How to eat like a local in Seoul

We ease you in with five familiar Korean favourites, just done better. And yes, these are actual places that locals dine in as well. 

How to eat like a local in Seoul
How to eat like a local in Seoul
11 Dec 2018

How to eat like a local in Seoul

Seoul is more than just street food, tteokbokki, kimchi and ginseng chicken. In fact, there is a lot of delicious food to be enjoyed when you’re there. However, not knowing the language and being unfamiliar with cultural protocols might be intimidating for many tourists, no matter how big a K-drama or K-pop fan you might be.

But not to fear, here are some easy tips on navigating the unfamiliar in Seoul:

1. Specialising is the norm. Similar to Japan, a lot of Korean eateries often specialise in just one type of cuisine. For instance, a place that serves Ginseng chicken will not have spicy tteokbokki on the menu, and nor will a BBQ pork place have sashimi.

However, there are certain staples that are often paired together, such as a BBQ pork restaurant will often have spicy ramyeon or fried rice for carb lovers as these dishes complement the juicy meat perfectly.

2. Helping yourself. Most of the time, water is brought to the table the moment you sit down. But in the instances that it isn’t, look around for the words, “셀프” ” (pronounced as “sel-peu”), or sometimes the staff will point out the area to you as well. This means “self-service”, so you can help yourself to the water provided. At times, there might also be containers with extra banchan (side dishes) at the station that you can dish out for yourself too.

How to eat like a local in Seoul
How to eat like a local in Seoul
11 Dec 2018

How to eat like a local in Seoul

3. All the side dishes can add up. As a tourist, it is easy to get carried away as you’d often like to try everything on the menu, but when ordering your food, do consider the number of banchan (side dishes) that are being served. If the variety is a lot, you might not want to over-order on the main dishes. And remember, while these side dishes are generally refillable, they are there to supplement the meal, and are not meant to be the main course.

4. Call for service. Many Korean eateries are noisy places so trying to get a staff’s attention will take more than just waving your hand in the air. The good thing is that most places have a call button on the table (or along the sides and even table leg). But if there isn’t one, the next best thing to do would be to call out “cho-gi-yo”, which simply means “excuse me”.

5. Ask a pro. If you’re not confident about walking into and ordering at a local joint, you can always seek the help of a food concierge service, like Seoul Food Buddy (IG: @seoulfoodbuddy). Based on your needs and requirements, they will recommend cuisines, places and even dishes to try, as well as make reservations if the restaurant allows.  

Photo: TPG Open

Where the locals go: Five local joints that you can dine in when you head up to Seoul
Where the locals go: Five local joints that you can dine in when you head up to Seoul
11 Dec 2018

Where the locals go: Five local joints that you can dine in when you head up to Seoul

​​​​​​​Bowl

Address: B1 Lotte Department Store, Myeongdong
Opening hours: 10:30am – 8pm (closed every first Monday of the month)
Cuisine: Home-style Korean cooking
Getting there: Euljiro 1(il)-ga station (Exits 7 or 8)

Many restaurants in Myeongdong generally cater to the tourists with its lacklustre flavours and inflated prices. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find places that serve up authentic Korean cuisine that even the locals will head to. Bowl is one such place. Located in the basement of Lotte Department store, this eatery offers a wide variety of dishes from hearty stews, savoury pancakes, grilled fish and bibimbaps (rice with mixed vegetables). 

But the star dish is the Stone Pot Bibimbap with kimchi and fish eggs, which is essentially rice topped with chopped kimchi, pickles, vegetables and a generous serving of Flying Fish roe in a heated stone bowl. The best way to eat it is to mix all the ingredients together and then let it sit a little while so the rice develops a lovely golden crispy crust at the bottom.

Bonus: The menu is available in English, Chinese and Japanese. But not to worry that this might be a tourist trap as there are still many locals who frequent this restaurant

Gossam Naengmyeon
Gossam Naengmyeon
11 Dec 2018

Gossam Naengmyeon

Address: 31 Sinchonnyeok-ro Daehyeon-dong Seodaemun-gu
Opening hours: 11am – 10pm (closed every Tuesday)       
Cuisine: Korean cold noodles
Getting there: Sinchon station (Exit 1)

Besides the usual ice coffee and bingsu, the next best thing to have when you need to cool down is a bowl of Naengmyeon (cold noodles). This restaurant specialises in Hamheung Naengmyeon, where the noodles are made from sweet potatoes, instead of the usual buckwheat. The noodles are especially thin and chewy, and with plenty of bite. Here, it is also served with a side of charcoal barbecued marinated beef. Best bit? Each portion comes with a generous portion of noodles and costs less than S$10.

And if you opt for the cold noodles in broth, do as the locals do by adding a small amount of mustard and white vinegar into the cold broth to taste - you can find both condiments on the table, to give the dish a refreshing zing. Wash it down with hot beef broth that can be found in the large metal tank in the corner of the restaurant - look for the words “육수” (pronounced as “yoog-su”). Use the metal cups in the sterilising cabinet to contain the beef broth in.

This is a great pit-stop if you’re shopping in the area near Ewha Women’s University and Sinchon.

Hyodo Chicken
Hyodo Chicken
11 Dec 2018

Hyodo Chicken

Address: 105-4 Nonhyeon-dong Gangnam-gu
Opening hours: 6pm – 12am (closed on Mondays-Tuesdays)
Cuisine: KFC (Korean fried chicken)
Getting there: Gangnam-gu Office station (Exit 3)

Newly opened (May 2018) and under the advisory of two Michelin-starred chefs — Mingles’ Kang Mingoo and Joo Ok’s Shin Chang-ho, this tiny hole-in-the-wall serves up some of the best fried chicken we’ve had. There are only a handful of seats and they don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait if you’re there during the weekend.

A must-try is the Kkwarimyeol chicken. A restaurant signature, the crispy fried chicken is topped with Kkwari gochu (shishito peppers) and white bait fish, and comes with a light drizzling of a slightly sweet-savoury sauce. More importantly, the chicken was tender and juicy, including the breast meat.

And of course, no fried chicken meal is complete without ice cold beer. Try the Red Rock draft beer to level-up your KFC meal.

Hyodo Chicken
Hyodo Chicken
11 Dec 2018

Hyodo Chicken

The menu is small and quite chicken focused, but you can order some side dishes such as skinny fries, egg roll or even spicy raw Pollack cold noodles (serves two to three people), to complement the meal as well.

Note: The menu is unfortunately completely in Korean, but the staff do speak some English, though minimal. But if all else fails, this dish is the first one on the menu and it’s pronounced as “gwa-ree-myeol”.

Photos: Instagram/@hyodochicken

Gamchon
Gamchon
11 Dec 2018

Gamchon

Address: 24 Jongno 1 (il)-ga, Jongno-gu, Le Meilleur building, Level 5
Opening hours: 9:30am – 10pm (Monday-Saturday); Closed on Sundays
Cuisine: Sundubu Jjigae (tofu stew)
Getting there: Gwanghwamun station (Exit 3)

Situated near Gwanghwamun station, this is a popular place with the Embassy crowd (the area is home to the American, Japanese and Colombian embassies). Specialising in Sundubu Jjigae or tofu stew, the broth — made up of beef bones — is cooked for 24 hours to give it a rich flavour. Must-tries include the oyster or beef Sundubu with the former including plump, juicy oysters while the latter contains a generous offering of beef slices.

If there’s more than two of you in your group, we recommend you try the pancakes too. However, the portions are big though, easily feeding two to three people at a time. For the adventurous, order the sundae (pronounced “soon-day”), a type of blood sausage made by filling cow or sheep’s intestine with various ingredients such as minced meat and vegetables and then steaming it. Alternatively, try the “Mori Kogi” or Head Cheese, which is essentially a terrine of pork made from the pig’s head.

Note: Go during off-peak hours because it gets really packed during the lunch-hour rush with all the office workers in the area. 

Geolgune
Geolgune
11 Dec 2018

Geolgune

Address: 128-12 Itaewon 1(il)-dong, Yongsan-gu
Opening hours: 5pm – 3am (Daily)
Cuisine: Pork BBQ
Getting there: Itaewon station (Exit 4)

The menu is in Korean but there are English descriptions so that definitely helps. While the menu is pretty extensive, the highlight is the pork dishes, such as the pork belly, pork ribs and even pork skin. The unique thing about this place is that they do one round of grilling of the pork on the charcoal grill before bringing it to your table and then finishing it off there.

If you’re still feeling peckish, order the fried rice - it’s cooked right in front of you on the grill to soak up all the yummy porky jus (pork juice). But if you want to try something different, get the cow intestines or pork skin. After grilling, these have a springy bite that is both interesting and delectable.

Related:
11 popular Korean snacks to buy in Seoul
10 hidden café gems worth seeking out in Seoul


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