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What to Eat in Seoul: 31 Foods That'll Rock Your World

Where: Seoul, Korea
June 28, 2013 at 10:27 AM | by | Comments (2)

South Korea is so much more than kimchi.

The Anthony Bourdain wannabes of the world consistently rank Singapore as the number one destination for true food adventures, but Seoul should be right up there as well. The eating's that good. It's so good that we couldn't narrow our favorite South Korean flavors to a list of 10 items, or even 20; nope, we have 31 must-try Seoul foods to share with you.

As always, we recommend taking this mantra to heart: If it looks ugly, it tastes awesome. Now you're ready to have your world rocked.

1. Sannakji


Okay, we have to admit that this is our absolute favorite food in Seoul. It's fresh baby octopus, so fresh that it's still wriggling as it's on your chopsticks and in your mouth. It's food, but also entertainment.
Where to get it: Head straight to one of Seoul's fish markets (like Garak or Noryangjin) and find a vendor with small octopi in buckets of water. Choose a few, have them cut up, and head upstairs to a fish market restaurant.

2. Makgeolli


Makgeolli is Korean rice wine, and this variety just happens to be yellow as it's tinged with turmeric. It's quite sweet and very easy going down, and it's often also found in chocolates.
Where to get it: Nearly every corner store sells bottles of Makgeolli. We drank this bottle at 박가네 녹두빈대떡, near the Jongno 5-ga subway station.

3. Steamed corn on the cob


Whatever Seoul's street food vendors are doing to the corn on the cob, they shouldn't change a thing. The corn here is robust, buttery without butter, and falls off the cob without getting stuck in your teeth. The midwest should be taking notes.
Where to get it: We enjoyed these from the street food carts on Supyo-ro, near the Jongno-3ga subway stop on the 1 line.

4. Sweet pumpkin rice cake


The menu of teas may be extensive, but there's just one standout food dish on the menu at the Cha Masineun Tteul teahouse, and it's this. Like any rice cake, it's quite glutinous, but the pumpkin flavor is of a sweet and not savory variety, and it's large enough to split with 1-2 friends.
Where to get it: Cha Masineun Tteul teahouse, in the Bukchon Hanok Village.

5. Korean BBQ, or "Gogigui"


Who wants to cook their own food? Raise your hand, because Korean BBQ, or "gui" for short, is well worth the extra trouble of learning to use an in-table grill. A variety of meats and vegetables are grilled and then combined with sauces and side dishes to form perfect bites.
Where to get it: The really excellent, casual, alfresco BBQ spots are to be found in the Anguk neighborhood, but the city is literally dotted with restaurants large and small whose tables are embedded with the telltale sign of Korean BBQ: a small metal grill. We took this photo of our dinner at 미갈매기살.

6. Bibimbap


What you see pictured here is actually the bibimbap as served onboard the American Airlines flight to Seoul, and this bowl of rice, meat, vegetables, red pepper paste, and egg will be everywhere once you step off the plane in Korea. Easy, tasty, cheap, and fun to mix, bibimbap is a tourist's dream.
Where to get it: Anywhere and everywhere!

7. Fancy coffee drinks


Dropping $8-$10 on one non-alcoholic beverage seems a stretch, but for Seoulites it's normal. Variations on Frappuccinos, lattes of every variety, and some green tea concoctions are almost a new addiction. Don't get too hooked.
Where to get it: We love the themed cafes of the Samcheong-dong neighborhood, along a street of the same name. It's at the northern end of the city and yet central for everything that's considered "cool." The area is a bit like the Williamsburg of Seoul, but far more fashion-forward and obsessed with pricey beverages. Cafes are often themed, like Portland (Woodside Coffee), old Japan (Azabu), a library (Cafe En), or even a motorcycle repair shop (Garage 107).

8. Tteokbokki


Sweet and spicy and chewy and filling. That's tteokbokki, or rice cakes in a red pepper sauce, often also with meat or fish cake. It's ideal for soaking up the beer or soju in your stomach after a night of hard drinking, but we'd eat it anytime. It also happens to be one of our favorite Korean words to pronounce (kinda like "tduck-bo-key").
Where to get it: Anywhere and everywhere you see a vendor cooking these cylindrical rice cakes in a giant wok-like pan. At night, pojangmachas (pop-up tent restaurants) rule the tteokbokki scene.

9. The french fry-encrusted Tokkebi Hot Dog


Yes, this is a hot dog coated in deep-fried crinkle-cut potatoes. Yes, it is delicious. Yes, you should eat it no matter what diet you're on or how full you are from lunch. We guarantee that, by the time you reach that last bit of crinkle fry stuck to the stick, you'll be wondering aloud why America isn't hip to this.
Where to get it: Street food carts in the neighborhoods of Insadong, Myeongdong and even Anguk will happily sell you a variety of hot dog snacks alongside their tteokbokki.

10. Soju


Do not make the mistake of calling soju "shochu," as that's the Japanese term for this hard beverage. Soju, distilled rice liquor, is as much a part of the Korean culture as kimchi, and together they make a nice pair. There's tons of small etiquette rules around the drinking of soju, but the most important is not to pour your own (unless you're drinking solo). And, when your booze is being poured, hold your soju cup with both hands, wait for everyone else's cups to be filled, and then commence with the drinking games!
Where to get it: Anywhere and everywhere.

11. Red bean-filled donut


South Korea loves their donuts. Not only does Seoul have multi-story Krispy Kreme cafes, but their Dunkin Donuts are nicer than those in the US by leaps and bounds. So it should be no surprise that Korea has its own version of a filled donut, a sweet and flat dough-y treat stuffed with red bean and covered in sugar.
Where to get it: It's widely available, but we enjoyed this one on Supyo-ro, near the Jongno-3ga subway stop on the 1 line.

12. Rice cakes


Rice cakes may be a feature of many Asian cuisines, but Korea ties them to nostalgia and a teahouse in Seoul in usually an all-encompassing experience.
Where to get it: The cute neighborhood of Insadong is filled with alleys of teahouses, like one themed after schoolhouses of the 1960s. It's called Ppong Da Bong and it's worth getting seriously lost for even a slight chance of enjoying teatime here.

13. Egg toast


Eggs on toast—not just for breakfast! Sweet and filling for a street snack, these buttery, pancake-y breads resemble a round disc of texas toast with a fried egg on top. It's difficult to have just one, but luckily they're only 1000 KRW each ($0.87).
Where to get it: From street carts. We took this photo on Supyo-ro, near the Jongno-3ga subway stop on the 1 line.

14. Beondegi


Ask for 번데기 Beondegi from a street vendor selling it, and you'll possibly be met with a sidelong glare of challenge. Down a fresh cup of stewed silkworm larvae (that's what beondegi is) and you'll win that challenge.
Where to get it: Beondegi is becoming more and more rare, but we found a vendor in the cherry blossom forest outside Seoulland amusement park.

15. Assorted pickled and spicy things


Care for a snack? How about shoving a handful of tiny, spicy crabs into your mouth? C'mon—"eat like a local." Some of these are even simply served as side dishes ("banchan") in a large, traditional meal.
Where to get it: These vats of crabs, other seafood, and vegetables can be found within Kwang Jang market.

16. Fresh-squeezed lemonade or sugarcane juice


Seoul's weather is comparable to that of New York City, so summers can be quite warm. Fresh-squeezed juice combats a dry throat, and also helps to cut the greasiness of eating street food all the time.
Where to get it: Take a walk through the bustling Myeongdong district to pass several street vendors who'll press your desired fruit (or sugarcane) right in front of you, before handing over the sweet result in a baggie with straw.

17. "Poop cake"


To be very clear, while there is no actual poop involved in the recipe of this sweet snack, it does attempt to mimic the shape of a steaming pile of poop. Now that we're past that, you may enjoy the cakes' crispy, doughy goodness and its hot center of red bean.
Where to get it: Dong Bang is a chain of poop cake shops, but we purchased these from a vendor at Ssamziegil Market in the Insadong area.

18. A fresh fish market lunch


Flounder sashimi, stingray soup, pickled jellyfish, skinned eel and the aforementioned Sannakji should be the least you purchase on the fish market floor to make for a lovely lunch at one of the restaurants above. You seriously hand money over to fishmongers, take your bags of still-flipping catches upstairs, and pay a kitchen to make it into a many-course meal complete with side dishes.
Where to get it: Our favorite two fish markets in Seoul are Noryangjin and Garak, and they're also the most foreigner-friendly.

19. Street meat skewers


Pork, chicken, beef, fish cake and sometimes even rice cake are turned into spicy skewers on the streets of Seoul. Typically they're cooked in front of you so that you may specify your desired level of spiciness.
Where to get it: Pojangmachas late at night and street food carts sometimes specialize solely in meat skewers. We enjoyed these from the street food carts on Supyo-ro, near the Jongno-3ga subway stop on the 1 line.

20. SchneePang


Ten years ago, in the small German town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, we ate our first "Schneeball," or snowball. It's taken that long for us to have a second, discovered at kiosk in Seoul where varieties ranged from green tea chocolate-covered with sprinkles to "snow sugar" (powdered sugar). Each Schneeball, called "SchneePang" in Korea, is essentially just a fried ball of dough scraps, which is then broken up with a mallet after purchase for easy sweet snacking.
Where to get it: There's a small chain of stores called SchneePang, selling these in malls and subway stations. They're also occasionally found in the cases at bakeries.

21. The foot-long ice cream cone


It's giant, it's cheap (2,000 KRW, $1.75), it's tasty and all too easy to eat several times a day. It's the foot-long ice cream cone, available in swirled or non-swirled flavors, late at night on Seoul's most highly trafficked shopping streets.
Where to get it: After dark, on the packed streets of Myeungdong. Just look for the ice cream machines rolled out in front of closed storefronts, usually with a line of shoppers hungry for a cheap dessert.

22. Bungeoppang


Fish-shaped, but not fish-flavored—these are sweet cakes filled hot red bean paste. The flavor is almost cinnamon sugary, and they're best enjoyed during cold weather. Bungeoppang is also our second favorite Seoul food, after Sannakji.
Where to get it: Stalls selling Bungeoppang set up shop anywhere there's other street foods, so keep an eye out for these fish-shaped treats cooking in their tiny, fish-shaped molds.

23. Bosintang


We've got no photo of this specialty because we've never eaten it...yet. Bosintang (보신탕) is dog meat soup, believed to
Where to get it: Head to the Anguk neighborhood of Seoul and look for small restaurants with these letters on the sign.

24. Triangular treats


Care for a lunch of different dimensions (literally)? At left is a pouch of coffee-flavor milk and, at right, is a pocket kimbap. Kimbap is steamed rice wrapped in salty, crunchy laver seaweed and filled with a savory bit of meat or fish.
Where to get it: Any corner store sells both these items in the refrigerated food cases. Pop into one of the city's million, zillion 7-Elevens or Family Marts to see what we mean.

25. Tornado Potato


You may begin to see these spiral-cut fried potatoes making it onto the US state fair scene this summer, but Seoul's been into the quirky snack for years. Obviously we recommend going whole-hog with the hot dog down the center.
Where to get it: The busiest streets of the Myeungdong neighborhood boast many vendors specializing in the tornado potato.

26. Mayak Kimbap


This is the tiny version of the triangular kimbap featured above, and they're easier shared or served as an accompaniment to soju shots. Dip them in sauces or whatever, but etiquette calls for eating these with a toothpick or wood skewer. Steamed rice is rolled in laver seaweed and filled with pickled or fresh veggies.
Where to get it: We like the kimbap made by hand and sold by piece at small lunch stalls in the busier subway stations. Six pieces shouldn't run you more than 2000 KRW ($1.75).

27. Bbokki Candy


Simple and small, Bbokki is a caramel candy melted into a flat pancake and decorated with a basic, cutesy shape. As usual, this street treat is easy to prepare, easy to eat, tasty and super cheap (1,000 KRW or $0.87 each).
Where to get it: We found street vendors popping up their little grills any old place in Myeongdong.

28. Fried chicken and cheap beer "Chimaek"


If there's one thing travelers learn pretty quick, it's that McDonalds isn't the great conqueror of other countries; KFC is. The colonel's fried chicken became so popular in South Korea back when KFC first entered the capital, that fried chicken has nearly been adopted as a national dish. Order a bucket with a pitcher of cheap beer, and you're practically a local. Call it "Chimaek" (치맥), a contraction of "chicken" and the Korean word for beer, "Maekju."
Where to get it: KFC of course, but look for fried chicken delivery mopeds zipping through traffic, and grab a phone number off their jacket.

29. Mul Kimchi


Whether you're scared to try kimchi or you've tried it a bit too much, Mul Kimchi is a way around constantly eating the spicy stuff. Mul means "water," and thus Mul Kimchi is a kind of watered down kimchi soup, ideal for cutting the spice of other main dishes during a large, traditional meal.
Where to get it: Most regular Korean restaurants in Seoul will offer Mul Kimchi.

30. Octopus and squid chips


Here's the deal: decide what type of seafood chip you'd like, point to it and pay. The vendor will then lightly toast your allotment over an open, small fire to increase the flavor. Gnaw away on delightfully smokey octopus or squid chips (but don't keep the leftovers or they'll smell up your bag something awful).
Where to get it: Street food vendors all around Myeungdong, Anguk and Insadong neighborhoods do a brisk business in seafood chips.

31. Chapssal donuts


Chapssal are glutinous rice donuts in the form of a dense ball with a crunchy dough outside and a chewy inside of either red bean or sweet potato.
Where to get it: Paris Baguette, a major chain of French-theme bakeries, dominates Seoul and luckily offer these for cheap, but you can also bet on finding them sold alongside red bean-filled donuts.

This list both is and is not complete. We don't take photos of every single thing we savor in Seoul, but these 31 are an excellent start to what you should be tasting while in town. Of course there's also hotteok, soondae and pajeon, but that's what the comments are for! What's your favorite Seoul food we've left out?

Don't forget to check out our guide to the 21 food you have to try in Hong Kong!

We flew to Seoul as a guest of American Airlines (a brand new route!), but all photos, enthusiasm, and drool is completely our own.

[All photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]

Comments (2)

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Extra red bean sauce, please!

I'm lusting after that Tokkebi Hot Dog and Tornado Potato thing. Anything involving hot dogs on a stick sounds amazing to me!

Missed One...

This is a great list of the awesomeness of Korean cuisin of which I enjoy on a regular basis. However, in my humble opinion and experience after dining in Korea for 3 years, I believe you missed one that should be near the top. Can't forget about the amazing patbingsu, a frozen summer specialty that includes shaved milky ice flakes mixed perfectly with seasonal fruit, sweet red bean, mini rice cakes, and nuts served in a giant bowl. Doesn't get much better than that!

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