Any good places to chow in Seoul, Korea?
- Tida Beattie Mar 15, 1999 12:05 PM
I am going to be on an extended assignment in Seoul, Korea and am crossing my fingers that someone has recommendations for places worthy of chowhounds in Seoul. As this will be a first-time trip, any tips in or near the Chong-Ku area of Seoul would be much appreciated.
What excellent job do you have that you can go to
places like Seoul and Thailand for assignments?
Anyway, I have a buddy who's also a foodlover who's in
Seoul right now. You can e-mail him and ask him for
places to go. You should probably be specific though
as to what type of Korean food and what kind of
atmosphere, etc. His e-mail address is
Michaelhyu@hotmail.com. He checks e-mail once a week
so don't be discouraged if you don't hear from him
right away. I'll drop him a line so he knows you'll be
e-mailing him, but it probably won't hurt if you let
him know that I gave him your e-mail address and that
this was related to chowhound. I told him about the
site a couple weeks ago. Well, good luck, and if you
want to know about korean places here in new york, you
can ask me.
re: Jim Leff
Honored to hear from the big dog. I've alerted Mike to
the Chowhound web site and although he's slated to be
in Korea for the next two years, I have no doubt that
he will be a frequent contributor to the message boards
once he comes up to speed, as I hope to be. Please
feel free to check out my post on Korean spots on 32nd
street here in Manhattan on the best of board.
re: Wonki Kim
Wonki, Tida, Jim:
Greetings from Seoul, Korea. I have yet to hear from
Tida. Please feel free to email me at the above
One thing to note though. I think its hard to adjust
or fit tastes when someone is visiting Korea. I have
just transplanted myself a year ago from the culinary
mish mash that is Manhattan and now I am in Seoul for
a while. Its a change, and the cultural notion of
cuisine is very different here. People take it as a
given that you will eat Korean food for each meal, and
maybe once in a while, when there is some special
occasion you go eat "Western." Once you've decided to
eat out, the variety lies in what kind of Korean
dishes you want. Its the reverse of what happens in
the US. You pick a dish, then the restaurant which
specializes in it.
There are some exceptions to the above. Chinese-
Korean food is a genre on its own, and there are even
some fine examples of this in Flushing and in K-Town.
Koreans do eat a lot of Chinese food. Recently,
Italian food has begun to catch on, but the upstarts
in this field are franchises from Japan...bad omen.
Incidentally, saw an article in the Korea Herald (this
is an English language newspaper in Seoul, and they
have a web site). Every Friday this couple (surname
Salmon (?)) posts a review and they apparently went to
a retaurant specializing in spit-roast pigs, where the
smallest order is for 20 people for half a pig for
approx. $400. Nifty, no? Wonder how it compares with
Spike's BBQ in Oakland.
The more I talk about all this the more I miss
Manhattan and all my friends there. This is my first
post, love the site. Feel like I have found this
heretofore unknown link with fellow members of
Happy dining everyone.
re: Michael Yu
"I have just transplanted myself a year ago from the culinary mish mash that is Manhattan and now I am in Seoul for a while. Its a change, and the cultural notion of cuisine is very different here."
Let me see if I have this straight...you're an ethnically Chinese Korean from New York who's currently experiencing culture shock in Korea? Wow...pretty complicated.
I'm VERY interested in the cuisine of ethnic Chinese Koreans...you know anything about it?
Anyway, welcome to chowhound. It's great to have you, love your messages. We need more international correspondents.
folks, check out some other cool postings by Michael on the Manhattan board in the monstrous "NY Noodletown" thread (which has nothing to do with NY Noodletown anymore) and in the equally misnomered "spam removal" thread on the "not about food" board.
re: Jim Leff
Urrrr, no. No I am not an ethnic Chinese-Korean or
Korean-Chinese. I do love Chinese food, Cantonese
especially, but I am not, alas, Chinese. I did live
in Hong Kong when I was a kid for a year and grew up
on super-greasy fare like the rice-flour "cannelloni"
floating in super mild soy sauce and other dim sum
fare on Sundays, and "Kow Yok" -- steamed thick slices
of pork (seems like the same cut as bacon) served with
tea greens or bok choi. Try finding the stuff in C-
town, still pretty rare (unless fellow Chowhounds
prove me wrong!). But still, I also grew up equally
on wonderful sausage and bangers in England and those
big slices of NY pizza and Kefta in Egypt.
It is a stern rule that if you have pleasant
experiences with any kind of food when you're young,
they stay with you forever. (Refer to Spam posting).
But I digress culinarily again. In any case, please
feel free to ask questions on Korean restaurants (in
Seoul, I've lost touch with New York), Korean food,
food in general, etc.
About ethnic Chinese-Koreans. Yes, there are lots of
Koreans who grew up in China, and there are thriving
communities in Hong Kong and in Manchuria (though both
are very distinct from each other). Here's also a
little known fact. There is a Chinatown in Seoul (the
sub-city of Inchon actually). Inchon is a port town
and apparently there is a C-town where mainland
Chinese sailors like to stop off.
There was a TV show recently, where the chef of one of
the restaurants in C-town showed off a famous dish
called Jjam-bong. This is a representative Korean-
Chinese dish-- super fiery hot and hearty only begins
to describe your first sip of the soup. You basically
have flour-based noodles (about the same shape as
linguine) sitting, swimming on a soup base of seafood,
beef, and sometimes pork with a lot of veggies. In
the case of this chef, he said 38 separate ingredients
go into this noodle soup. There I go again...I start
talking about people, and I am back to food.
Ask more! I love talking about this stuff. Next time
a little more on Korean Chinese food.
re: Michael Yu
(I know I'm coming in very late to this thread, but
ever since I moved away from New York, I don't visit
this site as often as I used to.) My family still
lives in Seoul, and I visit as frequently as
possible. What Michael said about dining out in Seoul
is true--the restaurants are very specialized and you
usually select what you want to eat before choosing a
restaurant. One dish I always make a point of going
out for when I'm in Seoul is naengmyon, one of my
favorite Korean dishes. (and it's perfect for the
warm weather ahead.) I grew up mostly with the
milder, less chewy (and as my mom would tell it,
superior) Pyongyang naengmyon, from a region in what
is now North Korea. The original Woo-lae-oak in the
Chung gae chun area of Seoul is still one of the best
places for Pyongyang naengmyon. I haven't found a
place that does a more authentic broth, although the
quality of the toppings have decreased over the years
(we've been going to Woo lae oak ever since I can
remember). There is another naengmyon place near Jeil
hospital (also downtown) that had great noodles with
very high buckwheat content & a wonderful texture.
Forgot the name, though. I didn't mean to ramble on
so long--now I'm hungry!
Naengmyon is a pretty unique dish...how many other
dishes utilize cold meat broth as a soup base? It's
pretty tricky stuff. Nowadays, there are some
attempts at off-the-shelf Naengmyon in the stores in
Korea, but it just doesn't work, mostly because you
can't trust the soup base. Incidentally, a lot of
lower quality restaurants use the same store shelf
Aside from the Pyongyang Naengmyon style, the other
popular style is Hahmheung. My consultant experts on
this tell me both are places in the north. The
difference between the two is, well my consultants are
at a loss. In any case, when you go to a place in K-
town, your basic choice is between Mool-Naengmyun and
Bibim Naengmyun. The former is swimming in cold
beef/chicken/quail based broth, the latter is
smothered in a very spicy chili-paste based sauce.
Moms tend to prefer the latter for some reason.
Nothing like old remembrances of mom getting together
with her high school classmates over aluminum bowls of
Bibim Naengmyun and discussing the latest stock
quotes...essence of Korea.
The mark of good NM in my humble opinion, aside from
the broth, is the quality of the noodles. They cannot
be overdone, and they should be cold enough so that
the cooking process stops once they are taken out of
the boiling water. They should be mildly resistant to
cutting with your teeth. The other great debate is
what people do with that one-half boild egg you get
with the Mool Naengmyun. Some people save it for the
end of the meal, or they can't deal with the dilemma
and start off by eating it right away. Still others,
yours truly included, take out the yolk and flavor the
soup with it by swishing it around the broth...ahhhh!
Extra egg s'il vous plait! Another issue here is the
requisite slice of cold meat (I think its brisket)
that should come with every bowl, but which has become
more scarce in Korea. Darn shame.
Lastly, don't be surprised if you see a slice of pear
in your naengmyun. The chef didn't drop in there by
re: Michael Yu
The main difference between Pyongyang & Hamheung
naengmyon is the noodles: PY style should be made with
buckwheat and a bit of flour, and HH style is made with
sweet potato startch, which makes it *extremely* chewy.
I believe the broth is similar. Also, HH style is
traditionally served with a fish garnish, while PY is
garnished with meat that was used to make some of the
broth. One thing my mom always insisted on was the
correct preparation for the cucumber garnish, not the
plain julienned cucumbers you usually get in
restaurants nowadays. (BTW, I'm something of a purist
when it comes to naengmyon--I don't think egg yolk
should flavor a good broth!)
So let me get this straight. PY is made with
buckwheat, so the noodles should be brown; whereas HH
is made iwth Sweet Potato, which means the noodles
should be gray? Any recommendations for good
naengmyun places in the Kangnam area? Have you been
to any of the chain s strated by those entrepreneurial
former N.Korean defectors?
I think purism is fine, as long as restaurants give
you options. The trouble is, restaurants are cutting
down and skimping on all the extras, as well as on
portions. Or is it that I am just still a growing
boy? In any case, with the recent weather, it is
truly Naengmyun season. Hope its an enjoyable one.
Also, what do you think of the non-Korean places to
eat? There must be times when you miss food from New
York. I've been to most of the fairly well-known
places-- Kung, Wasabi, Tastevin, La Volpaia and most
of these have been disappointing. Any recommendations
on your list?
re: Michael Yu
Hmm... I can't say with certainty that the color is
that different. I haven't had HH in ages, &, as you
know, naengmyon noodles are a slightly nondescript,
transluscent brownish-grey color anyway.
I can't help you with Kangnam places, as my family
lives on the other side of town. They did mention a
great new place called Jindallae opened by a N. Korean
defector, but it went downhill rapidly before my last
visit to Korea.
I agree with you that it's hard to find places that
consistently maintain the quality of ingredients as the
years pass (my "purist" comment applied just to the
egg-yolk practice you mentioned). Do you find that
portions are decreasing in general? I didn't notice
that on my last visit (in case it wasn't clear from my
earlier post, I don't live in Korea--just visit
regularly. Unfortunately, I moved from NY to LA.). As
for non-Korean places, Wil in the Gana Art Center is
pretty decent (despite the name, it has an Italian
bent). Bison near the Hyatt was quite good a year
You are accurate regarding portions. Maybe I am not a
growing boy after all! This is most noticeable when
you order Seolnongtang. Even in K-town in NYC, at
places like Gham Mee Ok, the bowls got smaller,
definitely. One realizes this when one is sprinkling
on Spring Onions on top of the soup and the
realization comes once you've hit the bottom of the
bowl with your mere sprinkling, and bam, it hits you,
they've not only changed to smaller bowls, but its no
longer the brown ceramic, but cheap plastic bowls
instead. It is a profound downer. Part of the
pleasure of eating seolnongtang is the sound of
scraping your metal spoon against the bottom of the
ceramic bowl. It makes a very distinct sound. And
now that is gone.
I went to Bison in Kangnam about three months ago, not
too impressive. Just like a typical meal in Seoul at
a western restaurant-- overpriced and not near worth
the (dis)service, etc. One comes out vehemently
insulted by the chef's implicit suggestion that small
portions mean refinement...
So, on to bigger and better things. Where is the Gana
There used to be a restaurant in "LA somewhere"
serving Cuban food and with the word "Banana" in it.
re: Michael Yu
I agree with you that plastic bowls are a sacrilege--
unthinkable! As for portions, don't you find the
portions in Korea smaller overall than in the US, K-
It's too bad about Bison; the one at Namsan was quite
good about a year ago. Gana Art Center is in
Pyongchang Dong, near Bukhansan. It's a bit of a trek
if you live in Kangnam, but there's a nice little
gallery and restaurant. (& I'm afraid I don't know of
the Cuban restaurant that you mentioned. Maybe with
Any place that switches from ceramic to plastic bowls
is needlessly demoting itself, I think. I do agree
with you that portions are getting smaller here
especially in light of the tough economic times
recently. The thing is that restaurants serving one
type of dish are all clustered somewhere, and as soon
as one place cuts down on portions to fatten its
margins, the other places follow. Its sort of sad to
In other news, the big trend this last year or so
seems to be Asian fusion cuisine (all clustered around
the Apkujung/Chungdam area). Kung is one place, Xian
is another, and there are some others I haven't been
to...an Asian/French grill somewhere, Japanese Italian
fusion seems to be another big area, and last night I
talked with someone who just started a fusion Chinese
place called Canton. I happen to be not too into this
area. Mainly because I still enojoy the down to earth
basics, and do not yearn for a "new approach" to an
old standby. Kalbi with mango chutney...that just
ain't my thang...Thoughts?
The Cuban place wasn't that great...Can't remember the
name for the life of me.
re: Michael Yu
Hmm, fusion arrives in Seoul. It was inevitable, I
suppose, with all the people going back & forth. I
too am extremely wary when people start fiddling
around with good old-fashioned basics. Fusion is so
hit-or-miss, I can't imagine that they would do it
very well in Korea. I'm not surprised to hear that
fusion places have popped up in Kangnam, trend central
(not a big fan of the area). Have you tried the
blowfish place in Samchung Dong (near Chunghwadae)?
It's been there forever, & I'd be sad if that has gone
downhill as well.
I haven't written in ac couple of days and I already
feel remiss! In any case, a recent birthday was
celebrated and I went to Xian (Asian fusion place in
Chungdamdong) with family for a nice quiet dinner. I
think after I went and having talked with my friends
about it, I am convinced Xian is a definite one-
timer. Everyone has gone there at one time or another
because of the food, but across the board, I've not
found one person who has returned of their own
volition. And for good reason.
We had the raw deep-fried tuna as an appetizer, big
shrimp with thin noodles, sliced duck, and tenderloin
with garlic noodles and mashed potatoes, with a side
order of duck fried rice. For dessert chestnut pound
cake, crepes with banana ice cream, and I had deep
fried wonton ("fortune cookies") filled with chocolate.
(Can any meal at a fushion place be
called "typical"?) I've always found that a
restaurant should have an anchor upon which they stake
the livelihood of the restaurant. For Italian places,
it should be the linuini in garlic and oil, for a
local deli restaurant it should be something plain
like boiled beef and cabbage. What is the equivalent
for fushion places?)
In any case, the description sounds better than it
tasted. The way most people ate at their tables was
like at the China Grill in NY. You order entrees and
share family style.
My poor mom kept asking what country these dishes were
from. In any case, the shrimp was meagre, the noodles
too sour, the beef was commonplace and too thinkly
sliced, and my fortune cookies were just too weird.
Felt like badly conceived out-of-the-box cookies.
On top of the fare, the atmosphere was poor. Mostly
younger people (early 20s) with all of their cell
phone on their table keeping a sharp eye on who comes
in. Another big minus was no table-cloths. I could
go on, but well, let's not dwell on the negatives.
I happen to live in the Kangnam area, Apkujung area,
but I completely understand your remarks. But there
are real pluses about being around here, though it
comes with getting used to the environs more than
I have a favorite blowfish soup (Bokuhtang) place near
Samgakji station 4000 won and the best hang-over
killer everd evised. Move over bean sprout soup,
honey tea, gatorade, jjambong, seolnongtang, bloody
marys, chicken soup, orange juice, menudo, and
tylenol. This is the stuff. Blowfish soup.
re: Michael Yu
I'm going to be in Seoul this fall, and I'm looking
forward to exploring all the new restaurants. (let
me know if you have any finds that are not to
be missed) I'll know to avoid Xian, except perhaps for
the novelty factor.
Jjambong on a hangover? You must have been a
It's taken a while, but I think I have some finds for
There is a place near Yoksam station (again, south of
the river) called Shinjung. It's a very old
establishment and it doesn't have any particular cozy
feel (what Korean restaurant does?). In fact, the
parking lot, the three stories of dining space all
suggest that there is one purpose for the building: to
feed. There is an on-going debate as to what the
specialty of this place is. Some say that the Ori Gui
(roasted duck) is it. Indeed upon entering the
restaurant you are morosely greeted by already
roasted, sorry to use the expression, dead ducks
hanging from the kitchen (a la Cantonese BBQ
Restaurant style). We ordered a plate of this as a
sort of appetizer. Eating light was never a forte for
me. The duck was really good, but it could never be
the centerpiece for the meal. In other places in
Korea you can eat the smoked meat as the first course
and then replete your stomach with the duck soup made
from the bones (never mind the Marx movie, this is
really a good dish). For some reason they did not
allow you to do this here. My hunch is that the staff
saved the leftovers for themselves. For the main
course we had gopchang (beef intestines) jungol
(stew), which was hearty, filling and tasty. When you
realize that there are differences in the levels if
ingredients that you did not notice before, I think
that is the mark of finding a good place. The
intestines were actually of better quality than where
I had it elsewhere. I may gross out some people, but
there really were differences. The coup for the
evening though was my friend, who suggested that the
waiter bring some measure of sukiyaki type beef to
drop into the jungol stew. While the intestines took
longer to cook, we were able to pick on the beef while
we waited. It was a great idea. Not cheap, but great
meals are made of such improvisations...
More restaurants later.
re: Jim Leff
that's my boyee! i told you it was only a matter of
time before he started posting. by the way, just in
case you're a little confused, he's 100% korean,
although he has travelled around a lot. he also
happens to be my former roommate. can you guess from
our posts which one of us is the more conservative
intellectual and which is the nonconformist slacker?
:-) anyways, i know of only two korean-chinese
restaurants in the city, sang choon won on 32nd (which
i mentioned in my early post in the best of board) and
horng bin won on 35th, which is next to han bat. they
both have jjam bbong (which mikey mentions in great
detail in his post). i believe the best korean-chinese
places are in flushing, though i couldn't tell you
which. oh well, until we post again . . .
hey mikey, what up? i'll email you. glad you like
this place. knew you'd love my spam post.