Food is always among the highlights of any traveler and, since forever, it has been one of the best ways to discover cultures. This applies to Korea as well.
Apart from its many palaces, history and culture, its food delivers a great tasteful insight of this country. And Seoul is the best place to experience it, from the food stalls on the busy streets of Myeondong, up to the local little restaurants hidden on the quaint little lanes of Insadong. The food diversity in Seoul is tremendous, and, although Korean cuisine is generally known for being from spicy to extremely spicy, those who are fainter of heart can find also milder dishes. Worry not, there are options and combinations for each taste bud.
However, there is one thing to rule them all: kimchi. Whether we talk about kimchijjigae or a banchan assortment, kimchi is always on the table, among the most famous and most used ingredients. Definitely an acquired taste, you either love it, or hate it. I love it, and, although I am not into spicy food and my dental braces kinda keeps me away from pieces that are a bit difficult to chew, I never (and I mean NEVER) could stay away from kimchi. The taste is heaven and I could eat a whole barrel full of kimchi if I could just get one.
I still regret not having tried their famous samgyetang (ginseng soup). However, I DID try gomtang (beef head soup) and it was awesome. Yet, when they bring it to the table, you don’t exactly know what to expect when you see this hearty white broth, especially when you are used with a completely different cuisine from a completely different part of the world. But season it well and you will have a quite pleasant surprise.
And, of course, you just cannot visit Korea and not eat japchae. Those slick and oh so tasty glass noodles are a divine experience, trust me. They come in different recipes, but my favorite is the one with seafood. I had the best seafood japchae ever at a small restaurant in Insadong and I would go there again any time. If only Europe wasn’t that far, that is.
Sundae (blood sausages) is another must absolutely try. Although “blood sausage” sounds scary, as a matter of fact it is not. The sausages look perfectly normal and safe, and they are delicious. It’s worth trying this dish at least once. The same goes for the already famous Korean BBQ. Watching its preparation and all the explanations that come with it is an experience one should definitely try.
Noodles in cold broth are another taste to remember, be it the delicious naengmyun brought as a lump that you cut with the scissors, or naeng memil guksu (cold soba noodles) in a bowl of ice soup, garnished with radish, cucumber and scallion. And, of course, there are plenty of other dishes (such as bulgogi, or bibimbap on a hot stone, even some variations of Japanese dishes, such as katsu), not to mention the street food, which is a whole different level experience. You can try all kind of street food: odeng, tteokbokki, twigim, hotteok, you name it. I intentionally left out the spicy dishes, since I am not a spicy-tolerant person, but for those who can actually eat very spicy food, Korea is indeed a paradise.
Since we had one was just across the street, we had breakfast almost every day at Coffee Bean. The coffee is too flavorful to call it “coffee”, but the sandwiches, bagels and cakes are really nice. Especially if you come from a country where you are used to have your bread and butter breakfast everyday, this can be a life savior. However, if we are to talk about coffee, in all fairness, the best coffee (and the best tiramisu) I had in Seoul was at Cafe 89 Mansion (owned by actor Lee Jong Suk). Although it belongs to a celebrity, the atmosphere is really cozy, and they DO know what a good coffee looks like. I tried their signature coffee, “89 Mansion” and it was really awesome. They also serve food, but not exactly Korean.
I don’t recall trying a dish and not liking it (I usually stay away from ingredients I know I don’t like anyways), and my only regret is not having enough time to try even more, since I only stayed for two weeks in Seoul. But there’s always a next time and the diversity of the Korean cuisine is wide enough to cover plenty of “next times”.