A couple months ago I took a trip to South Korea and spent a couple days in Seoul. Firstly, it’s such a beautiful city which is constantly awake with lots of hot food, bright lights and shopping! But the temperature stays around an average of -10c in winter, so it’s no wonder chilli is a staple in their dishes. Over my short stay, I set out to explore a wide range of Korean foods but apologies in advance because there are very few restaurant names to the below as I often could not read the name!
Local homely restaurant
I’m not sure what these restaurants are called, but on nearly every block is a restaurant serving near identical traditional, homely Korean food. A common trait of these eateries is that they serve dishes which are already familiar and available in Sydney – bulgolgi, hot pots and kimbab (similar to sushi), and at extremely affordable prices (AUD$3-10).
Bulgolgi hot pot
The beef in this dish is marinated in a sweet soy sauce, served with onions and noodles in a hot pot. Also comes with a bowl of rice. Great for those who cannot handle spicy food.
Typically with a pork or beef filling, these dumplings are steamed and come in both kimchi (pickled chilli cabbage) and non-spicy variants. My favourite was the kimchi one as it had that extra spicy punch!
Spicy hot pot
There are a large range of spicy hot pots. The ones I tried included beef and leek, sausage and ham, and seafood. Some come with ramyun (instant noodles) inside. These also come with a bowl of rice. Perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner, especially during winter.
Kimbab (above photo)
These look like sushi but have different fillings to the Japanese version. They contain egg, cucumber, carrots, seafood stick and yellow radish, and are topped with sesame oil and sesame seeds. A great side dish or small snack to have on the go and they don’t require soy sauce or wasabi to give them extra flavour.
This is a bowl of rice mixed with bean sprouts, carrots, spinach, egg, lettuce, cucumber, seaweed, chilli and sometimes with meat. It can be served in a hot stone bowl or in a normal bowl. I would suggest to get a meat and hot stone bowl variant as the rice will become crispy from the heat of the bowl.
Kimchi fried rice
A spicy version of fried rice with crunchy bits of kimchi added throughout. An egg is cracked on top for extra flavour.
Throughout all the streets of Seoul, you will find plenty of food carts selling snacks and meals, including rice cake, fish cake and pancakes!
One popular street market is the Namdaemun markets. Only one end of it is the food specialty end as the others parts sell various goods. To survive the chill, the food stalls have set up tents with tables, seating and portable heaters inside, along with their own cooking stoves. They all offer very similar menus (I suspect someone owns them all…) including various pancakes, skewers and stir fried dishes which you can DIY by electing ingredients. We choose three dishes and it turns out to be quite expensive, totalling AUD$12 pp (you can get the same food for much cheaper at your local homely restaurant, along with better warmth and hygiene).
We have ordered some Korean pancake which have been pre-made at the stall and the menu includes kimchi, seafood and plain variants. We choose the kimchi version which comes with a soy dipping sauce. It’s not the best pancake I’ve had as it isn’t that crispy, probably as it is pre-made.
Stir-fried chicken and mushrooms
The chicken has been taken off a skewer and stir-fried with some mushrooms in a soy sauce. Simple and tasty.
Jap chae (potato noodles)
The noodles we order are jap chae, or potato noodles. These are a bit chewy (think of al dente spaghetti) and covered with soy flavours. The one we get has some chilli added in, which makes it much tastier.
Fish cake – 2,000 won
One interesting thing I tried while wandering the streets of Myeong Dong was a fish cake skewer. The locals had flocked to the cart selling them and it had a long line so I thought I’d give it a go. For AUD$1.75, you receive one giant fish cake tube on a skewer with a prawn inside it. The locals are squeezing tomato sauce and mustard on it as condiments so I naturally follow their lead. It looks quite oily but is very delicious, and the fried goodness is a warm welcome in the chilly wind.
If you walk around Seoul, you’ll notice ‘Lotte’ is a prominent brand. This is a conglomerate playing in every industry imaginable including retail with their own shopping centre. At the basement of the shopping centre is a food hall with all sorts of foods at affordable prices too!
Homemade beef roll – 9,900 won
One food item which catches our eye is a beef roll, looking like a giant sushi roll that has been fried in bread crumbs. Inside the crumby goodness is beef, ham, capsicum, almonds, cheese, mayonnaise and katsu sauce. It is absolutely delicious and filling and it’s a wonder why it hasn’t made it’s way to Australia yet!
Steamed bun – 2,000 won each
We also get some steamed buns to offset the guilt of eating a fried roll for breakfast. We get two types; a kimchi pork bun and a normal pork bun. Both contain pork mince with potato noodles. The kimchi one is tastier by far with the punch of chilli.
HanChu (한추) – Fried Chicken
On our second night in Seoul, we went hunting for fried chicken! I had read about this good restaurant called HanChu (한추) so we thought we’d check it out. There was only two of us eating unfortunately and the dishes were massive and meant to be shared so we could only eat two.
Fried green peppers with pork – 15,000 won
Our first dish was some fried peppers stuffed with pork. The pepper was crispy and mildly spicy. It was served with a side of soy sauce and wasabi which added some interesting flavours. By the end of it, I got a bit sick of it so best to eat this in a large group to avoid eating too much.
Fried chicken – 17,000 won
The other dish was some fried chicken! Hot, crispy and juicy, it was well spiced and much better than KFC. It is a little bit spicy despite being the ‘normal’ option on the menu.
Red Sun – Tteokbokki
One love of mine is Korean rice cake (tteobokki) and we managed to find a restaurant, Red Sun, specialising in this, at super cheap prices too!
3 people set – 24,000 won
We get the 3-person set which includes cheese with tteobokki, Korean instant noodles, cellophane noodles, 3 dumplings, 3 eggs, sausage and ham, fried rice and pineapple juice. The price for this is such a bargain considering in Sydney, a dish of teokbokki would cost you roughly $30, without any extra condiments.
We choose the ‘little spicy’ option which turns out to be quite spicy. The rice cakes are soft and go well with the chilli sauce, fish cake and sausages. The noodles also taste delicious as they absorb the chilli sauce.
At the end of the dish, they fill the pot with rice and seaweed to make fried rice using the leftover flavours. This is absolutely delicious and even more so since they flatten it on the hot base, turning the rice crispy.
Given that it was dead cold, we couldn’t leave South Korea without trying Korean BBQ so we set off on a BBQ restaurant hunt! One thing we found was that BBQ restaurants seemed quite expensive; prices would often range from AUD$20-$50 for only 180 grams of meat which I believe is ridiculously priced. We didn’t want to spend an overly large amount of money on food, so settled for a hybrid BBQ restaurant in Myeong Dong.
The restaurant we are eating at has a slanted hot plate on the table so that the oil drips off into a side dish nestled in the table. We order a set menu which gives us various pork and beef cuts that are grilled with vegetables. After we finish this, they place rice on the plate and create some crispy fried rice similar to Red Sun restaurant, quite the BBQ eating experience.
Overall, my time in Seoul has been very wonderful despite my short stay. I found that a couple of days was enough time to explore what Seoul has to offer in terms of sightseeing, shopping and food. Unfortunately I can’t give you a list of restaurants to go to, but unless you can read Korean, it wouldn’t but particularly helpful anyway. The best advice I can give is to just walk around, explore, and eat with your eyes. Most restaurants have picture menus and I didn’t come across any particularly bad restaurants, and so the food quality is quite good.