Seoul is a fast-paced city. When we still lived there we once went on vacation for just a week, and when we returned more than three restaurants in our immediate vicinity had been exchanged for another. So imagine coming back after three years! We were certain many of our old hangouts would be gone. But they were not!
So for ten days, we were busy re-visiting back-in-the-day-favorites and discovering new places. And we managed to eat not a single thing twice, except samgyeobsal and galbi.
Here’s our entire Seoul food diary.
Eat samgyeobsal in Germany, and it is never nowhere even near the same as in Korea in terms of taste nor quality. That is because pork belly in most countries is considered an inferior cut. In Korea, however, the pigs are bred and fed specifically so as to ensure delicious flavor and the typical three layers of fat and meat. Hence the name “samgyeobsal,” which literally means “three layer meat,” while “ogyeobsal” denotes “five layer meat.”
But not just any samgyeobsal restaurant in Korea is good or good quality either of course.
Here we had ours at Samgeori pujutgan (삼거리 푸줏간), which is owned by Hyun-suk Yang, CEO of YG Entertainment. Honestly, it was just OK, but the ambience is nice, and the extras on the side quite good!
Andong jjimdak – chicken, potato starch glass noodles and vegetables braised in soy sauce – does not look particularly appetizing in pictures. But it is one of my favorite Korean dishes, and I was looking forward to having this a lot!
In case you are asked to choose your type of noodles for your jjimdak, always go with the thick, flat ones! Also, if it is available, make sure to order additional nurungji bap, pan burnt rice, once you are finished with the main. Put and mix the rice with your leftovers and the remaining sauce, and eat. This is the very economic and delicious Korean way to avoid food waste. And especially in this case, the result is unforgettably and absolutely heavenly!
Chi-maek is one of M’s particular favorites: Korean fried chicken + beer.
Fried chicken in Korea is a popular home delivery food in Korea, much like pizza is in Germany. I am not necessarily a fan myself, but I can completely understand why Korean fried chicken is so popular. The pieces are always perfectly crispy on the outside, the meat expertly steeped in flavor inside, and if done right, the additional coating of red marinade on top can be addictive too. As the name suggests, it also goes wonderfully with beer, and makes for great pre-party food. I admit I like to eat it, but when I don’t I never crave it.
The above was not delivered, but we sat down for it at Cultwo Chicken (컬투치킨), which is owned by two famous Korean radio and TV personalities. I really liked the food, and service was very attentive!
Seollongtang, ox-bone and -meat soup served with plain white rice and kimchi, is one of the things I really, really, really miss outside of Korea. Really.
Back in the day, I had it all the time because it is perfect hangover food, great at any time of the day including breakfast, and even in the summer feels refreshing and clean although it is served piping hot. I always frequented the 24h Sinseon-Seollongtang (신선설농탕) in Sinchon specifically, where you salt the soup to taste yourself, and then help yourself to three different kinds of kimchi: one aged, one fresh, and one made from radish. Crazy good!
Camembert cheese tarte and Hazelnut latte @ The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, or Coffee Bean, is a coffee shop chain you can find almost anywhere in Seoul. When I was still a language student at Yonsei, I would always go there and have the Camembert cheesetarte whenever I craved something sweet. To my surprise, the tarte is still on their menu. It is not as delicious any more as I remember it, but their Hazelnut latte is still one of the best!
I’m glad I still have less squirmish friends in Seoul because M resolutely refuses to eat pork intestines for BBQ with me. He is totally missing out, though, because gobchang is all around delicious, and if you are inclined to believe old Korean wisdom, it is healthy too!
Pig intestines are full of collagen, they say, which, as everybody knows, is the best kept secret to good skin. But then again, old Korean wisdom also says that an electric fan kept on during the night can kill you.
I, for one, definitely do not eat gobchang for health reasons. I love it because quite simply I love oily and fatty stuff! Paired with aromatic buchu chives and finished with a flavorful jjigae, gobchang is just one more thing I seriously miss abroad.
Saengson gui, sundubu jjigae and gul-jeon
Grilled fish, sundubu jjigae, oyster pajeon and a huge variety of banchan make very scrumptious breakfast food. If that’s too much so early in the morning, I recommend at least giving bapsang with grilled fish a try.
Burger B in Hongdae is one of our all time Seoul favorites. When we still lived in Sinchon, we pretty much went there every week! They have greatly expanded their business since, and now have branches in the City Hall area, Apgujeong and Myeongdong, among others. Fortunately, the quality of the food remains undiminished. Their fries are still amazeballs, and the burgers are also still amazeballs, and everything is still amazeballs!!! But seriously, the fries and especially the Ultimate BB burger are amazeballs! I also love that you get a shot glass of iced milkshake to dip your fries in. Because fries and ice cream are about as perfect together as butter and soy sauce.
Ddeokpokki with twigim
Ddeokpokki is a typical Korean street food staple: white rice cakes and fish cakes in a creamy red sauce. We usually get ddeokpokki with Korean style tempura, or twigim, on the side.
Personally, I am not that much of a fan of ddeokpokki, and Korean twigim is worlds apart from actual Japanese tempura. But for a non-commital late night snack, nothing beats grease and stuff in creamy red sauce.
Donkkaseu, breaded pork cutlet, is inspired by Japanese tonkatsu but like twigim also widely available throughout South-Korea. Usually the Korean donkkaseu version tastes much worse and has worse texture. Hongkkaseu in Hongdae (홍까스 – get it?), however, does an absolutely decent job at serving pork cutlets close to the Japanese original in terms of crispiness. Plus, their donkkaseu come with cheese inside. And didn’t you know? Everything tastes better with melted cheese inside.
I came upon Omma-son matjip (엄마손 맛집) purely by chance trying to flee the impossibly hip Garosugil area. But it’s now one of my favorite new discoveries, and as such filed under “must definitely go again!” The small restaurant specializes in bapsang served with grilled fish and kimchi jjigae. But since I did not know any better yet at that time, I got bibim-myeon instead, cold rice noodle salad with sweet-spicy dressing. It was surprisingly good, which compelled me to put this place on my “must definitely go again” list already. But the banchan were particularly tasty! Next time, the bapsang is it!
Kimbap, stuffed rice rolls, are a Korean snack and meal time staple. Deceptively simple, but so good and satisfying, they got me through many a long day at the office I worked at.
The kimbap rolls above are from Kim-Sonsaeng (바르다 김선생), a new kimbap fast food chain that claims to devote its business to organic, clean and high quality ingredients. Not bad!
Another fairly fresh newcomer in the Korean food scene are mayak kimbap from the Gwangjang food market, or literally translated, narcotic drugs kimbap, haha. They are called mayak kimbap not because they are spiked with crack, but because apparently they are addictively good!
And I agree! They are thinner than regular kimbap rolls, and in contrast to traditional kimbap come with a mustard-y dipping sauce. Also, as you can see from the picture, this particular stand has been on the Korean show Running Man, and Jae-suk Yoo himself had a go at their odeng. This alone should convince you to give it a try, right?
Bimbom in Noksapyeong
Hongdae is out, Noksapyeong is in! Or so we have been told.
As we see it, Noksapyeong is basically an extension of Itaewon, commonly considered Seoul’s expat area. Its main stretch leads up a hill along the Gyeongridan road. It has a really nice, relaxed vibe, and there were lots of interesting international restaurants and cafés I was curious to try. In the end, we popped into Bimbom for brunch, and were lucky! The food was unexpectedly delicious, especially the French Toast, and quite up to Western standards. That, I need to point out, is not always the case with Western food in South Korea, so we were pleasantly surprised!
Pajeon and makgeolli
Pajeon or bindaeddeok, savory Korean style pancakes, and makgeolli, unfiltered white rice wine, are traditionally eaten during rainy weather days in Korea. The reasons for this are unclear, but I contented myself with this answer years ago: “Doesn’t the sizzling sound from frying the pancakes sound like rain falling?” Uh, I guess. “That’s why.” And makgeolli just simply goes well with bindaeddeok and the like. Let’s not question old Korean wisdom!
Fortunately Arirang in Berlin makes amazing pajeon, and they are also easy to make at home, so I do not need to miss this particular dish too much in Germany. But Kamaksae (가막새) was still a must-go for me.
Quite hidden at the edge of the bar and restaurant area of Sinchon, its interior alone is unique, and their jeon droolworthy.
I believe they serve various other dishes like bindaeddeok and odaeng, too. But I always go with haemul pajeon, and only haemul pajeon.
Nun-na mujip in Samcheongdong
I have a confession to make: In my two years in Seoul I had never before been to Samcheongdong. I did not even know where it was. (It runs along the right side of Gyeongbokgung Palace and you can get there only by foot or by car, fyi.) Fortunately, I made up for lost time during the trip, and was sufficiently rewarded for it too!
High up Samcheong-ro, Nun-na mujip (눈나 무집) is popular for its ddeokgalbi, a charcoal grilled minced meat patty, and its kimchi mar-i guksu. Honestly, I did not even know what kimchi mar-i guksu was up to that point. Although quite simple a dish, you do not commonly find this in restaurants. I would describe it as chilled rice noodle soup with kimchi. Anyway, I loved it! Paired with the ddeokgalbi, it made for a delightfully light and delicious meal. Each time I think of it, my mouth begins to water…
I am not a huge fan of pat, or red bean paste, so I do not particularly like regular patbingsu either, red bean paste on shaved ice. But strolling through Samcheongdong it somehow seemed appropriate to have a bowl.
We had the above at Café Dal (Cafe 달), which came with banana slices, Matcha ice cream as well as pat-filled rice cakes. I liked it much better than expected, although I still love the kind of bingsu steeped in sweet milk more!
Aaand, the star dish of our trip! We were so glad this place is still around.
Right next to the church right in front of Yonsei University, Sodojeok (소도적) serves some of the finest galbi cuts for shockingly affordable prices! I am talking KRW15.000 for a portion of the most beautifully marbled ggot-galbi-sal. The meat downright melts in your mouth, and afterwards you get a doenjang-jjigae as “after snack.” The place is tiny, but worth it every time.
More things we ate
Hoddeok, sweet pancakes made from yeast dough filled with syrup, at a food stall in Insadong. I am still working out how to make these myself. So far and to my regret, unsuccessfully :(
Naengmyeon, chilled, chewy buckwheat noodles. Ideally with galbi on the side, but you get that only at some places. And too bad, I only managed to get a regular bowl.
Dakgalbi, spicy grilled chicken. I honestly would not have picked this if I had been alone. I guess I am not much of a fan of chicken in general. But we were invited, and to my surprise it was extremely good! So maybe this is just one more dish I like to eat, yet never crave.
What are your favorite Korean dishes, and don’t you wish you could have them right now?