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Seoul food sugestions?

Hi All - I'm heading off to Seoul on Saturday morning. I looked around the CH boards for threads but (1) didn't find a lot of recent discussion about Seoul, and (2) because it's such a big city, specific restaurants can be tricky to find.

Since it seems like a lot of the Boston Area folks are familiar with Korean food, I though I'd ask you all for recommendations: what would you want to eat, if you were going to Korea? Or what DID you eat, if you've been there, that maybe you can't get here? This is my 2nd trip and the last time I really knew nothing about the food. I've eaten a bit of it since then...Also, my parents were with us on the last trip and after a few days they just wanted to eat at Italian restaurants...this time I'll have a more adventuresome travel and DC.

Thanks!

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  1. I was going to suggest you llok at the China and Southeast Asia board (http://chowhound.chow.com/boards/46) here on chowhound, but this similar request has been up on that board for a week with no replies - so I guess this board is as good as any.

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/697387

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    Southeast Asia
    343 Market St, Lowell, MA 01852

    1. San Nak Chi (live octopus)

      I've spent a lot of time in Korea and Seoul, but my favorite places to eat were never the popular places. I would walk around the side streets and find places there. One of my favorite places was in the Kangnam area behind the Novotel hotel. It was family run, essentially out of their living room.

      I like the beer banks too but I think they're gone from Seoul. Every table had it's own tap with two meters. One for how much you drank and one for how much you owe. After 10L the place I went would play music when you poured.

      There are other things you can get there that you can't get (or might have a hard time getting) here. e.g., you could still get gaegogi when I was there but that was outside of Seoul. You may still be able to get it in places like Cheung-ju.

      1 Reply
      1. re: 1red111

        Thanks for the reply - I'd heard about the live octopus, but I'm not sure we're THAT adventurous :-) Maybe I'll watch someone else eat it...

      2. I can't suggest any specific restaurants in Seoul, but I recommend the following. Some of dishes are available in Boston, but much better in Korea.
        - Sam kye tang: chicken stew with ginseng, dates, and other medicinal herbs
        - BBQ places with real charcoal. Get galbi or sam gyeop sal (pork belly) then finish your meal with naeng myeon (cold buckwheat noodles)
        - Ja jang myeon or jam bong at a Korean-Chinese restaurant
        - pat bing soo (shaved ice with red beans, similar to ABC at Penang, but better!)

        And big department stores (e.g. Hyundai or Lotte) have very good food courts - wide variety of most popular Korean dishes.

        I also recommend trying the following. There are restaurants that specialize in this type of cuisine.
        - Hanjeongsik, a full-course traditional Korean meal with banchans galore!
        - Korean royal palace (kungjiung) cuisine: this can be expensive because the dishes are more elaborate and labor intensive, but I think worth the experience.
        - Korean buddhist/temple cuisine: healthy, wholesome vegetarian meals

        Enjoy your trip!

        3 Replies
        1. re: toki

          I'm pretty sure this will get moved to another board, but anyway- for Buddhist cuisine, I recommend the seasonal jeongsik at Sanchon (in Insadong). It's a bit touristy in its atmosphere, but the food is very good.

          It's rather difficult/overwhelming to try to recommend a few specific places in such a large city, but you might like the Zen Kimchi blog for some. I usually hang out at mom&pop neighborhood "one-dish" spots, but for showing off Seoul food, my friends like to go to (raw) tuna restaurants (Dokdo Chamchi is a good chain) or to charcoal BBQ's. What I personally miss most in Boston in restaurant specialities are ssambap restaurants (rice wrapped in greens), and good places for jook (porridge), which can be made at home of course, but it's still nice to go get a bowl of abalone or pine nut porridge that someone else made for you :) (If you can find a branch of Bonjuk, it's reliable). The recommendation to find a samgyetang place is also great.

          I'd also recommend a place for jeon-gol, a stew that cooks at your table with lots of veggies, usually meat or seafood, etc. (it's fun because it involves multiple stages- waiting for things to cook, then eating the soup, then adding noodles and having noodle soup). I also recommend kimbap from some cheap kimbap place for lunch on the go, just to experience an "everyday universal" Korean food. The chains for this are ubiquitous- you'll find them easily if you have someone write out 'kimbap' (김밥) for you so you can look for the signs.

          I think pretty much anywhere you go, you're likely to find dishes that we don't have in Boston, so I'd really just say explore! If I were to go at this moment, the first thing I'd want off the plane would be cheonggukjang jjigae (stew made of fermented soybeans), or maybe rice porridge, followed by drinks at a soju places (maybe accompanied by golbaengi- sea snails(?) with noodles), and possibly a stop for some street-side odeng (fish cakes) on the way home :) Now that the weather's getting warmer, though, the thoughts also turn to cold noodle dishes like kong guksu (thick noodles in cold soybean milk) or bibim naengmyeon (cold elastic starch noodles with spicy sauce).

          Mainly, though, the best thing is to get local recommendations. Koreans are still often reluctant to steer Americans to Korean food, though, and tend to want to recommend a place that's fancy or has a wider menu of items. You need to find some good local allies who can tell you where they'd go in the neighborhood, and sometimes you have to be sort of persistent about making sure they understand you like Korean food. It helps to ask for sort of specific recommendations (what's something good nearby for noodles? for barbecue? for sundubu? where's somewhere that would have good bibimbap?). Have fun!

          1. re: another_adam

            Thanks again for all of the suggestions. We tried to find Sanchon, but no luck - it was listed in the Lonely Planet guidebook but we couldn't find it on the street. I'm pretty sure that we were in the right place, too, since there was a guy in Buddist gray robes walking ahead of us who sort of stopped, looked around, then turned around at the place where we thought Sanchon whould be.

            We did get some jook, which was tasty and also helpful to know what the flavors/consistency should be. I have a few Korean cookbooks but so often I am just winging it since I don't know what things are supposed to taste like!

            I did notice that folks seemed suprised that we like Korean food. This trip was too short and the food really was not our priority; next time, I'll stay longer and delve deeper into the food. Thanks again for all the suggestions!

            1. re: gimlis1mum

              Oh- yes, the entrance to Sanchon is a bit removed from the street, you have to go down a little path, it's not completely obvious :( Like most things in Seoul, the best thing is to study the cute map on the website first, to find out what storefronts are nearby :) Sadly, it looks like they only have one on the Korean version of the website, but it might help:
              http://www.sanchon.com/sanchon/map.html
              Too bad you were thwarted- I do recommend it for another time!

        2. I have no idea what it's called, I can only recall watching it being made. But it was freshly made, and freshly sliced and cooked noodles in a giant bowl of boiling soup brought out to.

          So anywhere, where you can see the cooks slicing noodle dough right into a pot of boiling water and then serving it to you, you must try it. So delicious, and deliciously fresh, and chewy. I haven't been anywhere, where I've seen asian noodles THAT freshly made, cut, cooked, and served to you within a 15 minute time frame.

          And you may be able to get mandu and dukbokki in the states, but I think the experience of just eating it on the street (with the complimentary soup!!!!!) in Seoul makes it taste that much better.

          Oh and.. I am not sure if this is the correct name since I wikipedia-ed it, but dongdongju? It's the milky and really sweet version of say, soju that is made from rice. I found it to be very delicious and very sweet, and better than soju, which i despise, but still drink, heavily. =)

          3 Replies
          1. re: amatuerfoodie

            It sounds like the noodles you're describing are kal-guksu ('knife guksu'), which are indeed a fantastic thing to find a little mom & pop place for, especially in winter when the hearty anchovy broth is comforting and filling. Luckily, they're easy to make at home, though it would be nice to have somewhere in Boston that made them!

            And the drink you're describing sounds like what's more usually called makgeolli, if it's cloudy and sweet. It is indeed a dangerously drinkable drink- rather too sweet for my taste, but mildly effervescent and easy to down many cups of :) (Actually, from what I can tell, dongdong ju is essentially the same, just a little bit more "rustic" style-so it could have been that, too.) Incidentally, the buddhist place Sanchon mentioned upthread makes their own dongdong ju which is really good!

            1. re: another_adam

              I just checked in on this thread - wow, THANKS! We have a few days left here so I hope to try out some of these suggestions...

              1. re: another_adam

                I'm not sure. My friend just brought me to this little noodle shop and we were watching this lady slicing noodles into this pot of water. I just enjoyed it because i knew how fresh the noodles were, and that they were house made, which i find admirable. I actually had this noodle in the middle of the hot summer in Seoul!

                I do not recall the name of the wine that we ordered. But I just know we had the wine with haemul paejeon and it was delicious. And I got very, very drink on the streets of Seoul. =) It had rice on the bottom too! It was sweet, but that is why i like it, because I find soju not so appetizing.