I just came back from a trip to Seoul in November, and it was such a blast!! Many people were wondering how we would manage to spend 9 days in Seoul, but we did, and it really gave us a chance to explore this amazing city pretty thoroughly. And I wouldn’t mind returning again for a next trip soon! It simply wasn’t enough.
There is so much to see, do and eat in Seoul, and it’s a hard time deciding where to start. To get your tummies acquainted with the delicious cuisine that Korea has to offer, this list of 5 must-try Korean foods can be a good way to kickstart your trip.
1. Army Stew (Budae-jjigae)
Army Stew is actually a dish that originated after the Korean War when poverty was abound and food was scarce. Put together with ingredients smuggled from American troops, the stew was made mainly from processed meats including luncheon meat and sausages, lots of veggies, kimchi, korean ramen noodles and rice cakes (ddeokbokki). Today, this dish has flourished in popularity and it is one of my favourite Korean dishes that I always have to order when I eat Korean food in Singapore!
Nolboo is a chain in Seoul that has outlets all over the city, and specialises in Budae Jjigae. I was so happy when I found out there was an outlet literally a 5min walk from our Airbnb! We ordered the original Nolboo Budae Jjigae (20,000 KRW for 2pax) which actually comes in a set meal option (for the same price) that includes noodles and a drink. It came packed with ingredients including all that I mentioned above plus some minced meat, mushrooms, macaroni and some additional type of noodles. It was carbs overload!!! But we were starving, so it was an incredibly satisfying meal. For fail-safe budae-jjigae, this a great place to try out!
2. Korean BBQ
Having Korean BBQ in Seoul is a rather different affair from doing so in Singapore. Stepping into a smoky BBQ stall/shop and jostling elbow-to-elbow with your neighbouring diner in the limited seating space available no longer seems as unpleasant as it sounds when it’s so cold outside. The bustling streets of Hongdae offer a plethora of choices for Korean BBQ and honestly, I don’t know which is considered good/the best, but we were quite happy with our choice, which was Hongik Subtbul Galbi. There is a minimum order of one type of meat (8,000-16,000 KRW) per person, and it was really more than enough for all of us! Really liked our choices of pork belly and beef, and they also served a generous selection of side dishes, veggies to pair with the meats (it did wonders to balance out the flavours) and a tummy-warming tofu soup, which was all refillable! Yes, you do stink at the end of the meal (I guess that’s inevitable after BBQ) but it’s worth a try for a pretty local dining experience.
Hongik Sutbul Galbi BBQ
Address: 331-1 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Nearest Metro Station: Hongik (Exit 7)
Open daily 4.30pm-4am
3. Ginseng Chicken Soup (Samgyetang)
You can’t come to Seoul and not have heard of or tried Tosokchon Samgyetang. It is possibly the most popular place to get your fix of Korean Ginseng Chicken Soup, perhaps due to its proximity to the famous Geongbokgung, or because it’s one of the most traditional, housed in a converted hanok (traditional Korean house). It was our only opportunity during the entire trip that we could have an authentic Korean dining experience where we sat at low tables on a cushion. The restaurant usually has really long queues during mealtimes, but we were lucky to get a seat without queueing as we went for a late lunch, close to 3pm.
There are instructions teaching you how to eat Tosokchon Samgyetang (16,000 KRW), with the various condiments including kimchi, soybean paste, garlic salt and a shot of ginseng liquor (insamju) that immediately warms your belly when you down the glass. The portion is pretty big, and more than sufficient for 2pax if you’re planning to order other dishes too!
We ordered another Seafood and Onion Pancake (15,000 KRW) to share (which was really yummy too! But eat it when it’s hot) and we were stuffed. And we saw many other couples struggling to finish their double portions of samgyetang, so you might want to learn from their lesson and just stick to one.
Address: 5 Jahamun-ro 5-gil, Sajik-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Nearest Metro Station: Geongbokgung
Open daily 10am-10pm
4. Korean Fried Chicken (Chimaek)
Chimaek is actually a compound word formed from “chicken” and “maekju” (beer). A pairing that was probably a classic Korea for the longest time, but was popularised by the drama My Love from Another Star. It does sound like the perfect combination though! Deep-fried, perhaps spicy chicken wings, with ice cold beer to bring down the heat. 맛있어요!!
Kyochon is your best bet for one of the best KFC in Seoul! It’s so good that I need to dedicate an entire post to it.
5. Dak galbi
My first experience with dak galbi was with Yoogane in Singapore, and I really liked it! I couldn’t wait to try it again in Korea, and we had the chance to do so when we were heading to Nami Island for a day trip. Of course, there are many dak galbi options all over Seoul, but somehow a number of recommendations pointed us to the options at the wharf that brings you to Nami, where we tried out Mr Dakgalbi.
Dakgalbi (24,000 KRW for 2pax) is diced chicken stir-fried in a gochujang (spicy pepper paste) sauce with cabbage, scallions, onions, rice cakes. To bring the whole dish together, do not skimp on the cheese (additional 4,000 KRW) that adds in that incredible oozy, melty goodness. We ordered the original sauce (there is also a non-spicy version) and it was so good, and not too spicy! Definitely recommend it!
Address: 447-804 Daljeon-ri, Gapyeong-eup, Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do, Korea
So glad that Sam agreed to try out jjimdak with me in Seoul!! Hopefully Bongchu Jjimdak has improved his impression of this dish after we tried it on our last day. Another chicken dish, but braised in a spicy, brownish stew this time. It was soooooo satisfying in the cold weather, and though it’ll make your tongue burn with the numerous red chillies inside, it’s apparently one of the less spicy versions around already. Choose from three spicy levels, and we went for the medium option. The portion was really generous, especially the sweet potato noodles. Go for the Braised Chicken without bones (24,000 KRW for small) if you’re lazy to extract the meat from the bones, like us. I do think it’s a better option! Conveniently located in Myeongdong, you should definitely check this place out!
Address: 33-9, Myeong-dong 2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul
Nearest Metro Station: Myeongdong
Open Daily 11am-11pm
7. *Bonus* Bingsu
I couldn’t possibly leave out bingsu from the list, right?! Okay so this fits more into the category of desserts, but it’s such a quintessential Korean must-try that I just had to include it in this list too! There’s just something crazy about Singaporeans (or maybe it’s just the two of us) eating cold food even when temperatures are in the single digits. Brrrrr…..I guess we’re just so used to eating cold stuff all year round in Singapore that the cold weather overseas doesn’t deter us from getting our hands on the yummy desserts available.
I haven’t tried any bingsu in Singapore that I’ve gone crazy over. Nunsaram is possibly my favourite, for its interesting flavours and soft ice. I heard so many rave reviews about Homilpat from my friends and I couldn’t quite imagine how much better it could be. After all, it is pretty similar to ice kacang, isn’t it? But nope. Homilpat was indeed a different story altogether. It was literally the best bingsu I tried in Seoul and I shall save the raves for another post, but if you have time to try only ONE bingsu, please go to this one. That finely shaved ice/milk was amazeballs. The queues in summer are quite crazy, I’ve heard. But we were lucky to have the whole shop to ourselves for a good half an hour because of the season. MUST-TRY, please.
Address: 4-77 Changcheon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Nearest Metro Station: Sinchon
Open Wed-Mon 12.30pm-10pm
Do you have any other favourite Korean dishes that I’ve missed out? Let me know!