I am crazy about Korea and I believe there are many others like me. With the crazy successful infiltration of Korea culture in all parts of the world, people are not just obsessed with K pop, drama, cosmetic and skin care. Korean cuisine is quickly becoming one of the most popular restaurant in many shopping malls. Nowadays, you can spot at least 1 Korean restaurant in every major country. I will share my top 15 eats in Seoul by order of ranking.
1) Ganjang Gejang – Soy Marinated Crabs
This is my all time favourite and because I cannot have it in Singapore. I crave for it every single day. The craving is so bad I even got my friends to buy the canned version home for me to quench my ‘thirst’ for it. The best restaurant I had it is the Pro Soy crab and you can find the full review here Pro Soy Marinated Crab – Sinsa Dong
2) Samgyetang – Ginseng Chicken
The few times I have travelled to Seoul is in Spring or Autumn so it is the best time to warm your body with a good ginseng chicken soup. One of my favourite restaurant is the Tosokchon Samgyetang Chicken. This restaurant is extremely popular with both locals and tourist so do avoid meal times. The soup here is very thick and flavourful unlike some others with very diluted ginseng taste. I will be writing a full review on this restaurant soon, so do look out for it.
3) Hotteok – Pancake
The dough for hotteok is made from wheat flour, water, milk, sugar, and yeast and the filling may contain brown sugar, honey, chopped peanuts, and cinnamon. The raw pancake is then cooked on a griddle until the crust is golden brown. The first time I tried this was at Gwangjang market and the filling of the pancake was only honey and brown sugar. The 2nd time I tried it was at the Bukchon Village at Busan. The one that stole my heart was from BIFF Square in Busan. We chanced upon the stall by the street as the vendor was shouting ‘Best hotteok in Korea’ and we decided to give it a try. It was so good, we had to buy another one. The dough was soft to the bite and the filling had a great mix of brown sugar, honey, nuts and peanuts. We came back to Seoul and tried looking for the famous Namdaemun market hotteok stall but it is still not as good as the one in Busan. I don’t remember the stall name at BIFF square but do look out for the one with longest queue.
4) Ginseng Patbingsu
Patbingsu is a god send in these hot sheltering afternoons and I have to say the Korean made their ice desserts better than our local ice-kachang. The ice is so fine and the toppings are sweet and delicate. During summer in Seoul, you can probably find patbingsu every where. I got introduced to this patbingsu in my last trip to Seoul. This restaurant called Meal Top is located at the 5th floor of Hyundai department store in Apgujeong. Their patbingsu is pricier than the ones you can find in other stores but I find the ones here much nicer especially the ginseng flavoured one.
5) Kalbi – Korean BBQ
Korean barbeque is a must when in Seoul although you can find good ones here in Singapore as well. But having it in Korea with soju is just different. There are 2 outlets I have been to and I find the quality quite high. One is the Maple Tree House which is slightly more upmarket with very modern restaurant décor and a rather smokeless experience. The cuts of the meats are also more premium with them coming in nice steaks servings. This of course comes with a price tag. A filling meal might set you back to SG 200 plus. The other outlet which is more localised is the 401 restaurant which is opened by celebrity Haha and Kim Jong Kook. The restaurant décor is traditionally Korean where the tables are metal tops with cylinder chairs where you can keep your belongings inside away from the smoke and smell. The meat here are more general cuts but still of good quality and the price is also more affordable.
6) Jokbal – Pigs Trotter
Asians all love a good trotter, braised, vinegar and fried ,there are so many ways of cooking this ingredient full of collagen. Very often people do not dare to eat them as they feel that the fat level of this is very high but if cooked the right way and handled properly, only the goodness of the collagen in the skin and the juicy meat remains. The Koreans have 2 method of cooking the Jokbal, one is to just steam it and another to braised it with premium Korean soy sauce. One of the best Jokbal we ate was in Hongdae and the restaurant was called Myth Jokbal. The meat is juicy and not fatty at all and I love that you can pair it up with the generous amount of fresh kimchi vegetables and plain noodles that comes with every order. The white salad which looks like coleslaw is actually a local root vegetable and taste really fantastic. I actually asked for many helpings of that side dish.
7) Gamjatang – Spicy pork rib soup
This is basically pork bone that has been boiled for over many hours till the soup base is milky good with the sweet flavours of the pork bone. Korean spices are then added to make a spicy yet savoury delicious soup which goes very well with rice. This is extremely comforting to have during cold nights. I had a very good one near the Imperial Hotel in gangnam side but I think there are many good ones in the small alleys.
8) Jajangmyeon – Dark sauce Chinese noodle
Jajangmyeon is a Korean Chinese noodle dish topped with a thick sauce made of chunjang, diced pork and vegetables. This is actually a Chinese dish from Shanghai but the Korean version is very different in terms of sauce. It does not have peanut sauce like the Chinese version. Instead, the sauce is made with a Korean paste called chunjang which taste like strong fermented dark miso. Another thing to have with your Jajangmyeon is the tangsuyuk which is sweet and sour pork. This is entirely different from the Chinese version as the sauce is not red and there is no tomato taste at all. Instead, you can taste a strong honey and vinegar flavour. The best one I ate was in Jeju island.
9) Street food breakfast
You can find many fast food stores selling these simple food which is available for take-away or dine in. Many Koreans eat them as a snack or as a quick breakfast. Some of the items served here include the Tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes ) , emuk on skewers ( fish cake ), tempura udon , kimbap ( Korean sushi ) and other items which I cannot read in Korean. These snacks are relatively cheap so you can order a few to try at the same time.
10 ) Sannakji – Raw Octopus
Many have heard or seen videos about this horror dish but it is really not scary at all. Instead, all you feel is a wriggly raw octopus sashimi which tastes very sweet and fresh. It is not a very flavourful dish so you need to dip it in Korean spicy sauce or sesame sauce before eating it. You definitely have to give this dish a try when you are in Seoul.
11) Pojangmacha – Korean roadside stall
Many of us have seen this in the Korean dramas where the main actress and actor will be chatting sweet nothings over a cup of soju and typical Korean snacks. Try this with a group of friends and you will totally enjoy the experience. The food is not restaurant grade but very authentic. You can find ramen, kimchi pancakes, gimbap, other stir fry or even sundae ( blood sausage) here. There is something you absolutely need to try and it is the Bindae-tteok which is mung bean pancake. Ditch the kimchi pancake and try this instead.
12) Noryangjin Fish Market
Just like the Tsukiji Fish market in Japan, Seoul has their own version which is the Noryangjin market. The market recently went under a renovation and I heard that the place is much neater and cleaner. I have also read that there is a food street where you can try the local street food but as I was rushed for time, I only went to the wet market where you can see many different kinds of seafood not seen in Singapore.
The way the market works is that you choose your seafood and bargain with the vendor. Once you pay for your ingredient, you can bring it to one of the restaurants to cook it for you. There is a cooking fee involved and for my standards, I feel the cost of the seafood is quite high. I had the same thing in Busan and the prices of the seafood is much more affordable. Something to have at such markets is the fresh sashimi and crab roe fried rice when you buy a snow crab. The difference is that you can dip the sashimi into Korean spicy sauce instead of wasabi.
13 ) Myeongdong Street food
Myeongdong is known for many kinds of street food in the recent years. So many stores have popped up that the entire street is filled with stalls selling different food at night and reminds me of Taipei night markets. Some of the food is not even Korean. Personally, I found some of the food expensive and not worth the price. The only 2 things I eat from such stalls are the meat skewers, hotdog with French fries stick and fish cake. However, for first-timers, it is still fun to give all these food a try.
14) O’Sulloc tea cafe
This café serves very mean matcha desserts and drinks. They have very authentic and fragrant tea and cakes and ice creams. This is definitely a place to stop for an afternoon chill out amidst all the shopping. They also have a retail area selling tea leaves and jam spread. For the matcha lovers, the jam spread is mama mia and is fantastic for breads and biscuits.
15) Chimaek – Korean Fried Chicken and Beer
Last but not least, the famous Korean fried chicken and beer. This is really a match made in heaven and I am guessing it is because of the Korean spices used that makes the beer so delicious. This is really great as supper with friends so this is definitely on the list.