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Dining in Seoul


MHesse
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I may be sent to Inchon for a week's trip in the near future.

I have yet to do any research, so I know nothing about Korea at all except for M*A*S*H references, and that's not real life.

I'm visiting a refinery in Inchon, but hopefully will have time for some sightseeing and dining while I'm there.

Any recs? Any advice on customs, or warnings on what to avoid (water, etc?)

thanks,

--Mark :unsure:

--mark

Everybody has Problems, but Chemists have Solutions.

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Korean cuisine is a rich and diverse gathering of native tastes (a fondness for chiles and pickles) with ancient Chinese and more recent Japanese influences.

Think delicate Japanese cuisine, drunk on sozu, and loud-mouthed with chiles and garlic.

There are many threads on eGullet on Korean food. Do a search for kimchee and for bibimbap. The Japan board has a bit of stuff also.

Here's the bibimbap thread to start you off.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

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Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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There is a lot of grilled meat dishes too. These are real nice. Be prepared to (1) sit on the floor, (2) tackle whole roasted garlic cloves.

Keep an open mind when it comes to dishes. I never found any bad Korean food while I was there.

Inchon is just outside of Seoul so make sure you visit the various markets. Do a google search on Seoul and there's bound to be plenty of hits for the Seoul markets.

Koreans use chopsticks but they're metal and very slippery for a westerner. If you have a chance, get some and practice before you leave. It's like eating with long needles.

I loved it there and found everyone very easy to deal with on a personal and business level.

Enjoy yourself.

BlackDuff

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I traveled to Inchon about 15 years ago. Inchon, then, was quite un-touristy, an industrial and port town, a bit rough in places. I was hosted by Japanese businessmen on one trip, and local businessmen on another. I can't possibly remember the names of the restaurants they took me, but I will try to describe the types of food I had. Maybe you can find some good restaurants based on that.

1. The seafood palace. We were taken there for sashimi. Huge saltwater tanks near the entryway, aswim with octopi and, I think, fish and plenty of shellfish. Our table was served big platters of raw just-opened shellfish, I think sashimi, and octopus tentacles (still writhing). Our Japanese hosts warned us to chew the octopus tentacles thoroghly; otherwise the still-viable suction cups can attach to the side of your throat and choke you. I don't know if they were serious. Also, as I was eating some kind of blood-red clam, our host remarked drily that "many men die last month" from eating that variety -- some kind of localized contamination. Again, don't know if he was completely serious. The clams and octopus were delicious. Seating was Western-style. This type of establishment probably catered to Japanese businessmen, and isn't quintessentially Korean (my guess).

2. The bulgogi garden. Our hosts led us along a typically narrow and dingy Inchon street, stopped before enormous wooden gates, and knocked. There was no sign that I noticed. A small door opened in one of the gates, and we entered into a beautiful garden, with an artificial waterfall to the right, and 3 long low tables under canopies to the left. In the rustic wooden tables, at regular intervals were large holes. As we seated ourselves (the tables had dugouts beneath them, so we were in effect sitting on low benches), braziers with hot coals were lowered into the holes. Platters heaped with leaves of Redleaf lettuce, whole garlic cloves and various kimchis were placed along the table. The braziers were perforated domes set in bundtcake-pan-like bowls to retain drippings. Restaurant workers (ladies in traditional dress) brought out platters of marinated beef and, using scissors, snipped long narrow strips of beef onto the domes. Diners removed a strip of cooked beef using chopsticks, lay the beef onto a lettuce leaf held in the palm of one hand, added one or two cloves of garlic, some sauce, wrapped the leaf up and ate. After about an hour of this leisurely and casual eating, the ladies removed the top of the brazier, added broth and noodles to the captured juices, and doled the noodle soup out in small bowls to the diners. That was one of the most delicious restaurant meals I've ever had. The kimchi was good, too, especially the (as our hosts described it) fermented hot crab kimchee. It was, indeed, astoundingly hot (in the spicy sense) and radically affected the restaurant's beer revenue.

3. The boiled chicken caffe. This was a small restaurant that served only one thing: a traditional Korean boiled chicken dish (as it was explained to us). That's pretty much all it was -- a family style presentation of chicken boiled in a vegetable broth. Very comforting and delicious. One thing about this particular restaurant -- they had the Korean Roulette Chiles. Each table had a couple of bowls of long skinny dark green chiles, meant to be eaten as is. They were, indeed, sweet and mild, with just a hint of heat. Except for the odd one. One in ten (by my estimate) was a bit of Hades in chile form. The hot ones were indistinguishable from the mild ones. We had a good laugh that afternoon when one of our companions' face turned suddenly red, accompanied by a complete inability to speak for a good 5 minutes. Yes, I had a hardy laugh -- then I was next.

4. The little noodle shop. Simple, delicious broths with noodles. What was great about this place was that the noodle-maker was making the noodles a few feet from where we were sitting -- starting with water and flower, all the way to the finished noodles.

These recollections are clouded by time, and, besides, Inchon might be completely different now. If I think of other types of restaurants, I'll edit them in or add another post. I hope this gives you some ideas. My suggestion would be to ask where local families and businessmen like to eat. Deffinitely avoid "American-style" restaurants. Restaurants that cater to Japanese businessmen will be feeding their homesickness. That doesn't mean they'll be bad, however -- just not thoroughly Korean.

As for customs, it's good to say "thank you" a lot (I think it was "Komsa-hamnida"). Also, when you're eating with Koreans, someone will always be topping off your drink. When they offer to fill your glass, or if you catch them doing it, hold up the glass with both hands. If it is awkward to hold it with both hands, hold the glass in one hand and touch it with the fingertips of the other, or use the free hand to support the hand holding the glass. You'll see the pourer doing the same. Whenever you see a chance to fill or top off the glass of a dining companion, do so, holding the bottle or teakettle with both hands (or using the free hand to support the pouring arm). You'll see this custom stylized to a graceful touching of the elbow. After a few days in Korea, cavallierly pouring with one arm will appear tremendously rude.

I don't think I encountered metal chopsticks, but that could have been just luck.

Edited by ivan (log)

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  • 1 year later...

We are thinking that 2004 is the year to explore Korean food at the source. Probably 10 days total. We've been briefly to Seoul but (unfortunately) hosted by an expat who only eats 2 Korean foods: ginseng chicken and bulgogi. :sad: So we missed out on a lot, and figure a few days in Seoul this trip to make up for last time.

Question: where else in Korea should one go to not only see the sites but have some excellent dining experiences? What are other foodworthy destinations? I really don't know much about Korea at all, one never hears about it as a travel or food destination. Don't know how easy it is to get around and whatnot, but I suspect that there is alot more than meets the eye foodwise and look forward to exploring.

Also, what season? Winter, bec. it's cold and those stews sit so well? Or???

Caveat: we'll be avoiding dog dishes so won't need suggestions on the best places for Fido stew.

Thanks for any input.

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We are thinking that 2004 is the year to explore Korean food at the source. Probably 10 days total. We've been briefly to Seoul but (unfortunately) hosted by an expat who only eats 2 Korean foods: ginseng chicken and bulgogi.   :sad:   So we missed out on a lot, and figure a few days in Seoul this trip to make up for last time.

Question: where else in Korea should one go to not only see the sites but have some excellent dining experiences? What are other foodworthy destinations? I really don't know much about Korea at all, one never hears about it as a travel or food destination. Don't know how easy it is to get around and whatnot, but I suspect that there is alot more than meets the eye foodwise and look forward to exploring.

Also, what season? Winter, bec. it's cold and those stews sit so well? Or???

Caveat: we'll be avoiding dog dishes so won't need suggestions on the best places for Fido stew.

Thanks for any input.

ecr:

You've got a lot more choices than you may think.

Traveling Around

Domestic plane flights are stunningly cheap and there are extensive schedules, although delayed flights are common. Most trains make a lot of stops so they are not always fast, though there is a new express train opening very soon between Seoul and either Daejon or Daegu. Buses are moderately comfortable and very cheap. They go absolutely everywhere and are the preferred method of travel for most Koreans. Car rental is expensive but feasible and recommended if you want to get out into the coutryside at all.

Seasons

Korea is blessed with four distinct seasons. Winter in Seoul and northwards can be pretty bitter, so unless you're craving a real winter, I would come at another time. I haven't found that another season makes the food any less appealing.

Spring is a delight of blooming plants and emerging greenery, but the yellow dust from the great Gobi Desert gets worse and worse each year (though this spring seems to have been a bit better than the one before).

Summer can get hot for some people, but having moved here from Southeast Asia, it doesn't bother me at all. I suspect it would be likewise for you.

I find autumn to be the most delightful season and would choose that time if I could only come to Korea once. However, you need to avoid Chusok, as many places will be closed. Lunar New Year is the same. They're a bit like Songkran and drut jin in Thailand.

Places

On the food front, two things you will want to do is to get to some coastal area to eat raw fish and shellfish and to get to Cheolla-do. For the raw fish, I would focus on Pusan or the Eastern Sea/Sea of Japan in the vicinity of Gangneung/Seokcho. Pusan is a major metropolis (the second largest shi or city in Korea) with more urban things to do, but the Seokcho area is more naturally beautiful. Near Gangneung is Yangyang, the home to two major festivals worth catching if you time it right. Sometime in September is the songi mushroom (matsutake) festival. At the beginning of October is the yeon-eo (salmon) festival, when the salmon are coming upstream to spawn. There is a great pension called bulbaragi in the Micheongol national forest that is a beautiful place to stay for either festival. This pension is also only about a half hour from Sorak-san, Korea's best mountain park/resort. It is sublime in the autumn.

For Cheolla-do, the food capital is probably Jeonju (the home of bibimbap), though Cheolla province is the breadbasket of Korea and a great place in general to travel for food. Food in Cheolla-do is generally more heavily flavored (and spicier) than elsewhere in Korea.

Moving up the western coast from Cheolla-do leads you to Chungcheong-do, which has the mildest food in Korea. I have taken a friend from Chungcheon to a Cheolla-do shikdang and she could not eat much of the food.

Farther up the western coast is Gyeonggi-do, the province surrounding Seoul. Gyeonggi contains Incheon, which, in addition to the airport, has a fishing village with a good raw fish center and great blue crab. Just south of Incheon is a village (forget the name) that has a daeha (giant prawn) festival in October that is worth catching.

Seoul you probably already know. Given that you have eaten your way across Southeast Asia and like Isaan food, I assume you have no problem with spice. Among other things, you will have to try nakji bokkum, an incredibly spicy octopus stir fry/stew.

To the east of Seoul is Gangwon provice, home to almost all of Korea's ski resorts. Gangwon contains Gangneung and the other mountain/Eastern Sea areas referred to above. I also had the best darkdoritang I've ever had there. Darkdoritang is a spicy stew of chicken with leeks and root vegetables that is great late autumn/winter food. Gangwon is famous for its potatoes, as well as seafood.

Going south from Gangwon brings you to Gyeongsang-do, which takes up almost 2/3 of the eastern coastline and is divided into north and south divisions, actually separate provinces. (Cheolla-do and Chungcheong-do are similarly divided.) Gyeongsang is the richest area outside of Seoul and contains several significant cities. Among those are Pusan and Daegu. If you like viscera (intestines and such -- if you eat sai in your khao kha mu nam paloh), you can get most things in Seoul, but Daegu is the home to the best makchang (a particular part of the digestive tract). There is a joke that Daegu imports elephants from Thailand because there aren't enough cows in Korea to meet its demand for makchang. Right where Gyeongsangnam-do and Gyeongsangbuk-do meet (just inside Gyeongsangbuk-do) is Gyeongju. Gyeongju is the Kyoto or Sukothai of Korea and is a must see on the culture front.

The only area I haven't mentioned yet is Jeju-do, the island off the southern tip of Korea. I am ashamed to admit I've never been there, but it is very popular with Koreans (probably most favored domestic vacation spot) and all the reports I have received have been good. However, having experienced the Thai islands, I would focus more on mainland destinations. Unless, of course, you want to see the famous lady shellfish divers, who free dive to great depths to harvest shellfish. Most of them are in their forties and fifties now. Unfortunately, it is a dying trade.

Once your trip firms up, please let me know and I'll provide more specifics based on the time of year and your desires and budget. I'd love to return the favor for the great tip you gave that led me to Khmer Kitchen.

Enjoy your planning,

Jim

Edited: to correct typo

Edited by jrufusj (log)

Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Got to this thread pretty late. Jim, maybe you ought to consider writing a travel guidebook - "The Real Korea". Great post!

I've been to Cheju-do only once myself, on my honeymoon no less. If you go to one of the big hotels there, chances are high that you'll be surrounded by honeymooners. . . The cuisine, as one might expect, is seafood-based, with more pork than beef (the Cheju pigs are famous for their let us say, unsanitary, diets, but perhaps that's changed). There used to be a lot of banana and citrus plantations and such, but I guess that must have suffered since the freeing up of imports from the rest of Asia. One other famous local dish is bingtteok, which is basically a buckwheat pancake wrapped around shredded icicle radish.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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For the kind of vist you'll be making i'd like to recommend that you order a copy of "Seoul Food Finder" by Andrew & Jinny Salmon published by Cookand.

The website follows: www.cookand.net

My issue is from 2001 and was purchased in Korea. It contains detailed reviews of over 140 restaurants in the general area, and i've found it very accurate.

Check if there a more recent update as Cookand Magazine is the top food publication in Korea.

Irwin

I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Fantastic responses, thanks very much. I think we'll not include Cheju as my husband's been there and doesn't want to retrace steps. Jrufusj, how is signage and such on the roads, for driving? We've driven in Thailand and China, how does driving in Korea compare? I will definately re-inquire as the time approaches, summer or autumn, I should think.

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Signage is normally in Hangul and Romanized.

Most coastal towns seem to have their fresh-off-the-boat seafood restaurants, with categories of cooked, raw, and still wriggling. In Sokcho, there are a number of raw-fish restaurants (hwet-jibs) along the beach. In Pusan we once went to a nearby village and had fish stews along the waterfront, and we did the same thing in Cheju as well. The beach areas are very quiet in the winter.

These places all have aquaria for the various species, and you can get things like live octopus, raw crab in pepper sauce, and various types of braised or grilled fish.

I seem to remember having a lot of this stuff in Seoul. You could cover a lot of ground there, and then pick a few areas for further research. Seoul also has things like North Korean noodles that you can't get anywhere else.

Even the rest stops on the highway seem to have some good stuff, mixed with mediocre packaged food that's supposed to be "modern". Out in the parking lots they'll have guys grilling octopus on hot stones, while the tourists go in for their styrofoam ramyon.

Temple food is interesting too. There's a place in Insadong that has Buddhist food - no garlic, vegetarian, etc. Temples usually have food available under some circumstances, although I've usually eaten in conjunction with some private event.

My wife swears by the grilled-meat-and-soju stalls on the sidewalks. These are often open late.

Also, the coffee has gotten a lot better in the last few years. The cafes have Italian Espresso.

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Fantastic responses, thanks very much. I think we'll not include Cheju as my husband's been there and doesn't want to retrace steps. Jrufusj, how is signage and such on the roads, for driving? We've driven in Thailand and China, how does driving in Korea compare? I will definately re-inquire as the time approaches, summer or autumn, I should think.

Signage is pretty reliabily posted in both Roman characters and Hangul, although the Hangul is typically larger and easier to read from a distance. They do have the perverse habit of putting lane directions in the lanes themselves, so that they are impossible to see in heavy traffic. Some things are not marked well, but that is not a language issue, just an overall problem.

However, if you've driven in Bangkok and China, you won't find it too bad to drive here. Just make sure you have a good map and get someone at your hotel/pension to help you plot/confirm routes.

Drivers are aggressive here, but I find it much less stressful (and much more organized) than Thailand.

Definitely do reinquire...I'd love to help.

Jim

Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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I'm surprised even the furthest southern part of Korea is warm enough to grow bananas. Do you know if there's a warm current that goes past Cheju-do?

Cheju is considered a subtropical volcanic island. It's south of the southernmost tip of Korea. Went on a tour there with my Mom, twas spectacular. It seemed like most people were there for their honeymoon. The ground had lava rocks in it and I vaguely remember seeing sculptures on the tour that were made of pockmarked lava rock. I don't remember bananas but a lot of citrus fruit. I believe they have a lot of fruit farms there. Also, their (in?)famous pork. :biggrin:

I thought it was cool watching a bottle roll upwards too, on a certain road, the name of which I forget. They found out that the gravity pull is such that it appears something is rolling uphill here, but it is really isn't.

The Chun jeh yun (sp?) waterfall was something you'd see in Hawaii, except it's very large, much larger than any of the waterfalls I saw in Maui recently.

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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A food-centered holiday. . .is there any other kind?

My trip to Korea was over a year ago, and I'm reconstructing much of this from memory. I'm afraid providing specific restaurant names & locations is beyond my capabilities, but I hope you find this post useful regardless.

If you're not fortunate enough to have a family of Korean foodies lead you blindly around the country, you should definitely try to strike up a conversation with someone in each place you visit. It should be easy to find someone fluent in English at your hotel. In general Koreans are very proud of their country and culture and are eager to impress foreigners. Tell them you love "real" Korean food and want to try some good stuff, and you're likely to get an excellent recommendation.

One hurdle you may face as a foreigner is that some restaurants may not trust that you will like their food. They might think that you don't like it as spicy as they do; that you want the simpler food the last Americans who came there wanted. Even travelling with a whole Korean family I felt like a bit of a novelty in many places. My hosts fended off questions like, "Will he eat that? He likes this?" on several occasions. Of course, once they are convinced the tide may turn swiftly. At a fancy Japanese restaurant in Seoul I was eyed skeptically at first. By the end of the meal the pretty waitresses were laughing and searching the plates for strange things to feed me, a giant eyeball plucked skillfully from a delicious broiled yellowtail head for example.

In Seoul, take a stroll through the Insadong section. Hidden in the alleys behind the main street are many good restaurants, look for one of the busier ones (or ask one of the many shopkeepers if you can) and you should be fine. The best dish we found here is pudaechigae ("army stew"). Born of necessity from the famine conditions during the Korean War, the stew's main ingredients include tofu, and chunks of hot dogs and Spam. I know, but trust me. Some of the fat released from the processed meats into the blazingly spicy broth creates a delicious silken mouthfeel. It's hard to find pudaechigae in Manhattan, so give it a try in Seoul.

In Andong we had some of the most memorable food of the trip at the Musil Folk Village (or was it Hahoe? :unsure:). Small jeon (savory pancakes) made with sweet zucchini, and the signature dish of the region, Andong jjimdak, a wonderful spicy chicken stew with cellophane noodles.

79903.jpg

After you walk around the historical village, where you might see the toenjang (soybean paste) hanging outside in the traditional manner, you'll be ready for a snack. Keep going till you reach the outskirts, where local families stand along the roadside selling tasty skewers of odeng (fish cake) out of a large steaming pot of toenjang broth.

Gyeoungju has many interesting cultural exhibits. The National Museum is very good, and bell of King Seongdeok is a beautiful work. I also found the many Buddhist temple sites in the region fascinating, especially some of the art. Pretty gory stuff. (Wear loafers to the Buddhist sites. You'll be taking your shoes off a lot.) This is a touristy area and there are a lot of restaurants of all kinds. If you're seeking authenticity look for some of the quieter family-run places that appear to be private homes, where the front parlor contains a few low tables and you sit on the floor.

Cheju has a bunch of seafood restaurants where you pick your own, then head to your table and await a lavish multicourse meal starring your selection.

Before: 79909.jpg

After: 79910.jpg

The filets are turned out as a giant platter of sashimi, with other interesting sides (1, 2), followed by a rich stew made from the head and skeleton. We used the local cab drivers for dining tips. They most likely get a small kickback from the establishment they take you to, but that doesn't mean you'll have a bad meal.

Back in Seoul, if you happen to get homesick, try to find this hip clothing store:

79911.jpg

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  • 4 months later...

I googled various things and couldn't come up with a good match, so here goes:

I will be in Seoul for a conference for 10 days in July. I could use some advice on places to go (mainly eating & drinking, though other advice is also very welcome).

My experience with Korean food so far has been in american restaurants that cater to Korean students near my university. I love the greatest hits (kimchi stews, chapchae, bibimbap, those giant pancakes...not to mention the ubiquitous bbq) but I am assuming there is much more out there.

I would especially be interested in the following:

- good street food to watch out for, stands if you know any good ones

- good bbq place, to take colleague who might not be the adventurous sort.

- good place for dumplings

- traditional korean restuatants in general, what should I try?

- very curious to try a traditional vegetarian restaurant

- would like to try summer specialities, cold dishes

- maybe a decent non-fancy western place (eg italian, say) to placate travel companion if he start to rebel :wink:

- a couple of good bars, student-y vibe sort of thing, nice but laid back

- good places to get coffee, snacks while running around town

- I've heard there is good indian food to be had? I am curious about that also, but only if it is really different from what you'd get in a typical US place.

- good Sushi place worth seeking out?

- Any good junk food to keep an eye out for?

Recommendations about foods to try would also be very much appreciated. (Especially seasonal stuff, I am guessing it will be really hot & humid).

Thanks!

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Okay, since Yong Tae Kim and skchai haven't answered yet and it's been a couple of days, I'll give you my pathetically vague memories of my trip there.

--everyone pls forgive me for my bad spelling

I was in Korea several years ago. But things have changed drastically after the World Cup. My friends who left Seoul several years ago, went back in the last year and said it was like being in a different city, with different streets and such. So none of these places below may exist.

The family of the female golfer Pak Jee Eun owns a famous naengmyun restaurant in Seoul. It was better than some of the other ones we went to, very big and good food. For the life of me, I can't remember the name. Someone help.

In or very near Apgujongdong there is a no-name buffet (not really fancy) restaurant we went to that was about $6-7 (I think, memory hazy) that was all you can eat, and the price included beer and wine. My uncle who lives nearby walks over there practically every other day. This was close to the Hyundai Shopping Mall. I think I was able to walk from Hyundai mall to the restaurant, but I forget.

I loved the food court at Lotte Dept Store. The Hyundai Dept store also had one but it was too pricey and kind of smaller.

I also stayed in Nonhyundong, which supposedly is the best place for restaurants, but I didn't see any, as we drove around. A lot of the restaurants look like houses though, so it's hard to say. this area is kind of expensive though. I would stay away from here. We did go to some fabulous restaurants though, but I have no idea where they are or what the name is. I'm also starting to forget what we had, though I know I have not seen the like anywhere in L.A. Koreatown. If you have a knowledgeable friend then I say go for it.

I had sushi at least a half dozen times, some high end, some low end, sometimes fresh from the water 15 minutes before eating. I have to say that the sushi was not my favorite. It was almost too fresh, as the muscles didn't have a chance to rot the way they do in normal sushi. I did eat a lot of hwedubbap (sort of a cross between chirashi sushi and bibimbap), around town, and my fave was at Lotte, but boy I am no expert at best Seoul hwedubbap places so don't rely on this.

We didn't go to the Nam San Hilton which, maybe 20 years ago, had a fantastic buffet, according to my mother. But I heard it's still going strong, despite the $100 or so price tag for the buffet.

as for street food, someone else should chime in, as my mother didn't let me eat too much. I would go where there are crowds, which is my usual MO.

I went to several vegetarian places. one was a famous one in i believe apgujongdong and it had a green sign and was on the second floor. The only problem was, after being a meat eater all my life, and then several years of being a vegan, unless they had discovered some miracle product, I smelled and tasted the distinct savor of beef right away. It was mixed in with some soy product in a patty. I also went to the buddhist temple and had to do a ceremony, after which we got a lot of temple food. all vegan and quite good. also another vegetarian place in cheijudo but this is about Seoul.

I loved Insadong St. where there are a bunch of places, I think mostly coffee houses (correct me someone). I have to warn you that everyone I saw here was tall, thin, with perfect hair and makeup.

Frankly, your best bet is to get lucky and make a friend with a Korean person who speaks English, and loves to go out to eat, which IMHO, describes many if not most Seoul denizens (esp younger pples).

Edited by jschyun (log)

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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Behemoth:

First of all...enjoy your trip. Korean food is great stuff, with a tremendous variety not easily found in overseas Korean restaurants.

I'll make a number of suggestions below, but please understand that many Korean restaurants don't have particularly distinctive names and the best food is found on "this corner" or in "that little place, whatever its name is". As such, I'll present a number of options without names or useful directions. Let me know which ones particularly appeal and I will follow up to get you some more concrete directions for those.

jschyun has already given you the best general advice, which is to find a young, English speaking Korean to be your guide. Depending on whether you want to go for more traditional, "difficult" food or not, this may also be a hindrance, though. Traditional foodways are dying out among many young Koreans. I found myself introducing Korean friends of mine to traditional foods they had never eaten before.

Finally, I lived and worked on the north side of the river (Kangbok), so many of my recommendations will be concentrated there. If you let me know where you will be staying, I may be able to target your area more.

On to the food!

- good street food to watch out for, stands if you know any good ones

Good street food exists in Korea, but it is much less a part of the culture than it is in southeast Asia. The one thing that I would suggest you must try from the street is deokbokki, a saute/simmer of rice cakes with a chili flake and paste based sauce, along with green onion, oden, and other ingredients. There are as many recipes for this dish as there are cooks. See this thread for a discussion of deokbokki. There is a great street stand selling deokbokki, twi gim (Korean-style tempura), oden, dumplings, and sundae (Korean sausage) that is right near the Kolon Building in Gwanghwamun. The other things are good, but the deokbokki there is especially so. Then again, you can find these foods, along with ramen, simple stir fries, kimbap (low-end, picnic food sushi rolls) and similar bunshik at cheap prices in small shops all over Seoul.

- good bbq place, to take colleague who might not be the adventurous sort.

For upscale barbecue, I would make two recommendations. On the north side of the river, I think Jeil Garden (near the above-referenced street stall) does a good job. On the south side of the river, there is a place I'll have to look up directions for. It is more expensive, but also better.

If you do upscale bbq, you'll have a lot of meat choices. The most popular is probably saeng kalbi, which is fresh, unmarinated beef ribs. Along with this, I would try ggot dung shim, literally "flower sirloin". It is my favorite. Also available and liked by many is an shim (tenderloin). I am not as fond of it for Korean sut bul cooking.

One of the highlights of upscale bbq is all the ban chan (side dishes). You'll be presented with many, but I think the best is ge jang (raw crab partially "cooked" by its marinade). There are two varieties, both good. One is soy sauce based and the other is red pepper based. You are more likely to encounter the latter.

You will also have an opportunity to try one of the great cold foods after dinner. Typically, in one of those places, you will be offered a noodle/rice choice after dinner. The choices will vary, but bi bim naeng myeon will usually be one of them. This is a dish of cold noodles with a pretty spicy pepper based sauce. I love it. Another common alternative after dinner is doen jang jji gae (bean paste stew). You must try the latter at some point during your visit. Fortunately, it is available somewhere on every city block in Seoul.

There are other bbq options as well. It's a debatable point -- and the Koreans admittedly don't do anything with brains, kidneys, sweetbreads, lungs -- but one could argue that the Koreans are the masters of innards. Certainly, they do an amazing job with stomach and intestines. If these kinds of things interest you, let me know and I'll do a rundown on the different varieties and my favorite places to eat them.

Finally, you might want to go to a sam gyeop sal place. These are cheaper and are great places to spend a long evening eating and drinking. Sam gyeop sal literally means "three layer meat". It is also often referred to as Korean bacon. The best is actually o gyeop sal (five layer meat). The layers refer to alternating fat and lean meat. There's a great o gyeop sal place north of the river. South of the river, there's a trendy sam gyeop sal place that specializes in meat marinated in wine, as well a bean powder dip. It is slightly more expensive, but, despite its trendiness, the food is very good.

- good place for dumplings

Good dumplings are all around. I would just stop and get them wherever they look good. Bunshik restaurants will normally offer several varieties of dumpling. One thing you might enjoy is to go to a chain that offers three main things -- kal guk su (knife cut noodles in a clam broth), wang mandu (king-sized steamed/boiled sumplings), and to jong bossam (special pork, sliced and served with kimchee and condiments). I can't remember the name of this place, but there is one outside one of the Gwanghwamun metro entrances, next to the Sbarro or Pizza Bell or whatever it is.

- traditional korean restuatants in general, what should I try?

I have to admit that I am not nearly as much a fan of "yangban" food as I am of everyday food. That being said, you probably should try it. I would go to one of these places and simply order a set course. It will come with many, many things. Two places I would recommend are: Yongsusan (for the food) and the restaurant in the base of Seoul Tower (for the views, though the food is pretty good too). The concierge at your hotel will be able to direct you to one of these. Yongsusan has branches on both sides of the river.

- very curious to try a traditional vegetarian restaurant

Unfortunately, I don't have a specific recommendation in Seoul. You would be well-served to take a trip out of town to Andong(?), where there are several great temples and accompanying vegetarian restaurants.

- would like to try summer specialities, cold dishes

I've mentioned naengmyeon above. It also comes in milder varieties, such as mul naengmyeon. You can find this many, many places and it will generally be good.

My favorite cold summer dish is "kong guk su", noodles with pureed beans. Simply phenomenal to me. I'll come up with a recommendation for a place if you are interested.

- maybe a decent non-fancy western place (eg italian, say) to placate travel companion if he start to rebel 

I'll get criticized for saying this, but they don't exist. Korean food is some of the best food in the world. I would swim the ocean for it. However, there is hardly a western restaurant in Seoul that I would cross the street to eat at in almost any other city. It's a long, philosophical discussion as to why, but this thread here (out of which I intentionally stayed) discusses it. There're plenty that one can enjoy, but there's just nothing to get excited about. And none of it is authentic, in the way that Italian or French places can be in Tokyo/Bangkok/Hong Kong/Singapore/etc.

Now, having said that, you still need somewhere to recharge or seek refuge. There are plenty of non-descript spaghetti restaurants around that will fit the bill. They're not really bad -- no worse than the comparable item in Tokyo -- but nothing to look forward to. Just walk through any crowded area with young people about and you'll find one. Just pick at random, as one's as good or bad as the next.

- a couple of good bars, student-y vibe sort of thing, nice but laid back

Can't really help you here, except to suggest a couple of neighorhoods -- Daehangro and Apgujang. The former is more studenty. The latter is more young and trendy. Just walk the neighborhoods and pop in to one or two.

- good places to get coffee, snacks while running around town

You will find both Korean and western coffee places absolutely everywhere. Korean style for coffee (tabang coffee) is with lots of milk and sugar combined with instant coffee. Taken or what it is, it's not bad, but it's not really coffee either. Traditional coffee shops are called tabang and used to be social centers for business meetings and such. The waitresses were often "available" as well. I don't know how much that is still the case, though I am told it is often still so near military bases.

American-style coffee places abound and are no different than the Starbucks in Anytown, US.

I would prefer snacks from the convenience stores or, better yet, a quick stop in a bunshik restaurant. You'll pay a fortune to buy snacks from Starbucks or the Coffee Bean.

- I've heard there is good indian food to be had? I am curious about that also, but only if it is really different from what you'd get in a typical US place.

I eat a fair bit of Indian food, but am not an expert. I've never travelled in India, so I don't have the same reference point I do for many other Asian foods. That being said, I found Indian food to be the only foreign food in Seoul that was really well done. I would try a place called Dahl (near the Kyeongbok palace) or Ganga (locations in Seoul Finance Center and in Kangnam). They're expensive and not something you can't find in any good-sized city in the US, but they're good nonetheless. One warning though -- most Indian restaurants in Seoul (these included) typically use short-grain Korean rice. That, to me, is a major failing.

- good Sushi place worth seeking out?

My advice is to forget about sushi, but I mean that quite literally. Sashimi can be fantastic in Seoul. It's just the rice part that I've never seen work in Seoul. You might enjoy a trip to Noryangjin, the (much smaller) Seoul version of Tsukiji market. You can choose your live fish(es) out on the main market floor and have them cut by the vendor, then go to any number of adjacent restaurants who will charge you for banchan, setup, drinks, while you eat what you bought from the market. At the end of the meal, they will make maeun tang, a wonderfull spicy fish soup, from the carcass and innards. Don't let the vendor keep or throw away the remnants when he cuts you fish! You'll need it for the maeun tang.

There are two other sashimi places I would suggest. First the expensive one -- a place called Badaui Gyohyangshi (literally "Symphony of the Sea", the name of a popular song from the 1970s or so) does an excellent job and, for a price, can provide special things like live giant crab and live lobster. There are tons of interesting things to try. I'm a bit of a fish nut and used to give tours of the market (to Koreans and foreigners) so let me know if you want suggestions for best/unique local seafood to try. I won't bore you with this if you don't ask.

I would definitely try a chamchi place as well. These are tuna-only restaurants where you eat every part of the fish (from eyeballs to toro). A set meal is around $20-$25 exluding alcohol. I always gave out before the food did. It's not honmaguro (normally either yellowfin or bigeye tuna), so it's not the pinnacle, but for the price it's damn good.

- Any good junk food to keep an eye out for?

See street stalls, bunshik, etc. The triangle onigiri (samgak kimbap) from the convenience stores are pretty good for a quick snack.

Recommendations about foods to try would also be very much appreciated. (Especially seasonal stuff, I am guessing it will be really hot & humid).

Don't get me started! Beware! A few quick thoughts, on which I'll expand if you are interested:

(1) It'll be dog season. If you decide to do it, I would suggest toma gogi rather than boshintang to have it at its very best.

(2) A good, Korea-only experience would be to go to a Cheolla-do restaurant. Specialties include saebal nakchi (small live octopus, literally "four leg octopus") and hong eo (fermented skate -- challenging taste, with a strong ammonia smell but a great taste). Have these with kkat kimchee (mustard plant kimchee) and makkoli a spritzy rice beer. This is Korean soulfood at its best. One out of ten young people, if that many, eat these foods these days.

(3) If you encounter beef liver sashimi anywhere, definitely try it. I'd never had it before moving to Seoul and I wish I had found it much sooner in my time there. Here's a thread that discusses liver sashimi in Japan and shows some pictures.

(4) It's not a summer food, but I think one of the world's great stews is gamja tang, soup of potatoes, pork backbone meat and its broth, pepper (black and red), and deul ggae (the seeds of the shiso/perilla/beefsteak plant).

(5) Perhap my single favorite Korean food of all time is sun dubu jjigae, a stew of fresh, silken tofu in a peppery broth. Typically, it is served with rice and vegetables. The hot soup is spooned over the rice and vegetables and stirred in. My favorite versions all have a raw egg dropped into the soup at the last minute. My very favorite has fresh oysters in the broth as well. The ultimate version of gul sundubu jjigae (oyster version) is from Woori Jib near Gwanghwamun. Unfortuntely, Woori Jib just means "Our House" or "Our Place" and there are a thousand restaurants with the same name.

I coul go on forever, but I will spare you. As soon as I hit send, I will think of ten more things I should have recommended. As you can see, I am passionate about Korean food and Korea. Please give me some indication what was interesting in my response and I will expand on those areas and suggest additional similar foods. I've just got to stop somewhere before I overload the board!

Hope this helps,

Jim

NB: Please forgive grammar, formatting, spelling. I want to get this off to you, but haven't had time to proof read. Something about the call of a six-day old child seems more compelling than proofreading, says the proud papa.

Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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You will find both Korean and western coffee places absolutely everywhere. Korean style for coffee (tabang coffee) is with lots of milk and sugar combined with instant coffee. Taken or what it is, it's not bad, but it's not really coffee either.

Actually, last time I had coffee in Seoul that was some of the best I've had anywhere. It was definitely not instant, and it was served in fancy china with cream and sugar in little pitchers on the side. It also cost something like $10 a cup.

Have things changed for the worse?

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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You will find both Korean and western coffee places absolutely everywhere.  Korean style for coffee (tabang coffee) is with lots of milk and sugar combined with instant coffee.  Taken or what it is, it's not bad, but it's not really coffee either.

Actually, last time I had coffee in Seoul that was some of the best I've had anywhere. It was definitely not instant, and it was served in fancy china with cream and sugar in little pitchers on the side. It also cost something like $10 a cup.

Have things changed for the worse?

jschyun:

No, I wouldn't sayt hat things have changed for the worse. But I would say the fact that you paid $10 for that great cup of coffee is indicative of the coffee situation in Seoul.

You can find...here and there...a great cup of coffee. The reason you find it, though, is because someone who really has a passion for coffee has created the opportunity for you. The market hasn't led them there. Nine out of ten Koreans I know are perfectly happy with tabang coffee, or with the equivalent from the 200 won machines. When they do drink something that's not instant, it will typically be in the form of mocha or something similar. And here I'm talking about food conscious, stomach oriented Koreans who were my guides during two years of eating in Seoul.

Again, good coffee does exist, but it is not the norm and it will come at a premium.

Tea on the other hand...lots of great herbal and fruit teas in Korea. They range from frightfully expensive in fancy hotel lobbies to downright reasonable in Korean tea houses.

Jim

Edited for spelling and a wee bit of content.

Edited by jrufusj (log)

Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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Behemoth,

Really don't have much to add to the great posts by jschyun and jrufusj, which have covered most of the ground that there is to be covered.

Vegetarian Food: The most prominent vegetarian restaurant in Seoul is Sanchon in Insadong. It's based upon Buddhist temple cuisine, as are most of the "first generation" of vegetarian restaurants in Korea. There has over the past few years been a "second generation" of vegetarian places based upon a diverse set of international influences, but I don't really know of one place to single out.

Student Vibe: As jrufusj mentioned, there isn't any single location to pick out. It would be a good idea to walk around around the university neighborhoods like Shinchon and Daehagno (both easy to access by subway), and just look around at what people, peer in windows and such, before making a decision. When I was last there (summer 2002), it seemed the hot genre among students was "cchimdak" (braised chicken in dark soy-based sauce with vegetables) - it seemed like cchimdak restaurants were popping up everwhere. It comes out in a huge communal pan, and everyone picks away at it. But student fads are even more transient than others, so I'm sure they've moved onto something else by now.

Street Food: There are a lot less than years ago, as urban development and health code enforcement have closed down many of the carts and the pojang matcha (tent stalls) that used to cover much of the city center. There's less risk of gastro-distress than before, but if you want to play it very safe, stick to stuff like roasted sweet potatoes. Don't eat the hot dogs on a stick, not that you would be tempted. On the other hand, the spicy fried chicken on a stick sold by a lots of folks along Jongno is pretty good.

If you'd like to try street food-type specialties in more hygenic surroundings (at higher prices), you can go to many of the small stalls in the basement food sections of the big department stores like Lotte and Hyundai. There's plenty of other reasons to check the basements out. Similar to Japanese depachika, give you a chance to try out a large variety of popular local specialties without having to walk around too much.

Junk Food: Lots to be had. For gimbab (like Japanese rolled sushi), there's a big chain called Jongno Gimbab that serves all kinds of weird stuff like cheese

or kimchee gimbab.

You might please your rebellious traveling companion and check out the local junk food scene at the same time by dropping into a local-style burger joint such as Lotteria, where you can check out the bulgogi burger and such.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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A good way to approach your trip would be to find out the names of the Korean dishes you want to try, get them written down in Hangul and ask for directions to the nearest/best joints serving them once you arrive at your hotel.

That said, you really should make time to have a late nighter down at Noryangjin Fish Market for sashimi and seafood soups of every shade. I especially recommend trying Mon-gae, an orange thing the Koreans think looks like its covered in acne, and Sea Cucumber which I think is called hae-sam, but I could be wrong on that. This article tells you more about dining at Noryangjin.

Lastly, read Fat Man Seoul for inspiration. His blog is great fun and he knows his Korean food.

Enjoy your trip.

pieman

noodlepie

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Pieman wrote:

A good way to approach your trip would be to find out the names of the Korean dishes you want to try, get them written down in Hangul and ask for directions to the nearest/best joints serving them once you arrive at your hotel.

That's a great idea. To the extent I can, I am happy to write out food names in hangul for you, though you would do better to have someone like skchai do it.

I especially recommend trying Mon-gae, an orange thing the Koreans think looks like its covered in acne, and Sea Cucumber which I think is called hae-sam, but I could be wrong on that.

meongge : 멍게

i7104.jpg

haesam : 해삼

i7102.jpg

kaebul : 개불

i7103.jpg

All three of these are great but "challenging" foods. You can see all of them live at Noryangjin, buy them, and have them served to you in one of the adjacent restaurants five minutes later.

Pieman is dead right. Noryangjin is a don't miss experience (even if you don't go in for the items pictured above).

Enjoy,

Jim

Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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