaek has gain popularity among tourists and it is actually a part of the Korean culture. The chicken is usually cooked two ways, fried and spicy. Many locals enjoy eating chicken along with beer especially for supper.
Right next to our hotel, there is a restaurant that specialises in serving chimaek. So we took this advantage and we ordered their standard portion which consisted of 12 pieces of chicken, 6 fried, 6 spicy. They basically took the whole chicken and chopped into 12 pieces. So we got all parts of the chicken including the breast and thighs. To top this off, we also ordered one beer to quench our thirst 😛
11. Bulgogi Jungol, Korean Beef Hot Pot (불고기 전골)
Koreans love their stew and this is another variation apart from budae jjigae. It’s not as popular as the army stew but it is something that’s good to have on a cold rainy day. Not to mention also delicious!
12. Tteokbokki (떡볶이)
Tteokbokki is another widely popular Korean food made from soft rice cakes mixed with a spicy red chili sauce called gochujang. There’s so many other spelling that is used to call this dish such as teokbokki, ddeokbokki, topokki, and dukboki. As for me, I like to call it dobokki. Nonetheless, the dish speaks for itself despite it being only made using two ingredients.
The thing that makes people go back for more is that spicy kick you get from gochujang. Once the sauce is made to the right balance of sweetness along with a spice level that is just right, you just can’t stop eating!
Throughout the trip, Miss M and I had around 2 rounds of spicy, addictive dobokki.
13. All things Matcha
Matcha did not originate from Korea, but there is a store called Osulloc Tea House that serves the most amazing matcha desserts as well as other beverages.
We visited a store in Insadong, which was one of Osulloc’s largest store in Seoul. It was comprised of three levels with the first floor being a store and the top two floors being dining areas for patrons. We ordered their set for ₩18,000 which includes a matcha roll, matcha ice cream and matcha latte.
The combination of matcha ice cream and matcha latte was incredible. I was brought to another world. Osulloc has shattered what I thought was good ‘green tea’. You just have to try it for yourself!
The price for desserts and beverages at Osulloc is on the high side, but I can promise you that it is worth your hard earned money. The quality of their tea is unrivaled.
One thing to note however, we found that the price varies from store to store, depending on how popular the store is. The branch in Insadong takes the cake for having the most expensive menu.
Also, don’t forget to try out Seoul’s long matcha ice cream when you roam the shopping districts! 🙂
This was something that really surprised me. We had burgers twice during this trip and we were just expecting an average burger. But the burgers we so good! It was so good that I just had to give them credit here. It could be just our luck, but I think Koreans really have an amazing passion for food that everything they touch becomes incredibly delicious.
Even though this isn’t a food, but coffee in Korea is a level above any other countries I’ve had coffee at. Any cafe you go, you are promised with the best coffee you have ever tasted. Could it be the roasted beans that they use? Or the milk? Who knows. But we both miss the coffee in Korea so much.
So that sums up our incredible food exploration in Seoul. However, there are so many more types of Korean food that we wanted to try but we didn’t have the time to (like tofu stew, jajangmyeon, raw octopus etc). This just means that we will make another trip down to Seoul 😛
Every single dish featured here is absolutely worth trying. I can easily recommend this list to anyone visiting Korea in order to truly experience and immerse one’s self in their food culture. Enjoy! 🙂
To end this post, I would like share a picture of how Miss M brought a piece of Korea back with her.