Seoul Solo Solutions
I’m stopping in Seoul for a few days (April 4th through the 7th)on my way to Thailand, and while I’ve researched my food options pretty exhaustively, one little detail escaped me until now: Nobody but nobody dines and drinks alone in South Korea. I’m planning on doing the street food thing a little, and hitting a couple of big markets, where a meal for one isn’t as awkward. But I really want to hit Myeongdong Gyoja for kalguksu, Koong for mandu, and I’d like to sit down to a big bossam spread. It seems any place that sets you up with banchan before the meal is not going to appreciate solo diners. Apparently, some places won’t even seat you if you’re alone. I’m wondering if there are any solutions I hadn’t thought of. Seoul’s a big place, so maybe there are some food nerd groups that get together and eat/booze up a storm?? And, the problem is compounded by the fact that I don’t speak a word of Korean, other than the names of a few foods. Maybe I’m worrying more than I should, but I don’t want to offend everyone else in a restaurant by sitting down to a big feast by myself.
I've been in your shoes and you should relax. The places you are interested in will serve you no problem...especially because you are ordering single bowls of soup or dumplings. You might have a problem with the bossam because those kinds of dishes are usually ordered for a minimum of two people...at least in my experience trying to find a place that would serve me one order of bulgogi or samgyupsal. Even without the korean language I never had a problem. If you know what you want, you'll be fine.
I hope I’m not too late with this reply! Seoul is a great city and I’m sure you’ll have as grand a time eating your way around town as I did.
My hotel was in Insadong, and I like to walk everywhere that I go when I’m in a new city, so I didn’t get South of Namsan Mountain (which is very worthy of a hike!). Just as I suspected, I didn’t see another solo diner the entire time I was there, but it really didn’t present much of a problem.
Here’s a rundown of what I consumed (booze excluded):
Kalguksu cut and prepared to order at Gwanjang Night Market. Great.
Gunmandu and japchae at what amounts to the Korean version of a greasy spoon. Good.
Dumpling and rice cake soup, banchan, and kimchi pancake at Koong. Great.
Soondubu Jjigae at Ddukbaegi Jip. Great.
Grilled octopus and pork belly slathered in gochujang at a random place that I wandered into. OK.
A surprising Bibimbap at Incheon airport. Very Good.
I couldn’t bring myself to eat it, but I certainly smelled the steamed silkworm larvae offered by scads of street vendors. Yuk.
my reply is far too late, but my advice to go to samgyetang (chicken w/ ginseng) restaurants, as this is a one-person dish...i like Baekje Samgyetang in MyongDong...
In my experience, i must say the OP's concerns are very valid...Seoul is by far the worst city for solo dining i've ever experienced (and i've been to about 35 cities within the last 4 years)...many places will simply refuse to serve you...even pajeon (sp? seafood pancake) places turned me away because the smallest table they have were 2-tops and they refused to seat me at those...(note: i was dressed nice, polite, etc at all these places)...so when i was there, i tended to either a) eat out w/ my friends, or b) eat a lot of samgyetang :)