Riding on the Korean Hallyu wave across Asia and the rest of the world, more people are getting exposed to Korean cuisine, known today through centuries of social and political evolution.
Korean cuisine is readily available in many parts of the world, from street snacks to Korean Barbeque. But what about the real deal? When you travel to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, what should you eat?
Below is a short list of essential things you should nom on when in Seoul, Korea. If you only have a week to feast while on a holiday, feast on these.
1. Tteokbokki (Korean Spicy Rice Cakes) 떡볶이
Tteokbokki must eat foods Korea. Tteokbokki is a popular Korean street snack made from soft rice cake, fish cake and sweet red chili sauce. It is commonly found at street snack stalls, eateries and restaurants – and they taste rather similar in terms of the rice cake.
What is special about the Tteokbokki at Express Bus Terminal station is that unlike the usual thick chilli paste it is cooked in, their Tteokbokki is served in a more liquid flowy sauce – like a soup broth. The rice cakes are also chewy and delicious while you slurp on the spicy broth. Do stop by after you are done shopping at Express Bus Terminal station.
Cheong-Nyun Tteokbokki (청년떡볶이): Express Bus Terminal (Goto Mall), 1-9 Banpo 2(i)-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul
Nearest train station: Express Bus Terminal Station
2. Samgyupsal (Grilled Pork Belly BBQ) 삼겹살
Samgyupsal consist of thick slices of seasoned or unseasoned pork belly meat, grilled over a hot plate or metal grill. The various seasoning gives you that extra variety.
The walls leading down to the basement of Palsaek Samgyeopsal, one of the most popular places for samgyupsal, is literally covered in pictures of celebrities as well as snapshots from broadcast programs. This restaurant serves 8 different seasoned pork belly, of plain, wine, pine leaf, curry, red-pepper paste, herb, soybean paste, ginseng flavours respectively.
I found the wine and curry seasoned pork belly to be my favorite. They also serve complimentary seafood hotpot as well. The restaurant is tourist friendly, with servers whom can speak multiple languages. The Palsaek Samgyeopsal set costs 34,000 won, and serves 2 to 3 persons.
There are 2 branches in Seoul, one in Sinchon and another in Hyehwa vicinity.
Palsaek Samgyeopsal (팔색삼겹살): 18, Baekbeom-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Nearest train station: Sinchon Station (Line 2), Exit
3. Dakgalbi (Pan Fried Chicken) 닭갈비
Dakgalbi is a Korean dish originated from Chuncheon, Gangwon province. It is a gochujang (chilli pepper paste) marinated diced chicken, stir-fried together with sliced cabbage, sweet potato, scallions, onions, perilla leaves, and ddeok (rice cake) together on a hot plate.
A popular place to have dakgalbi will be at Yoogane. They have a few branches in Seoul: Myeongdong, Korea University and Hyehwa vicinity. The pricing here is at least three times cheaper than the Yoogane franchise in Singapore. I’m eating 5 tummy’s worth of dakgalbi before I return to Singapore.
Marinated chicken galbi fried rice starts from 5,500 won per person. I would recommend you to add ramyeon noodles and cheese ddeokbokki. The stir-fried ramyeon noodles tastes like Korean style mee goreng.
Yoogane Chicken Galbi (유가네 닭갈비): 3-1 Myeongdong 2(i)-ga, Seoul or 66-6 Chungmuro 2(i)-ga, Seoul
Nearest train station: Myeongdong Station, Exit 8
4. Samgyetang (Ginseng Chicken Soup) 삼계탕
Even though it is a hot dish, Samgyetang is still considered a popular food for summer. Koreans have a saying called ‘yi yeol chi yeol’ (이열치열) which loosely translates as ‘to fight the heat, you must fight it with more heat as well’. By eating this extremely nutritious dish, it is said to replenish the lost internal heat in the body, giving an energy boost.
Samgyetang is made from a whole young chicken stuffed with glutinous rice and boiled in a broth of Korean ginseng, dried seeded jujube fruits, garlic, ginger and various herbs and condiments. The broth is satisfyingly rich with the slight bitterness of ginseng and medicinal herbs. Tosokchon restaurant serves pretty decent haemul pajeon (onion pancake) as well in addition to the chicken soup.
It gets really crowded during peak hours at Tosokchon so do plan to travel down early. A normal samgyetang portion costs 15,000 won per person.
Tosokchon (토속촌): 5, Jahamun-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Nearest train station: Gyeongbuk-gung Station
5. Patbingsu (Red Bean Shaved Ice) 팥빙수
Patbingsu is a Korean shaved ice dessert with sweet toppings such as chopped fruit, condensed milk, fruit syrup, and red bean paste. It is easily available in cafes, fast food joints and even in bubble tea stores in Seoul.
Homilpat, located near Ehwa Woman’s University is popular amongst locals and tourists. Their shaved ice made from frozen milk is delicately fine and delicious, it makes Singapore’s Ice Kachang look bad. The Tteok 떡 (the white rice cake) topping is so sweet and chewy, 2 cubes is hardly enough.
Prices ranges from 5,000 won to 8,000 won. If you are not a fan of milk, you could try Nokcha Bingsu 녹차 팥빙수 (Green tea shaved ice) instead which is equally delightful, if not even tastier.
Homilpat (호밀밭): 4-77 Changcheon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul
Nearest Station: Ewha Woman’s University Station, Exit 3
(Walk towards Ehwa Woman’s University in the direction to Sinchon)
6. Chi-maek (Fried Chicken and Beer) 치맥
South Koreans love their chicken. What is South Korea without its famed chicken-maekju combination that was widely popularized all over Asia due to its depiction in the famous K-drama – You Who Came From The Stars 별에서 온 그대.
I would recommend half a portion of crispy chicken and half of yangnyeom (spicy seasoned sauce) chicken. The seasoned chicken is drizzled in garlic, tomato and a whole lot secret ingredients that differs in each fried chicken restaurant.
The owners of Thunder Chicken are an old couple, and were really, really friendly. You will hardly see any foreigners in this particular fried chicken outlet but fear not. Just point to the menu and smile politely, I’m sure they will be more than happy to serve you. I sat at the back alley, enjoying the night breeze and watching Korean kids playing – I think, that is the best way to enjoy Seoul as it is.
Thunder Chicken was a film site of popular 2013 Korean television series, I Can Hear Your Voice (너의 목소리가 들려).
Thunder Chicken (썬더 치킨) : 216-2 Myeongnyun 2(i)-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea
Nearest Train Station: Hyehwa Station, Exit 4
Another hotspot for fried chicken will be at Two Two Chicken conveniently located along the streets of Myeongdong.
The original flavour fried chicken is well marinated, had crackling-crispy skin on the outside, juicy and tender meat on the inside. I would recommend their garlic soy sauce chicken and sweet and spicy sauce chicken as well. Despite having a thick glaze of sauce over, the chicken skin is still as crisp and delicious – kudos to the science behind their fried chicken recipe.
Prices start from 8,800 won onwards. All fried chicken dishes are served together with a very unappetizing shredded cabbage drowned in mayonnaise and tomato sauce. Thank goodness the fried chicken saved it all. You can drop by Two Two Chicken after you are done loading up on Korean cosmetics at Myeongdong.
Two Two Chicken (22치킨): 6-4 Namsandong 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul
Nearest train station: Myeongdong Station, Exit 3