Food for the Seoul: Hits & Misses
When it comes to travelling, people I'm with or I'll meet are most important, followed by the FOOD. This was my third time being at Seoul, and what made this trip different from my previous ones was (1) my improved Korean language ability (which made a difference when it comes to choosing where to eat because places that are more hidden tend to not cater to English travellers) and (2) a better tolerance for spicy food.
I noticed a lot of my friends seem to be travelling to South Korea this summer holiday, so I thought I would quickly compile a list of my personal favourite restaurants/cafes - with directions and addresses, to avoid falling for the touristy overpriced food things (often top of the list on Google searches hmm...). I've also included a list of places that were recommended on Google searches, but turned out to be overpriced and had 'meh' food. If you'd like to look for more options, I'd highly recommend downloading the MangoPlate mobile application - the ratings on this application is pretty reliable. Also download the Naver Map mobile application for navigation; Google Maps doesn't work well in South Korea.
Seoul Food: Hits
1. Kyochon Chicken (교촌 치킨)
This is widely raved about and rightly so. By far THE BEST chicken I've ever had. The first time we had this was on a Saturday when my Korean friends came over to our airbnb, and we ordered delivery because it was raining outside. Eunkyeong had introduced this to us, so we got the Honey Chicken combo (교촌허니콤보, 18,000원). The combo basically includes both drumsticks and wings of the same flavour, and this is a good serving for about 3-5 people, depending on how much you can eat. The chicken was cooked just right - succulent and not too oily. What truly amazed us was how there was a pocket of air between the meat and the marinated skin, so the skin remained crispy to bite and the meat was moist. I'm no food blogger, so my description might be a little bit off, but this is really worth trying when in Seoul.
On our second Kyochon experience at the restaurant, they served complementary radish and chips (sauce that came with the chips was so good). Besides the Honey Chicken combo, we had the potato wedges (교촌웨지감자, 3,000원). They were really generous with the serving, and these were also fried to perfection?! We didn't get to try other types of chicken, but they do have several series: the garlic soya chicken series, the original chicken series and the red series (spicy chicken if that's your thing!).
On your first visit: Honey Chicken Combo (18,000원), Potato Wedges (3,000원) and a cup of beer (치맥: Chimaek - Chicken + Beer = the perfect combi!)
To get there:
Kyochon is all over Seoul, but here are some of the more popular branches that are easy to get to. We went to the one at Dongdaemun on our second Kyochon experience.
Kyochon Chicken Dongdaemun (교촌 동대문역), Open 24 hours.
294 Jong-ro, Changsin-dong, Jongno-gu, 2f, Seoul 03119, South Korea
Dongdaemun station (Seoul Subway line 1 or 4), Exit 6. Turn left and you should see the sign of the restaurant; it's located on the 2nd floor of the building.
Kyochon Chicken Hongdae (교촌 홍대), Open daily 3pm-2am.
362-15, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Hongik University station (Seoul Subway line 2), Exit 9. It's near the Hongdae playground, so you should see it when you exit.
Kyochon Chicken Gangnam (교촌 강남역), Open daily 3pm-2am.
Nonhyeon-dong 143-11, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Nonyeong station (Seoul Subway line 7), Exit 2. Walk for about 130m to the Gangnam Pharmacy (강남약국), enter the alley and you walk towards the GS25 50m away, turn right and walk ahead.
*Note: this branch has moved so I'd recommend checking the address before heading there just in case!
2. Yukssam Naengmyeon (육쌈냉면)
Literally translated to "cold noodle", naengmyeon is perfect for a hot summer day in Seoul. The Mul Naengmyeon 물냉면 ("water naengmyeon") was so refreshing. Noodles were a nice amount of springy, perfect with a bit of mustard and vinegar. They also offer the spicy version of the Naengmyeon (the Bibim Naengmyeon 비빔냉면), although I personally prefer the non-spicy one and you can add whatever amount of red chilli paste (gochujang) you'd like. Every bowl of noodles came with a set of charcoal BBQ pork, which were really delicious although I thought the pork was a little bit dry.
On your first visit: Mul Naengmyeon (물냉면) and galbi (갈비) set, for 7,000원.
To get there: Again, Yukssam Naengmyeon is all over Seoul, but here is the address of the one we went to at Myeongdong. Do a quick search on Naver Map for locations that are near you.
Yukssam Cold Noodles Myeongdong No. 2 Branch (명동2호점), Open daily 11am-9.30pm. 55-9, Myeong-dong 2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul.
Myeongdong station (Seoul Subway Line 4), exit 6 or 7. It's a 8 minutes walk from the station, located on the 2nd floor of a building.
3. Namul Meogneun Gom (나물 먹는 곰)
First read about this bibimbap place on eatyourkimchi. The name of the restaurant literally translates to "the veggie eating bear", and according to eatyourkimchi, they only use ingredients from local farmers. Came to this place (even though it is quite a walk from the subway exit) and absolutely loved it. This place has beautiful interiors and is a really nice place to chill in the evening.
We ordered the Dolsot Bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥, about 12,000원), the regular bibimbap (about 11,500원), Japchae (잡재, 11,000원) and Korean wine Makgeolli (막걸리, 6,000원). The restaurant served a generous serving of banchan - and they were really yummy too. Dolsot Bibimbap is "mixed rice" served in a hot stone bowl. I personally preferred this over the regular one, 'cause this one was more flavourful. The japchae tasted amazing and even better wrapped in seaweed. There is beef in this one so if you don't eat beef you can just have the noodles, it tastes just as good.
And what's a trip to South Korea without taking advantage of the unbelievably affordable alcohol?! I'd recommend enjoying the bibimbap with Makgeolli - this is good to share between 3-5 people. I'm not actually a fan of this particular Korean wine, but the one I got at this restaurant was pretty good I recommend trying this here - instead of getting the ones at convenience stores.
On your first visit: Dolsot Bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥), Japchae (잡채) and Makgeolli (막걸리).
To get there: 367-31 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
Opening hours: Daily, 12pm-10pm.
*May close earlier if there are lesser customers. We were asked to leave at about 9pm.
4. Gwangjang Market (광장 시장)
This is a popular tourist destination so be prepared for hordes of tourists. There are a lot of stalls selling authentic Korean food, but my favourite one has got to be the one located right in the middle of the market, literally at the crossroads, selling Mung Bean Pancake (Bindaetteok 빈대떡, 3,000 원). The freshly made crispy pancake, eaten with the onion sauce, tastes so good. This is nothing like the seafood/kimchi pancake you get in Singapore. We also got the Mayak Gimbap (literally "drug" gimbap, 1,500 원) because this was supposed to be so addictive like a drug, but we weren't fans of this one. The pancake was more addictive. Perhaps this would have tasted better at another stall?
I would also recommend trying the fishcake (Eomuk/Odeng 어묵/오뎅, 1,000 원) while you're at the market. If you're still feeling hungry, perhaps you might want to try the rice cake (tteokbokki 떡볶이) and the blood sausage (sundae 순대). The tteokbokki can be a little bit too spicy though, so keep that in mind if you can't take spicy food.
Psst, while you're there, if you're into thrift shopping, they have an entire 2nd floor selling really nice clothing. We were slightly intimidated because the language barrier made it difficult for us to haggle, but if you're down for it, I'd recommend checking it out. Slide me a personal message via email or instagram for more specific instructions on how to get there because it can be confusing.
On your first visit: Mung Bean Pancake (Bindaetteok 빈대떡, 3,000 원, "Drug" Gimbap (Mayak Gimbap 마약 김밥, 1,500 원), Fishcake (Eomuk/Odeng 어묵/오뎅, 1,000 원).
To get there: 88, Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
Jongno 5-ga Station (Seoul Subway Line 1), Exit 8.
Euljiro 4-ga Station (Seoul Subway Line 2 & 5), Exit 4.
Monday - Saturday, 8.30am-6pm. (Some restaurants close later at 11pm).
Closed on Sundays.
5. Bistro Jura (비스트로주라)
If you love steak but you're on a budget, this is the place to go. It's a small and cozy restaurant located by a small road so it's hard to miss. We chanced upon this restaurant while exploring Hongdae and we're so glad we walked in - we Googled about this place after and found out it's usually packed so it's good to make a trip here when it rains to avoid the crowd. Alternatively, you can write down your name on the waitlist while walking around Hongdae then return when it's your turn.
We ordered a medium-sized steak (150g) that comes with a side salad, a small serving of pasta and rice with seasoning (부채살 스테이크 정식, 12,000원) and the Steak oil pasta (스테이크 오일 파스타, 13,000원). They cook the steak right in front of you which is reassuring and entertaining - I was very intrigued by the way they cooked the food and cleaned up after. While the steak oil pasta was good, I'd recommend going for the steak on its own - the meat was more tender and flavourful. For 25,000원 between two people (that's about 16 sgd each), the meal was very satisfying. They do offer a lunch set menu for cheaper so if you're around the area at noon time i'd recommend going then.
On your first visit: Steak, 150g at 12,000원!!! (They have the large size too, 200g at 15,000원)
To get there: 18-7, Wausan-ro 23-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul 04054, South Korea
Hongik University Station (Seoul Subway Line 2), Exit 9.
Opening hours: 11.30am - 10pm (Closed for break 3pm - 5pm).
6. Myeongdong Kyoja (명동 교자)
Located in the cosmetics shopping district, Myeongdong Gyoza is very popular amongst foreigners and locals. This restaurant has been in operation for more than 50 years and is known for its handmade noodle soup - kalguksu (갈국수, 원). The chicken broth was tasty; dumplings were addictive and noodles were made just right. While they are known for their noodles, they serve really good kimchi too. Do be cautioned the kimchi is incredibly spicy (but very shiok) - I had two servings!
We got the kalguksu (갈국수, 8,000 원), mandu 만두 (10,000 원) and the soybean noodle kongguksu 공국수 (8,000 원). Out of sheer curiosity, we ordered the kongguksu that is only available during the summer but we weren't fans of the strong soya flavour so we ended up barely eating them. While I wouldn't recommend this, it would make for an interesting gastronomic experience. Only Tian and I ate at the restaurant, so we kind of over-ordered.
On your first visit: Noodle soup kalguksu (갈국수, 8,000 원) and mandu 만두 (10,000 원).
To get there:
There are two branches within Myeongdong and they're located very near each other.
Main restaurant - 25-2, 2-ga, Myeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
Branch restaurant - 33-4, 2-ga, Myeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
Myeongdong Station (Seoul Subway Line 4), Exit 8. Go straight for about 200m of the alley between family mart and Tous les Jour.
Opening hours: 10.30am - 9.30pm.
7. Saemaeul Sikdang (새마을 식당)
KBBQ is a must when in Seoul and we found this place to be the best one we've had so far. I forgot to take a picture, but this place has really good BBQ and they're known for their 7-minutes kimchi jjigae (7분돼지김치, 6,000원). I've heard the spicy thin pork yeoltan bulgogi (열탄불고기, 9,000원) is good, but we were reluctant to try anything too spicy so we went with the non-spicy pork options. We ordered a serving of the: pork neck hangjeongsal (항정살, 11,000원), marinated pork saemaeul bulgogi (새마을불고기, 9,000원) and the pork belly ogyeopsal (오겹살, 11,000원). And what's BBQ without soju?! So we got a bottle of soju. Everything tasted so good we wiped the stove clean.
My only qualm about this dining experience was that we didn't know how to cook the 7-minutes kimchi jjigae so we ended up doing whatever we thought was right - i.e. we mixed the rice into the stew and that still tasted great. Now that I've Googled a little bit more about this restaurant, it seems like we should've waited for the service staff to cook it for us because we were supposed to have poured some soup into the stew and cook it on the stove. Again, I might be wrong, so make sure to ask the staff.
On your first visit: Pork belly ogyeopsal (오겹살, 11,000원), 7-minutes kimchi jjigae (7분돼지김치, 6,000원). If you're a fan of spicy pork, try the spicy thin pork yeoltan bulgogi (열탄불고기, 9,000원).
To get there:
Saemaeul Sikdang is all over Seoul, but here is the address of the one we went to at Hongdae. Do a quick search on Naver Map for locations that are near you.
144 Eoulmadang-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea. Open 24 hours everyday.
Hongik University Station (Seoul Subway Line 2), Exit 8. (4 minutes walk).
8. Sulbing (술빙)
I absolutely love bingsu, so I was thrilled to be back at Sulbing after 3 years! I have very fond memories at Sulbing - so much so I worked at a Sulbing-lookalike bingsu shop in Singapore 2 years ago. This time we ordered the Injeolmi Bingsu (인절미설빙, 7,000 원) , Strawberry Bingsu (달기설빙, 11,000 원) and Oreo Bingsu (오레오조코설빙, 10,800 원; this was on the "in-season" recommendations menu). Honestly, I'd say stick to the Injeolmi Bingsu if there's no fruits bingsu in season - you can never go wrong with Injeolmi.
On your first visit: Injeolmi Bingsu (인절미설빙, 7,000 원). Strawberry Bingsu (I'd recommend this only when it's in season but if you're ok with not-so-sweet strawberries then it's pretty good too!)
To get there: This dessert chain restaurant is all over Seoul with differing opening hours, but I'd recommend the one at Myeongdong or Hongdae (both are located on the 2nd floor so you get to enjoy shaved ice while enjoying the view). Do a quick search on the Naver Map app to find one near you.
Sulbing Hongdae (술빙 홍대점)
20 Wausan-ro 21-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
Hongik University Station (Seoul Subway Line 2), Exit 9.
Opening hours 12pm-1am.
Sulbing Myeongdong No.1 Branch (술빙 명동점)
22, Myeongdong 4-gil, Jung-gu | 2F, Namgyeong Bldg., Seoul 04536, South Korea.
Myeongdong Station (Seoul Subway Line 4), Exit 5.
Opening hours: 11am-10.30pm.
9. Chunhachudong Milmyeon (준하주동밀면)
This one is not in Seoul but in Busan. We only had a day in Busan and we were so happy to have found this place for dinner after a horrible lunch (see below). This place is conveniently located 5 minutes away from Haeundae Beach, so I'd recommend going to both places in a day, that is if you feel like having Milmyeon. Milmyeon is a variation of Naengmyeon (cold noodles) unique to Busan - the difference being the type of noodle used in the dish. They have the non-spicy Mul Milmyeon (물 밀면 , 8,000 원) and the Bibim Milmyeon (비빔 밀면, 8,000 원).
We got a bowl of Mul Milmyeon (물 밀면 , 8,000 원), Mandu (만두, 5,000 원) and boiled pork Bossam (보쌈, 12,000 원). The bossam tasted decent though this wasn't the best I've had. The noodles were refreshing and of a good elasticity. Mandus were highly addictive and best eaten hot. Must-go when in Busan!
On your first visit: Mul Milmyeon (물 밀면 , 8,000 원) and Mandu (만두, 5,000 원).
To get there:
13, Haeundaehaebyeon-ro 265 beon-gil, Haeundae-gu, Busan 48094, South Korea.
Haeundae Station (Busan Metro Line 2), Exit 5.
Opening hours: 10.30am - 10pm.
10. Tosokchon Samgyetang (토속촌 삼계탕)
This ginseng chicken soup place is very popular especially amongst tourists, so it would get crowded during mealtimes. Honestly I was contemplating whether to place this in the "hit" or "miss" bit of this blog post, but I realised my prejudice against this place was the fact that prices of the dishes have surged since I last visited 3 years ago. The soup was actually pretty yummy even though it was pricey, so I'd recommend coming here just once. I was also partly annoyed because the service staff were not the friendliest.
We had the original samgyetang (삼계탕, 11,000) and the ogol samgyetang (오골 삼계탕, 17,000원) to share between the three of us. I'd actually recommend getting the ogol samgyetang (black chicken) - the chicken meat is more tender and the soup is tastier.
To get there: 5, Jahamun-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
Gyeongbok Palace Station (Seoul Subway Line 3), Exit 2.
Opening hours: 10am-10pm.
Seoul Food: Misses
1. Maple Tree House (단풍나무집)
Should've known from the name of this restaurant that the food served here might be bad but we were desperate for a dinner place in Itaewon so we ended up here. I kid, this is apparently a known meat restaurant with 2 branches in Seoul. While service was good and the food was slightly pricier than other meat restaurants, the meat sucked. The marinated pork wasn't as tasty as the one we had at Saemaeul Sikdang. The meat was dry and meh. If you're looking for good meat, I'd say give this a miss.
2. Jagalchi Market (부산 자갈치시장)
You know how they say Busan has amazing seafood sashimi? LIES. Or maybe because we went to the wrong restaurants and were served bad sashimi. We headed to the 2nd floor of the jagalchi market for lunch, walked around a little bit and realised the menus were all the same so we picked a place that had a decent view and a really friendly ajumma. I'd really recommend going there with a local friend or with a guide so you can avoid being ripped off. I was aware there was a "for locals" menu and a "for tourists" menu (which was more pricey) but because of my basic Korean language abilities I couldn't ask for the other menu. The sashimi served wasn't fresh, neither was the raw octopus. The best thing we had was the seafood soup that came with the set meal and it cost us 13,300원 each.
3. Dak Galbi (At Gapyeong, right before you enter Nami Island)
This was the second-to-worst meal we had when we were in South Korea. Unfortunately I forgot the name of the restaurant, so I can only describe the exterior of the restaurant - the walls were plastered with pictures of famous celebrities who had apparently dined at the restaurant. I had very fond memories of dak galbi (spicy grilled chicken and vegetables) on my previous trips to Seoul so this was very disappointing. The dish tasted odd - I think they added the perilla leaves to the dish and the entire thing tasted very strongly of the leaves. I'd recommend making a trip to Chuncheon for its dak galbi (there's an entire street of dak galbi restaurants called the Chuncheon Myeongdong Dakgalbi street) and generally avoid having this at Gapyeong. Plus, Chuncheon is where the famous gangchon rail bike is (don't forget to make reservations for your rail bike tickets if you're going), so you can make the trip to the rail bike then have lunch/dinner at the dak galbi restaurants.
1. SoSeonJae (소선재)
This restaurant is located in a renovated hanok building and offers authentic Korean food, although not easy to get to. Eunkyeong brought us to this restaurant for lunch on the Saturday we met. Best first lunch ever. We got to try the boiled pork bossam (보쌈정식, 15,000원), the beef bulgogi (능이불고기정식, 13,000원) and the spicy octopus (낙지볶음정식, 12,000원). They all came with rice and a bowl of fermented soybean paste stew doenjang jjigae 된장찌개, which tasted really good.
To get there: 113-3, Samcheong-dong, Seoul, South Korea.
Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line 3), Exit 2. (A 20 minutes walk from the station). Alternatively, you can grab a bus but I'd only recommend this if you can understand a little bit of Korean.
Opening hours: 10am-2pm, 5.30pm-11pm.
2. Obuksusan Sijang (오북수산시장)
Sashimi here was fresher than the one we got in Busan. While I wouldn't say this is worth travelling for, if you happen to be in the yeonnamdong/hongdae area (this was where we lived in Seoul), this would be a nice place to have affordable sashimi. I got the salmon sashimi and uni rice bowl (17,000 원). While the uni sucked - it wasn't fresh, the salmon sashimi was amazing. I don't usually appreciate wasabi but the wasabi served at this restaurant was palatable - it wasn't too spicy nor overpowering.
On your first visit: Salmon sashimi anything!
To get there: 78 Poeun-ro, Mangwon 1(il)-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
Hongik University station (Seoul Subway Line 2), Exit 3. 7 minutes walk through the alleys of yeonnamdong.
Opening hours: 11.30am - 9pm (Closed for prep: 3.30pm - 4.30pm)
3. Mister Moon Nangman Chicken (미스타문 낭만치킨)
Again, this was conveniently located near our airbnb. While I wouldn't travel specifically for this chicken, I'd recommend it if you happen to be in the yeonnamdong/hongdae area in the middle of the night. This small and quaint restaurant has great vibes especially in the evening/night. The owner of the stall was so friendly, he allowed us to pack the food to-go even though take-out is not available. We got the Nangman Fried Chicken, the Nangman Yangnyum Chicken and beer for a total of about 50,000 원 and those tasted pretty good although the servings were so huge we ended up with quite a bit of leftovers. The fried chicken was a little bit dry, but we had a very bad craving for fried chicken that night and this was the only shop we found open near our lodging.
To get there: 227-19, Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
Hongik University station (Seoul Subway Line 2), Exit 3. 7 minutes walk through the alleys of yeonnamdong.
Open 12pm-4am except on Sundays.
4. Lotteria (롯데리아)
This was also one of the few reasons I wanted to return to Seoul. Specifically, I returned for their mozzarella patty burger. This time we got the mozzarella and hashbrown burger. I got the set meal for only 6,300원. I am a huge cheese fan, so this burger is literally my dream come true. They don't do delivery for this range of burgers so you'd have to go down to the store and have it while it's hot so the mozzarella cheese in the patty remains stretchy and yummy. Thinking about this makes me so happy HAHA.
5. Dongkyeongya Sijang (동경야시장)
We had this on our first night in Seoul because this was the only place near us that was open at 2am in the morning and it was surprisingly good. We were craving seafood noodles (jjampong 짬뽕), and so we got the seafood noodles (매운해물짬뽕) without realising it was called "spicy seafood jjampong" so we didn't expect it to be spicy and ended up not finishing this. We also got the mozzarella cheese sticks, the sweet and sour pork tangsuyuk (찹쌀탕수육) and 2 bottles of beer for a total of 30,000원. This chain of restaurants is located everywhere, so if you're looking to have fusion Korean-Japanese food, this is the place to go.
6. GS25 - the convenience store you see everywhere
This is a very odd thing to have in this list, but if you're looking to have supper in your apartment or guesthouse, I'd suggest buying ramen (ramyeon ), spam rice or kimchi fried rice (i love these!), kimchi and a bottle of sikhye or soju and beer, and enjoy those within the comforts of your home. Best part of this is it's open 24 hours so if you need food in the middle of the night...
7. Isaac's Toast - pronounced ee-sak (이삭토스트)
Perfect breakfast or snack! This toast stall is everywhere in Seoul. While I wouldn't make a trip just to have the toast, it's definitely worth a try if you happen to walk past it. Toasts are for sale between 1,800원 - 5,000원, depending on what type of toast you wanna go for. I had the ham special (2,800원), and J & Tian both got toasts with potatoes - those were really good too.
*Opening hours differ store to store but they typically open at about 8am and close by 8pm.
8. Churro 101
This is supposedly "better than a boyfriend". This was in Singapore for a while at Bugis+, but has now closed down. I first came across this Churros stall when I was in Hongdae with J'Me two years ago. It was winter then, and having Churros in the cold was really shiok. If you happen to be walking by and looking for a quick snack, I love the cinnamon churros (시나몬츄러스, 2,400원). I'd also recommend the filled churros - churros filled with custard or cream, I personally prefer the milk custard churros.
*Opening hours differ store to store (do check the above website for info!)
And so I hope this helps whoever who is exploring Seoul. I've really come to appreciate Korean food and I wish I had a bigger tummy/more time to eat everything I saw. I'm working on a list of must-dos on the next blog post, so keep an eye out for that if you're planning to head to Seoul / are in Seoul.
Happy eating~~ 맛있게 먹어요 ㅋㅋㅋ!