Eating in Seoul means not only consuming delicious food, but also going on a culinary adventure which thrills your other senses. Many dishes are prepared and cooked right in front of you. As you watch the food cook, you'll feel the heat, hear the sizzle, and smell the spicy aromas as your mouth begins to water.
Though I was only in Seoul for a few days, I was constantly blown away by the food. I ate so many delicious things and went home knowing I’d barely scratched the surface. Since I had so much to say about the food, I decided a separate post was in order so here are my top 5 favorite meals I ate in Seoul.
Visiting Seoul? Check out my post 'A Guide to Seoul (and Why You Should Visit in Autumn)'.
After arriving in Seoul late in the evening, I met up with Jeremy (who had already eaten dinner) and we went in search for a place for me to grab something quick to eat. We wandered over to Myeong-dong where the nightly street market was closing up and found a couple restaurants that were still open.
We climbed up to the second floor of the building to the restaurant and sat at a table by the window. Our table had a cooktop in the center where they prepared the chicken galbi. Since Jeremy had already eaten, I tried to order for one, but was told it had to be for two. Sorry, Jeremy, time for dinner #2! They also provided us with large bibs to wear... in case of splatter.
They brought out the ingredients – spring onions, cabbage, (some other veggies?), and the marinated raw chicken – and added everything to the cooktop. As it began to sizzle, I realized just how hungry I was! It slowly cooked down; the server coming back periodically to stir and mix it together. We started to pick up the wooden spoon at one point but were quickly told (through hand gestures and in Korean) that they would prepare it for us. Whoops!
Once the chicken was cooked, they added rice which finished off the dish and then removed the metal shield so that we could dish the mixture onto our plates. Not knowing much about Korean cuisine before arriving in Seoul, I was surprised by how spicy it was! The flavors in the chicken marinade were incredibly delicious though and I enjoyed the kick from the spice.
One night that I was on my own for dinner, I experienced traditional bulgogi and fell in love. I chose the restaurant because I’d had “bulgogi beef” in a Korean restaurant back in DC and saw bulgogi on the menu. Choosing the safe option that I was familiar with led me to discover something so much better!
The owner of the restaurant came out to cook my bulgogi for me and chat with me (in English!). He cooked the bulgogi and vegetables on a dome-shaped pan on top of a little gas burner with broth around the sides. As the meat cooked, he scooped the broth up and poured it over the beef to keep it moist and the excess juices ran down into the broth adding even more flavor.
Once the meat was ready and the veggies cooked down, he turned down the heat and I dug in. The meat was so tender, with a sweet and rich flavor that cooked into all the vegetables too! I could’ve drunk the broth and wished there was more of it. Unlike many of the dishes, bulgogi isn’t spicy so it’s a good break, especially if you have trouble eating spicy food.
Need to work off some of this delicious food? Check out the Jaunbong Peak Hike in Bukhansan National Park!
Fried chicken... a classic Korean dish? Yes! Chimaek comes from the Korean words for chicken (chikin) and beer (maekju). The dish is served everywhere and is especially popular as a late-night snack. We stopped for chimaek as more of a happy hour/pre-dinner snack at a random bar. We ordered both the regular fried chicken and the spicy version. Both versions were tasty and the cooling cabbage side dish was a necessary complement for the spicy version!
One of the more commonly known Korean dishes, bibimbap is made up of meat (pork, beef, etc.) and an assortment of vegetables (carrots, bean sprouts, seaweed, etc.) served over rice. Based on how vague this general description is, you can imagine how many combinations you can make! And just because you’ve had bibimbap one way, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try the hundreds of other ways to have it, right?
I tried several bibimbaps in Seoul with different types of meat, varying levels of spiciness, switching up the vegetables, and could have kept going if I didn’t have to come home.
Obviously when you're in Seoul (Korea!) you have to eat Korean BBQ! Also, you can't go wrong with a system that involves grilling meat at your table then grabbing it off the grill while it’s hot and fresh – YUM!
It seems like Korean BBQ restaurants are everywhere now, but I was excited to try it in Seoul. We ordered a couple different meats, but enjoyed the steak the best. As always, we got plenty of side dishes! As with many things, Korean BBQ seems like it would be better with a group of friends so that you can order a bunch of meats and try a variety instead of just one or two items.
Need to walk off all these delicious dishes? Check out my post 'Wandering Seoul's Streets' for walking tour inspiration!