My two favourite cuisines are Japanese, and the other, Korean. I can eat Japanese or Korean food anytime and everyday and probably wouldn't get tired of it. I was the planner for the trip, and I made sure to Google for must-eat foods besides shopping and sightseeing activities.
Be warned. It's an image heavy post ahead...
Koreans love their soju. In Korea, do as the Koreans do.
My first meal in Korea was chicken. Or more precisely 닭갈비 (dak galbi). We went to a chicken restaurant in Myeongdong (where we were staying) - 유가네 (Yoogane). Note - there are two Yoogane outlets in Myeongdong.
It came served in a hugeeeeee pan that's like four times the size of my face I think. Haha. We were not very hungry so we ordered just the chicken to share, but as we looked at the neighbouring tables, their pans had rice or noodles...and we couldn't resist, so we ordered noodles to add in too! :)
유가네 닭갈비(Yoogane dak galbi)
On our second day, we were planning to have a quick dinner as we had a hair appointment scheduled. Thus, we walked around Ewha University Street, and popped into a small restaurant and satisfied ourselves with 김밥 (kimbap) and kimchi noodles.
On one of our sightseeing days, after we visited the Gyeongbokgung Palace, we headed to a nearby restaurant, 토속촌 (Tosokchon - I found it online through netizens' recommendations) for 삼계탕 (samgyetang). Aka Ginseng Chicken. Yeah baby...
Packed with both tourists and locals
I didn't really like the kimchi, but then again, there were few places in Seoul that I actually did like the kimchi served, cos most of the restaurants served sour fermented kimchi, and I personally like the taste of fresh unfermented kimchi... The pickled radish on the other hand was really good. It was self-served, the little black pots were on each long table, so you could take and refill as much as you like.
There's a long queue to go in, but it moved pretty fast though. So basically, after you get past the long queue and enter the restaurant, you gesture to the staff how many people are in your party. Then you get seated in one of the many areas of the restaurants - we sat cross legged on the floor (shown below) in one of the rooms.
Place your order and wait for it to arrive.
Potent Ginseng alcohol served at the end of the meal
I must say that this was one of my favourite meal of the trip. Samgyetang is a popular summer dish, the Koreans believe that eating samgyetang can help boost the body to replace the lost nutrients lost through sweating during summer. I couldn't understand how or why this is so, but who cares when I took the first mouthful. It was way freakin' delicious!!! Flavourful, and rich and wholesome. The chicken was stuffed with glutinous rice, gingko nuts, red dates, chestnut, and of course, a whole ginseng root (just look at the ginseng above!!!) and topped with pine nuts. The ginseng was really soft, the texture was like softened potatoes, and Sis and I actually ended up eating it - I think I ate like 3/4 of it?
The meal ended with a shot of ginseng alcohol. Wooohooo, potent potent stuff that one is.
I knew I wanted to have a traditional Korean meal in Seoul, so I did some research and found a couple of potential places that serve it, which are called 한정식 (hanjeongsik). Then, when I went for my hair appointment, the very nice hairdresser introduced a cheap and good hanjeonsik that she frequent. She wrote down the name and phone number of the place for me, and told me that we had to make reservations (on hindsight, should have asked her to book the reservations since my Korean skills are not that advanced yet...). After some troubleshooting, we ended up asking a cosmetics sales girl who speaks Chinese and Korean to help us with the reservations. ;) Fyi, the cosmetics sales people in the shops are at the very least bilingual - they can speak Mandarin or Japanese - mainly to cater to all the tourists who visit Seoul to get cheap cosmetics.
Anyway, we made our way to the restaurant (we had some difficulty locating the place, but with a very nice ahjusshi's help, we managed to get there!) and proceeded to have a very long lunch there.
Porridge and pickled radish
Stir fried noodles with vegetables
Jellyfish with cucumber; Sweet pumpkin and crab meat pancake; Salad; Rice cake in dumpling soup
Black sesame tofu
Vinegary raw fish; Sping onions pancake
Pan fried Alaskan pollack; Stir fried beef
Pork wrapped with kimchi and vegetables
Bamboo steamed rice, soybean stew and side dishes
Dessert - sweet punch and mochi
Our meal course on the right
It was certainly an experience eating a full set traditional Korean meal. I thought that they would serve everything all at once (like seen on television), but they served it course by course. I certainly recommend to visit a hanjeongsik to try the food as it is quite different from the usual Korean fare (think kimchi fried rice, spicy kimchi jjigae, bulgogi). I must say that this is also another meal that I quite enjoyed in Seoul (what with the experience and all).
Yummy street snacks
This is a must try! I don't have a name for it, but it's basically an alternate of sausage and fishcake wrapped around rice cake. I got mine from Myeongdong (it's near the subway exit 5 I think, just walk past Migliore and it's one of the first food stalls you'll see). Totally yummy.
Street snacks - Meat skewers
There are dozens of street snacks lining the roads in Seoul everywhere you go. But I think I only tried them a handful of times (not because I didn't want to, but there were just so many food that I wanted to eat for my main meals that I had to resist and practice self control). These meat skewers were from Ewha University Street area and they were spicy and delicious. I was speaking Korean while ordering, so I think the lady assumed I was Korean, then when she asked me something which I didn't understand, I was uhm-ing and aah-ing for a bit and she was like ah, you're not Korean! Ha! Sigh. I think I should practice my Korean more diligently...
떡볶이 (Deokkbokki shop)
You can't go to Korea without eating ddeokbokki. That's like practically a...a...a crime! Haha. From street stalls to small restaurants to food courts, the dish is like available almost everywhere. Sis and I got cheese rabokki and 냉면 naengmyeon to share as a late tea (we had a heavy brunch one day and skipped lunch) while shopping at Ewha University Street (yes, again, we kept veering back to that great shopping haven).
Two two fried chicken
Another popular dish is Seoul is fried chicken. There was a fried chicken place near our guesthouse, and we stopped by there for dinner on one of the nights. There was a dual fried chicken set, which came with a regular fried chicken plate with a salt, pepper, and sesame spice mix on the side, and a spicy sweet garlic sauce drenched fried chicken plate. Both plates were served with cabbage on the side, which was unfortunately drowned in tons of mayo and ketchup - which I then had to scrape off to the sides cos it was just too disgusting.
Both plates of fried chicken were tasty, and I couldn't decide which I preferred better. I reckon it was a shame we didn't get to try other fried chicken shops to compare the quality and taste, but nevertheless, at least it was another strike off my to-eat list!
Super high soft serve ice cream cones were another popular street snack (dessert). There were a couple of such stalls in Myeongdong. We first found this booth that sold only chocolate and vanilla. The texture of the chocolate was a tad too icy for my liking. NOT recommended. (Scroll down for recommended).
반찬 (ban chans/side dishes) are a must in any Korean meal
We were shopping at Dongdaemun one night, and happened to have our dinner at the food court upstairs. No photos of our dinner as I forgot to bring my camera, but we had bibimbap that night. One of the side dishes served was ddeokbokki and it was really really good. In fact, most ddeok we had in Korea was cooked to the perfect texture, and the accompanying sauce was always a thumbs up too - we didn't had any subpar ddeok in our Seoul trip. On another day, we revisited Dongdaemun again, and was feeling peckish in the afternoon. Thus, we went upstairs and ordered a plate of ddeokbokki to share. ;)
명동교자 (Myeongdong gyoza)
Another popular recommendation in the online sphere, Myeongdong gyoza was reputed to have really good gyoza and 칼국수 (kalguksu - handmade knife cut noodles). Sis and I had a late dinner there one night, and initially, we were both quite full, so we only ordered a basket of gyoza. It was good, but then, my eyes kept straying to the middle aged couple next to us, who had ordered big bowls of the kalguksu and were slurping their noodles up. Yep, we ended up ordering a bowl to share and boy was it not a wasted decision. Tasty soup broth! And I must point out that this place also served kimchi that I actually liked! It was really garlicky though, but we even had refills to eat with our noodles.
A note - I thought that the restaurant was quite considerate actually, to place mint sweets on the table for customers to chew on after their meals.
마포갈매기 BBQ in Hong Dae
Speak of Hong Dae and the first thing in mind would be BBQ restaurants. On the day we visited Hong Dae, we made sure to stay till dinner time in order to have dinner at one of the many BBQ restaurants there. We ordered 갈매기 (galmaegi - a meat cut between the pig's ribs and belly) and bulgogi beef.
A pity we didn't fully enjoy our BBQ session as the service at the restaurant was truly bad. Super do not recommend this place that we went to - Mapo Galmaegi. Avoid at all costs please. The food wasn't spectacular too or anything to warrant a visit (I mean if service was bad but food was freakin' good, I would still recommend, but there is nothing special about the food here really).
After an unsatisfying BBQ dinner which we didn't order much anyway, we took the train back to Myeongdong, and I wanted a sweet dessert to end my day with. We found another much better tasting soft serve ice cream seller, this ahjumma whose booth is situated right across the Myeongdong theatre. Ahjumma here has more flavours - such as green tea, strawberry, chocolate and vanilla and a mix of two flavours of either green tea and strawberry or chocolate and vanilla. I shared a green tea cone with Sis. The texture of the soft serve here was creamier and nicer than the one previously tried.
Mix everything up thoroughly to get the above picture. Then proceed to attack it with gutso. Munch pickles and kimchi with alternate mouthfuls. It is really addictive. The noodles were really springy and the sauce was salty and appetizing, when paired with the pickled vegetables. I now know why Koreans love jjajangmyeon. Like I say, a must try.
안동 찜닭 (Andong jjimdak)