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Seoul: Looking for some recommendations

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I'll be in Seoul for a few days in January and wanted to get some recommendations for mostly low-brow and mid-scale dining. This is my introductory trip to Korea and want to get some local flavors that a few days can provide. By low-brow, I'm thinking of pojangmacha style eating (though I may wimp out if it's too cold), and a trip to Noryangjin market for some seafood, along with simple traditional dishes like gamjyetang, or kalguksoo, or bossam. I'll likely include a table d'hote style dinner, but one that's moderately priced. I've eaten a lot of Korean food in LA and NYC/NJ so I do have some experience with the variety of foods, and since I'm now only an hour away from Korea, I'm jazzed to discover some good Korean food at its source.

Also, my hunch is that many of the more "local" places will include an intimidation factor. Any words of advice for non-Korean speakers will be helpful. Going through some restaurant sites and blogs, I have noticed some menus with Japanese translations (I do speak Japanese, and will be traveling with other Japanese) more than English translations, so maybe the learning curve won't be as steep.

I have been perusing this site's restaurant listings for some clues as to some places to try.
http://www.visitseoul.net/en/article/...
But I can't tell if it's just leading me towards touristy joints.

I've also been looking through Kosmose7's blog to get an idea of places through the photos and rough translations. (http://blog.naver.com/kosmose7/900819... ).

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  1. hi...i was in Seoul for 3 weeks in 2007...while i have some friends there, i was probably wandering around solo at least half the time...i speak no Korean, and am caucasian...

    On plus side, i found strangers to be quite gregarious: it's the only city in Asia where i've had people come up to me totally umprompted to offer to translate when they've seen me staring at a subway map or attempting/failing to communicate with a cab driver...(e.g. in Japan, people will feel obliged to help if you ask them but rarely/never offer help on their own, etc)...and it's a safe city and easy enough to navigate by subway, and there are lovely parks/ancient-palaces and places to hike...in three weeks, i roamed widely and saw most of the major neighborhoods...

    But for solo dining, i found it be the most difficult major city in the world (and i've spent time in over 35 cities in Asia and Europe over the last four years)...the major problem is not that people aren't welcoming (they are: they love practicing their English, are happy to share their country, etc), but that restaurants are not designed for solo eating, nor are most of the dishes themselves...naturally BBQ places have only large tables...but the same goes for other food too: bar/snack restaurants usually do not have bar-seating, but rather picnic-like tables w/ group-sized snack orders...that famous chicken/noodle speciality (forgot the name) is served on large trays in a portion big enough to 2 to 4...even simple pajeon (seafood pancake) places would not seat me, as they make the pancakes in 2-person sizes (on one particularly hungry night, i was inwardly enraged when they still said no, even though i told them i was starving and would happily order and eat a 2-person pancake myself)...another night, i was initially delighted to discover a rustic wine bar in an art gallery-filled area: but while they have 100 wines by the bottle, they do not serve *any* wine by the glass (arrrgh!)...

    A couple times, to solve the problem, i'd go to a Starbucks about an hour before i planned to dine, chat up a pretty young Korean girl, and take her to dinner, solely for the purpose of being able to be seated in a restaurant (that's how i was able to eat the chicken/noodle dish: after they turned me down as a solo diner, i went to Starbucks, picked up two girls and came back an hour later to eat as a party of 3).

    I love solo dining and have been delightfullly happy doing so everywhere from Beijing to Hanoi to Chiang Rai to Athens, Paris, and Oslo...but Seoul, culinarily-speaking, left me hungry and angry...

    The saving grace was samgyetang, as it's a one-person dish and i grew to love it...the place i went the most was Baekje Samgyetang in Myung-Dong, but i'm sure there are many other ones that locals will recommend.

    When i went out w/ groups of friends (both college-age Koreans, and also wealthier 30-something Korean-American and American professors), the situation was better, yet nothing really wowed me...and for me this is odd, because even in cities that i didn't particularly love, i nonetheless have left w/ at least 5 to 10 favorite restaurants to recommend after spending a few weeks there...

    I wish i could other more advice than one mere samgyetang restaurant, and i hate to rant, but still four years later the memory of the frustrated hunger still lingers..but i hope your experience is much better and you discover tons of places, and please post your impressions...