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French hound coming to Seoul - Need a few insights

Hello to all,
I come from the French board. I come in peace. And I come hungry !

I will be in Seoul in August, and like most of my trips, it will be essentially focused on food (oh, and that little thing called ... art...). Being used to not trust food recs outside of Chowhound, I naturally turn to your knowledge for a little help.
I have researched this board, and realized that not many places are talked about, so I came up with a surprisingly short list, which probably means that for once in my life I will improvise my food itinerary more than I will plan it (which is not necessarily a bad thing).
But just to be sure, I come to you with my list of places, and a few questions.

-- Bong San Jib --
I plan on trying the Chadobaelgi and maybe the Doenjang-jigae.
Price : I couldn't find any information online about the price of this place... can anyone tell me how much it would be per person ?

-- Bon Pi Yang --
From what I understood, this is a chain ? I plan on trying the Mool Naeng Myun, and maybe some pork ribs.
Price : Around 30$ pp

-- Heukdonga --
Apparently the Hanjoengsal (pork neck) is a must... maybe some pork belly as well.
Price : Around 20$ pp

-- Budnamujip --
As per a recommendation on Chowhound, I plan on going at lunch and having their Galbitang, not their barbecue.
Price : Around 18$ pp

-- Gangnam Myun Oak --
Will go for the Galbijjim (braised beef ribs).
Price : Again, I couldn't find any info. Can someone give me an idea of the price ?

-- Sawhuleh Boleebap --
Bossam (steamed fatty pork) with barley bibimbap.
Price : No info found. Please help.

-- Mandoojip --
Mandoo.
Price : Around 8$ pp

-- Junk Sik Dang --
Ok, here comes the tricky part... I'm not sure I want to go there. I have been to a few high-end restaurants in France, in Japan and in the USA. I have found Junk Sik Dang, because it is apparently one of the only high-end places in Seoul that actually does korean food... but do I really want to go there ? Will the experience be unique enough, or will it still feel like the same kind of modern refined cooking I could have eaten in Paris or elsewhere ?
And if you do think I should go, is the lunch worth it, or should I go to the more expensive dinner ? (for instance in Paris, some starred places have amazing values for lunch while other places seem to hold out and not give you a true feeling of their quality unless you pay the whole dinner tasting menu).
Price : Around 50$ pp (lunch). Around 80$ pp (dinner).

-- Sushiko --
Another dilemma... I live in Paris, and the sushi is... pretty bad. Even high-end places don't compare to the most mundane sushi in Tokyo.
Seoul is closer to Tokyo on the map... but does that mean that the sushi there is closer to the japanese quality ? I really miss good sushi... so I'd love to have some, but if you think the quality is not worth it, then I may accept the fact that I will have to go back to Japan to have good sushi.
Also I've heard of hwe, but it seems to be very different, and not really what I long for (not saying I will not try it though).
What do you think ?
Price : Around 50$ pp.

That's it !

So aside from the questions about prices, I would like to know if you find my choices well thought out ? Should I change a restaurant for another ? And apart from the obvious street food, and local joints where I will go most of the time, do you feel there is a particular korean food that is lacking in my list and I should try ?
And finally, a question from Mrs. Yeti... She is really sensitive to spicy food, and we plan on asking as much as possible for her dishes to "not be spicy"... Is there anything on my list where that will just not happen, and the food will definitely be spicy ? (in which case I will probably go alone).

Thank you very much for your help.
Can't wait to discover Seoul !
T. Tilash a.k.a. Rio Yeti

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  1. Hello Rio Yeti, is this your first trip to Seoul?

    Re prices:
    -- Bong San Jib --
    Price: 160g chadolbaegi for 25,000W, jjigae for 2 is 10,000W so 33,000W per person. (http://www.menupan.com/restaurant/one...) At lunch they have this combination as a cheaper set which is (iirc) 17,000W but at least 2 people have to order this same set.

    -- Gangnam Myun Oak --
    Price: galbi-jjim (small) 35,000W, jjin-mandu 7,000W, naeng-myun 8,000W = 50,000W would be enough for 2 I think, so expect ~25,000 - 30,000W per person.

    -- Sawhuleh Boleebap --
    Bossam (steamed fatty pork) with barley bibimbap.
    Price : Here's the website - http://www.aprilbori.co.kr should be 15,000 to 20,000W per person. This is more like 'well-being' food where you feel good and healthy after eating the boribap.

    Spiciness shouldn't be a problem with any of the places you have on your list, at least for the main dishes - some of the side dishes (banchan) will probably be spicy but she can skip those & still enjoy the meal.

    As for sushi, it would be closer to the Japanese quality but I definitely still prefer Japan for that. Many (though not all) sushi restaurants in Korea also have some Korean inflection e.g. their typical 'course menus' come with things like Korean-style spicy fish stew, fried foods, so if you want a sushi-only experience a la Japan you do have to check what type of sushi restaurant it is.

    Jung Sik Dang has some Korean elements to it and it's not pricey (quality is consistent at lunch and there are a number of common items w/ dinner menu) so I do think it's worth a try.

    I could make other suggestions on food but I'm not sure what you like - however in summertime Koreans like to eat ginseng chicken soup (samgyetang) and red bean ice (patbingsu - though there are also many other popular variations on the shaved ice theme beyond the traditional red beans + ddeok [like mochi] e.g. fruit, ice-cream...) so you may like to try that too?

    8 Replies
    1. re: RipCurl

      Hi RipCurl,
      Thank you for your answers !

      Yes this is my first trip to South Korea, and I will be staying most of the time in Seoul (although I hope I can manage to go out of the city for a few days).
      My knowledge of Korean food is very limited, but I'm working at it !

      About sushi, if I decide to have a lunch at a sushi place, do you think I should make it a special lunch (such as Sushiko) or can I just go to any sushi-shop, and although it will probably not be excellent, it will still be incomparably better than what I can get in Paris ? I know it's a trick question, hard to answer... I may just have to go and find out by myself... (this trip is really about discovering Korean food... it's just that... I have an addiction... and it may be hard for me to bypass it !)

      After studying the menus at Jung Sik Dang, I can see that indeed their lunch offerings are almost identical to the dinner dishes, for a lot cheaper. So I will go for lunch there.

      I can't believe I didn't plan a place for Samgyetang, as it is one of the few dishes I have actually heard about... So after a little more search I saw Simon recommending Baekje Samgyetang, and I also found Tosokchon which seems famous (which is not necessarily a good thing). Any input on those places or another one ?

      I hadn't heard of Patbingsu. But if it's anything like Japanese Kakigori, I'm not a big fan of it... so although I may end up ordering one (or more) to help me with the heat of August, I will probably not cross town to a particular one. I'm intrigued by ddeok though, because I love mochi.

      I also read about Jindo Jip and its Kongukksu which seems to be a nice way to deal with the heat as well.

      It's hard for me to define my preferences in food, because I like everything from the cutting edge modernist cuisine to the homey hole in the wall comfort food... I guess I'm not that interested to eat in another place similar to Jung Sik Dang, and would prefer to focus more on discovering the wide range of Korean cooking, which is unknown to me.

      Oh yes, I also am thinking of doing a cooking class at the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine... I'm really not the kind of guy who does cooking classes when I visit another country, but this seems a little different, and may give me a more in-depth view of some of Korean cooking. Do you have any experience with this course ?

      Thanks again.
      Rio Yeti

      1. re: Rio Yeti

        Oh good for you, one month will allow you to explore a lot more of Seoul / Korea! Especially if you haven't tried much Korean food before, I feel like the list you have is a good starting point to seek out your own discoveries :)

        In terms of types of places to seek out, I think in Korea (given its economic and social background) you'll find that there is a greater wealth of 'hole in wall' comfort food than higher end refined dining. A lot of the foreign cuisines & high end modern restaurants will probably not be of the same standard as rich global cities like NYC, Tokyo or London. Korea has its own court cuisine as well, but that's not something you'll probably want to eat very often in your month there.

        As compared to Chinese or Japanese food (given their many cultural and historical associations, there are some similarities in cuisine), you'll notice that Korean cooking is set apart by its use of doenjang (bean paste, like miso but stronger tasting), gochujang (red pepper paste, 60% sweet and 40% spicy) & gochu-garu (red pepper flakes). There's also a wider range of pickled foods (e.g. soy-sauce marinated raw crab). Also a wide range of local mountain vegetables (sanchae) and herbs that you may not have seen before elsewhere. Do explore the basement food halls / supermarkets in the big department stores (Hyundai, Lotte or Shinsegae). Korea is an agricultural country and notable produce includes black pork (similar to Japanese kurobuta), hanwoo (a la wagyu), temperate climate fruit (strawberries, grapes, peaches etc), also oranges from the Southern tropical end (e.g. Jeju hallabong). I apologize for the analogies to Japan but as you seem familiar with Japanese food I thought this would be an easy reference point for you.

        Some general food terms that should be useful when deciphering menus - jji-gae (stews), tang (soup), guk (in between soup & stew), jjim (braised stuff), bab (rice dishes), bokkum (stir-fried dishes). If I think of more I'll add on later. Oh and as you like mochi, 'chapssal' means they use glutinous rice in it (e.g. donuts and other baked or fried goods). I do recommend getting a Korean translation app, the Lonely Planet Korean phrasebook or something like that, as a good many of the good places have no English menus (although of course there's always pointing to the next table to rely upon).

        As for types of food, perhaps you'll find this interesting? It's a new series running on a big 3 broadcasting channel KBS called "King of Food". http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=...

        If you have a list of specific foods that you would like to try in Korea I can suggest some places to check out. I fear otherwise you would end up with a disparate list that reflects more my personal preferences than food you & your wife may actually enjoy (especially given considerations about spice - how much can she take?). For example, you might well like bundaeggi (the larvae Steve recommends) but I definitely don't.

        Some answers to specific qns:

        Sushiko (Seocho?) - I've not been but I took a look on some blogs and it looks like Korean-style sushi. I think you may be looking more for places like Sushi Cho or Sushi Hyo?

        Samgyetang - Tosokchon is not bad, I also like Yeongyang Center. They're a chain and have outlets in the common areas visitors to Seoul would go (Myeongdong, Cheongdam-dong etc). From Tosokchon, you can walk to explore Insadong and / or Samcheong-dong, it's quite a pleasant stroll. There are quite a few places for traditional Korean course menus (similar to royal cuisine) in this area as well as cafes.

        1. re: RipCurl

          Thank you for comparing to japanese food, indeed I can imagine it is not the same, but it does help on understanding better.

          I bought a french-korean app, which is nice for learning the basics (hello, thank you, etc...) and it does have a few food translations, but not many... I will try to see if I can find another one that will be more thorough food wise... Although it is a bit confusing, because a lot of things seem to be able to be said in a multitude of ways, and I hope I don't offend anyone by making mistakes...

          I will watch the King of Food series before leaving !

          I understand that it is more of a "whole in the wall" culture... do you feel like I can't really come upon a bad place (unless particularly unlucky ?). For instance, in Japan I had a lot of restaurants planned ahead, and although I don't regret doing this because I discovered some amazing places, I also discovered that 90% of the places we ended up by chance where absolutely spot on. There was a real pride in making the best food in any joint (which isn't the case in France). Korea seems pretty much as food-centric as Japan, but maybe it's only because all my research is around food...

          "How much can she take ?" you ask... honestly... not at all. When I make a big braise or stew and add a tiny red pepper which I barely feel in the end result she tells me that it is "almost" too spicy... But although we will try and work around it, we are also very aware that she (and I) will have to just suffer a bit to enjoy the food, and we're fine with it. My cousin who couldn't stand spicy food, after a trip to India where she couldn't dodge it, told us she just had to get used to it, and it ended up being fine.

          Regarding the Sushi, I saw Hyo but it seems a little to expensive, considering my budget is about discovering Korean food... although it is tempting... I will think about the whole sushi thing, and may end up improvising...

          I've read a lot of things about the chicken at Yeongyang Center being dry... but it was the fried chicken not the Samgyetang, so maybe the soup is better ?

          Again thank you for your great help, I will start shortly making a Google Map with all the different places to go and visit, so that I have a better idea of the geography of the thing !
          And meanwhile, I'll start adding a bit more spice to my food here...

          1. re: Rio Yeti

            For a one month trip, you should familiarize yourself with Hangul, the Korean alphabet. It is easy and fun. WIth just a little practice, you won't even need an app.

            "do you feel like I can't really come upon a bad place (unless particularly unlucky ?)"

            A lot of Korean food can get repetitive if you don't seek out different dishes or unique variations. This is where your mapping will come in handy. It's more about that than avoiding a bad, expensive meal - like in Paris. If you ever get outside Seoul, you'll find that prices drop dramatically. There is a serious upcharge for most things in Seoul.

            I am fond of saying that there are eight places to eat in Seoul for every step you take. It's pretty much ridiculous.

            1. re: Steve

              Got it, thanks.

              I am learning a few words, and am planning on learning Hangul as well... I plan on buying a french-korean "travel book" which has got some good reviews online. (now that I think about it, I should go ahead and order it, time is flying...)

      2. re: RipCurl

        RipCurl, a quick question... I'm starting to create my custom Seoul map...
        I had previously found this location for Bong San Jib :
        1-21 Yongsandong 3(sam)-ga, Yongsan-gu

        But on the website you link to the address is :
        145-19 Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu

        Are there different locations, or is my first address wrong ? (because I'll be staying in Yongsan, so it could be more convenient).
        Thanks.

        1. re: Rio Yeti

          If I may answer, Bong San Jib Yongsandong is the original, and Bong San Jib Samseong-dong is a branch.

      3. How long are you going for?

        There are some specific Korean dishes that are not spicy, but overall someone spice-averse will have serious problems with Korean food. You should seek out sujebi (hand torn noodle soup), kalguksu (knife-cut noodles, often with clams), and kongguksu (a summer dish, noodles in a cold soy milk broth). Also manuel garlic chicken, kimbap, the aforementioned galbijim is a must, and duck bulgogi, but you'll have to find a duck specialty place. Make sure you get a marinated version. Other items are bindatteok (mung bean pancakes), which can be found at Gwangjang Market where the ladies freshly grind the mung beans right in front of you. If you can stand the thought of eatign larvae, then the following garlic chicken places at Daelim station has a nice pot of chrysalis which makes the perfect repository for the mountain of garlic sauce they give you. Very, very yummy. This place is mentioned in the Seoul Food Tour article:

        Wonjo Daelim Maneul Tongdak (원조대림마늘통닭): 02-862-9233 | 73-10 Jinseong Bldg. Guro 4(sa)-dong, Guro-gu

        If you have not already seen this, here is the abbreviated version of the Seoul Food Tour with Haechi that lists some -but hardly all- of the famous food alleys of Seoul:

        http://www.seoulwelcome.com/xe/index....

        Your wife may be interested in the jumulleok (marinated pork) or the saengseon gui (grilled fish) mentioned in the food tour.

        You also might want to find dubu kimchi, which is a two-part dish of plain tofu alongside a stir-fry of fresh cabbage/pork/sliced carrot/onion. So it is not your typical cold, spicy, and strongly fermented kimchi. It has a bit of a kimchi 'tang' to it and has a red pepper sauce, but is only somewhat spicy.

        Korea is a paradise for the Chowhound, but is tremendously daunting for the squeamish.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Steve

          Hi Steve, thank you for your help.

          We'll be staying almost a full month.
          I know it will be challenging for Mrs. Yeti (and probably myself too) because of the heat levels... but we'll manage !

          Thank you for your dish recommendations, I will check all that more thoroughly, as well as the food alleys link.

          I have no problem with the idea of eating larvae if they are cooked... (Raw or alive, that's another story...) So I will be checking Wonjo Daelim Maneul Togdak.

          Thanks again !

          1. re: Rio Yeti

            Ah, in a month you should be able to explore so many food opportunities to make your head spin. Korean food is an acquired taste, but one worth acquiring. for a spice lover it's not very spicy, but it is a combination of spicy, pickled, and unusual textures. It's a whole 'nother world.

            Look on a map of Seoul and you will see in between those big boulevards are vast neighborhoods of alleyways that are out of the view but have numerous eating opportunities. I am not the type who normally is attracted to sitting on mats, but I enjoyed that experience as well, and there are certain types of places that will have only the ondol seating.

            1. re: Steve

              When we were in Japan, Mrs. Yeti loved the places where we would seat on the floor... me with my humongous legs, it's another story, but I'm sure she'll appreciate the ondol seating very much !

        2. I don't know what it was called, but I had a fantastic cold beef broth soup in Seoul that was not at all spicy.

          2 Replies
          1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

            Might have been naeng myun which is usually thin, chewy buckwheat noodles served in a stainless steel bowl with ice cubes to maintain cold temperature. Google Image naeng yyun to see if it looks familiar.

            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

              Thanks tastesgoodwhatisit !
              If it is Naeng Myun, like Steve suggests, then it's on my list !

            2. Thank you RipCurl and Steve !

              Yes, one month is a good amount of time ! My schedule there is still uncertain, so I may stay the whole time in Seoul, or maybe go out of town for a few days, but I won't know until I'm there.

              I haven't had the time to dive deep into all your recommendations, but I will shortly !
              Thanks again, can't wait !

              1. Rio - I hope these suggestions are timely in advance of your Seoul vacation.

                I regrettably am unable to advise on local Korean fare; having been here for a year and a half, my yearning is more for European continental fare.

                I strongly advise dining at Jung Sik Dang, if you can temper your expectations on the restaurant setting, i.e. the restaurant is a little old, the food will delight you. It is at a minimum, comparable to the quality you would get at a Bib Gourmand in Europe. The food is creative, playful and imaginative.

                Another good recommendation for more traditional Korean is Poom (3/F Daewon-Jeongsa Building, 358-17 Huam-dong, Yongsan-gu www.poomseoul.com

                )

                In addition to the above, my wife enjoyed Congdu (Congdu Restaurant, 116-1 Deoksu Palace-gil Jungu. T: +82 2 722 7002 http://congdu.com/main/ko/index.html)

                3 Replies
                1. re: blownd

                  Thank you blownd,

                  Yes there is still time, I'm arriving at the end of July, so am still planning my food map !

                  I will go to Jung Sik Dang.
                  Poom seems nice also, but I think I will focus this trip on only one higher end place, and try to find more "humble" eateries...
                  I suspect Congdu is also pretty expensive ? (I tried to find prices on the website but couldn't...)

                  Thanks for the suggestions, I'll look into them deeper for sure !

                  1. re: Rio Yeti

                    Rio - Congdu and Poom are more affordable than Jung Sik. If I had to choose one of the above in addition to Jung Sik Dang, it would be Poom.

                    If I recall correctly, prices at Congdu and Poom were comparable for lunch ~ US$45 for a set meal.

                    1. re: blownd

                      Thank you, I'll think about it.
                      However, according to their website, the lunch menus at Poom are 57.750W and 80.850W... and for dinner between 115.500 and 288.750...

                      Jung Sik is only 44.000-66.000 for lunch, and 110,000-132,000 for dinner... so it does sound like Poom is more expensive...