Monthly Archives: October 2016

Seoul Food To Go

People travel for different reasons. To escape, for love, for art and beauty, for Instagrammable moments. Before the retail explosion in the Philippines, before global brands found their way in our favorite malls, we would travel abroad to shop. We’d plan our itineraries around shopping districts in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, the States. But these days, we don’t shop as much as we used to, right? Uniqlo is cheaper in Manila. We prefer to purchase luxury brands on zero-interest here. Except perhaps when we fly to Jersey for the outlets.

In the last few years, my travel plans are just outlines of the convenient ways from one great food destination to the next. I travel to eat, essentially. There’s no better way to explore a culture than to eat what the locals eat.

The first thing I check out is the street food. It’s always a delight to see it in abundance, in a variety of colors, prepared in the strangest ways. Seoul’s is my new fave in Asia, more than Bangkok, because the former is more playful and diverse.

These are my thoughts on Korean cuisine – all conjectures, sans any empirical support.

Their harsh winter influences the type of food they serve. Lots of pickled dishes that keep through the cold. The scraps of spicy stuff they use to flavor other preps. Lean beef, poultry and pork are staples. The iron they provide warms the body, and provides the energy a Korean body needs from all the walking through the hilly peninsula.

They’re used to gathering around the dining table, grilling and stewing together. Hence, the food, including the single servings and the food sold in the streets, is meant to feed more than one.   They barbecue a lot for added heating.

The Korean aesthetic is cute and whimsical. You see in how they design their shops and their fashion. The fried and skewered food on display can be as fancy.

Nothing seems to be done slowly. The Koreans are an efficient lot, always in a hurry. If they linger, they’d freeze, said one local. It’s an ideal place for the impatient foodie – food is served fast everywhere.

Wherever you’ll stay in Seoul, you’ll find great-tasting, easy-to-eat treats on the streets. The best ones are found in these areas: Namdaemun, Gwangjang, Dongdaemun and Insadong. Myeongdong, the key shopping district in Seoul, is also teeming with food carts, but it’s just too crowded.

My top picks: red bean dumplings, grilled steak with beansprouts and parsley, fish cakes, corn dogs, ice cream fancily swirled, chocolate covered strawberries, chestnuts, egg tarts, sweet corn.

Go plan your trip to Seoul, if only for these. Stay on the streets of Seoul all day, and be happy.

Seoul Culinary Picks

Seoul is an underrated culinary destination.  But those who’ve been there would attest to its excellent offerings — from street food to fine dining.   Just like its coffee shops and cosmetics counters, food is in great abundance.  Its food scene is much more overwhelming than Tokyo (where street food is almost nonexistent).  Cheaper, too.

On my second visit to Seoul, I had more time to explore the food destinations and had the freedom to pick the ones I liked.  The first time I was with a huge group each time, and the the places the tour operators chose, just like in most group tours, weren’t special enough.  Here are my delightful resto discoveries:

Seorae Galmaegi.  Our first stop and our top pick.  The place doesn’t look special at all — so don’t go there for a romantic date.  It’s ideal for a group that would like to drink at lot of soju or Hite Beer.  The meat is well-seasoned: sweet and nutty.  They say it’s skirtmeat, whatever that means.  But it’s just so good.   It’s inexpensive so that makes it even more unforgettable.  Their kimchi was also great.  My sisters, who’d usually not take anything spicy, had heaps of servings of that hot pickled Korean staple.

We went to the Sinchon branch near Hongdae which was just a 10-minute walk from the Sinchon station.  By the way, Hongdae is a perfect place to stay.   It’s vibrant but not as maddening as Myeongdong.  It’s teaming with young college people lending it more funky.  Retail is also alive in that neighbourhood.  Cosmetic shops and shoe stores are in great abundance.  Coffee shops and ice cream, too!

Noo Na Hol Dak – Oven Chicken and Beer.  The restaurant is located right beside Hotel Ibis Ambassador in the city’s shopping centre, Myeongdong.  It is a short walk from Eujiro 1–ga Station (Line 2).

I liked the fried chicken at Frypan in Itaewon in my first visit.  Noo Na Hol Dak’s oven-baked version is just as great.  Koreans know how to cook their dak really well and make the  perfect sauces.  The portions are huge and come with the crunchiest fries and Korean pickled sidings.

Gusto Taco.  After three days of samyeopsal and kimchi, we thought we should have something non-Korean.  We searched for Gusto which was rated as the number one restaurant on TripAdvisor.  Strange, but true.  It’s run by a native New Yorker Aaron and his Korean wife.  They make their own tortillas which make all the difference.  It certainly deserved its top ranking.  Must-try’s are the taco, burrito and the cheesiest nachos.  Be sure to be there at odd hours since the queues could get long.

Café Snob.  Aaron of Gusto Taco recommended this dessert place to us and he was right: the best cakes and tarts in Seoul are served there.  It’s a block away from Gusto.  The fruits they use are fresh, not canned.  The cream in their cakes makes all the difference — tastes like 100% milk which makes it rich yet soft and light in texture.  We tried almost everything displayed in the counter.  Strawberry, lemon, chocolate — everything was just yum.

Point of interest:  the people manning the store were unsmiling.  Could that be deliberate?

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Chawoonga.  This restaurant in Hondae used to be a traditional Hanok house with a courtyard, which is rare in Seoul.

It’s different from other restaurants for its diverse menu.   The portions are individually-sized, unlike most other restaurants where the food is meant to be shared with a hundred people.  The recipes were created by the owner’s 87-year-old mother who still works in the kitchen (she was chopping cabbage when we were there).   I had the beef soup with seaweed which was also called the birthday soup.  And a stir-fried pork which was just as divine.  My siblings had baby octopus, chapchae noodles, raw mature shrimps in a light broth (yes, raw but delicious), and more pork.  This place is special and not to be missed.

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This Fabulous Barbecue Place in Hongdae.  Sorry, I didn’t get the name.  But here’s the façade.  It’s close to the Tourist Information Station.

Here’s the spread of beef in various cuts.  Cost 39,000 won or about 34 US$.  Can feed six people.  Not bad at all.

Lastly, my favourite dessert in Seoul:  The Blueberry Snowflake at Ediya Coffee Shop.  Ediyas abound in Seoul.  It’s the perfect final course after all the kimchi and grilled stuff.  The Mango Snowflake is also good.  

So, those are my new discoveries in Seoul.  If you visited Seoul, I suggest you should.  The glorious food, the endless array of inexpensive choices, are worth the 4-hour flight from Manila.  I haven’t even told you about the street food which is just as exciting as Seoul fine dining.  See my next post. :)