Despite not being able to handle heat, Korean food has always been one of my favorite cuisines. Visiting Seoul in mid-November of course meant hunting down the best comfort foods to beat the winter cold. Without further ado, here are my top 6 choices for foods you absolutely cannot miss in Korea…
1. Rice Porridge
Also known as juk, rice porridge is a big staple in the Korean diet and is often eaten as a breakfast dish. Growing up, my mom always fed me plain rice porridge whenever I got sick. That said, I’m not fond of it but I was quite excited to try its Korean variation.
A popular juk restaurant is Migabon located in the Myeongdong district. It’s a little tricky to find, as it is tucked away upstairs of Sinseon Seolleongtang – another well-liked restaurant which has massive queues no matter the time. Do not be fooled and start lining up down the street, Migabon is on the second floor!
I ordered the mushroom and beef porridge (₩7,000), my friend the abalone (₩10,000), and let me tell you something… Apart from Sunday brunches, I am not a big breakfast person at all. This, however, I could see myself eat every morning. In fact if I knew there’d be a bowl of happiness waiting for me every day I wake up, I’d never sleep in again. It’s that delicious! The flavors are rich, the texture is smooth, and Koreans and their side dishes man, they hella bomb. Burdock root and spicy pickled squid? Who knew you could eat that for breakfast. Talk about starting the morning right!
Side note: the staff are very friendly and can speak English, Chinese, and Japanese. They also serve great ginseng chicken soup.
Address: 2-2 Myeongdong 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Phone Number: +82 2-752-0330
Hours: 8:00AM ~ 10:00PM
2. Ginseng Chicken Soup
Ginseng chicken soup, otherwise known as samgyetang, consists of a whole, young chicken (cornish hen) stuffed with rice and spices and ginseng obviously although depending on the recipe, it is sometimes left outside the chicken to really intensify the flavors of the broth. It’s typically consumed on the hottest days of summer as a means of “fighting heat with heat” but I find it to be quite a delightful winter treat as well.
After reading a couple reviews, we decided that Tosokchon Samgyetang was the restaurant we wanted to try. Now Google Maps unfortunately does not work in Korea due to government regulations so after several failed attempts at locating the restaurant, we gave up. Instead, we turned to Baengnyeon Samgyetang, which we’d found randomly whilst strolling the streets of Bukchon Hanok Village.
Address: 41, Bukchon-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Phone Number: +82 2-747-5535
Hours: 9:00AM ~ 10:00PM
3. Army Stew
Finally, something spicy.
Army stew, aka budae jjigae, is inspired by rations the U.S. military left behind after the Korean War. Since food was scarce, locals combined these left over hot dog, spam, and/or ham with traditional spicy soups and the recipe has since then evolved to incorporate additional ingredients such as instant noodles and sliced cheese.
We found ourselves at Sim Seun Tang (Simpson Tang), which is a popular budae jjigae chain run by the renowned singer Hwangbo. Like many Korean restaurants, it’s tucked away and hidden. If you are visiting the Myeongdong location, the staircase entrance is right before Milky Bee (ice cream shop).
We ordered the two-people portion pot with added instant noodles and two bowls of rice on the side. Service was extremely fast and our pot was delivered instantaneously. The stew is essentially cooked in front of you and we didn’t know this at the time of our visit, but you can ask for a garlic crusher and crush your own cloves before they get tossed in the stew.
We also studied (ahem, creeped) how other customers enjoyed their stews and found a lot of them adding butter to their rice. This seemed like an outrageous idea but I gave it a try and wow! Put simply, the combo tasted like margarine with white rice but together with the stew it was magical. I mean hey, if we are counting calories, that pot alone probably hits the thousand mark already. Not gonna make much difference if you add more fat to your carbs.
And since I can’t seem to find information on the Myeongdong location anymore, below is where you can find its Hongdae branch.
Address: 355-21 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Phone Number: +82 070-4100-8318
Hours: 11:30AM ~ 11:00PM
In Korean, kalguksu literally translates into “knife noodles”. These wheat flour noodles are handmade and are cut by knife then served in a large bowl of soup. Again, it is more of a summer dish but since it can be eaten warm or cold, the warm counterpart makes for a great hearty meal in the butt freezing weather.
When talking ’bout knife cut noodles, you can’t miss Kalguksu Alley at Namdaemun Market. Yet another hard to find place but it is totally worth the search.
As you enter the alleyway, aggressive ahjummas will start pulling you to come eat at their stalls. It’s a fairly short street of vendors but the options are endless. We weren’t sure which one to choose but thankfully a local customer at a stall looked at us and said “neo-mu ma-si-sseo-yo” (it’s very delicious). And so it was decided.
Directions: If you are taking the metro, get off at Hoehyeon Station and take Exit 5. Enter Namdaemun Market through Gate 5 and turn at the first left. You should then see a glass door that marks the beginning of Kalguksu Alley.
Hours: 6:00AM ~ 9:00PM
5. Dolsot Bibimbap
When you think about Korean food, you think of kimchi, tteokbokki, jajangmyeon, bulgogi, japchae, oh the list goes on but the most iconic dish is probably the dolsot bibimbap (stone pot bibimbap). It’s not exactly seasonal so really you can eat it any time of the year.
Gogung is known for its stone pot mixed rice and there are quite a few branches across Seoul. We picked the one in Insadong and saying it was like looking for a needle in a haystack would be an understatement. Was it worth getting hangry for? Meh. It was good but it didn’t have that wow factor. Then again, maybe that’s just me. Bibimbap is what I usually get when I visit Korean restaurants back home in Vancouver and my guilty pleasure is adding an extreme amount of gochujang (spicy red chilli paste). Like I said, I can’t handle spicy food but ughh I can’t explain it… People who are fond of heat will know what I’m talking about. There’s simply something pleasurable about that tongue burning sensation.
At Gogung, they don’t provide extra gochujang in a bottle on the side. Everything tasted a bit more bland compared to what I’m used to but for once I could really savor the original flavors of the bibimbap ingredients. Their chilli paste also seemed a bit different than what you would usually find at supermarkets. There was more texture to it and the spices used were really quite aromatic as well. Having said that, I’m still leaving Gogung here on the list. Pay a visit and you be the judge. Price was ₩11,000 for one stone pot bowl.
Address: 44, Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Phone Number: +82 2-736-3211
Hours: 11:00AM ~ 9:30PM
6. Street Food
Street food is more of a category than a specific dish item but you cannot cannot cannot leave Korea without trying their street food.
Egg Bread (Gyeranppang)
This is perhaps one of the most recommended street eats ever. I’ve heard so many people raving about this but frankly, I was disappointed. It was bland and dry although my friend did like it. Again, maybe just me so leaving this on the list for you to judge.
One of these bad boys went for ₩10,000 if I remember correctly. A bit pricey but it was pretty darn good. And uhh can we talk about how big these Korean clams are!? It did get a bit too heavy near the end however. Never thought I’d complain about getting overwhelmed by cheese but guess all things should be enjoyed in moderation.
These are fried fish paste on a stick. Some of the centers have different stuffings varying from hot dogs/sausages to rice cakes. We shared an assorted skewer.
Of all the street foods we’d tried, this was my favorite snack. It is a Korean style deep fried pancake with a sugary, nutty syrup filling and it is probably the next best thing to Krispy Kreme donuts. One bite and I could hear bells ringing.
Quick note, since our hotel was in Myeongdong, that was where we fulfilled most of our street food cravings. And because we loved hotteok so much, when we saw another shop near Gyeongbokgung Palace, we knew we just had to get one.
Unfortunately this one wasn’t as good. The stuffing was mostly syrup, minimal nuts, and with every bite I could feel an excessive amount of oil just oozing out and drizzling down my chin. Look for the one in Myeongdong, the one with the ahjusshi who’s always on the phone. He may seem distracted but he knows how to make some pretty good hotteoks.
Deep Fried Ice Cream
I know I know, this isn’t really anything special but I’ve never had it alright. Like it sounds, it’s vanilla ice cream dipped in batter and fried. It was hot, it was cold, it was the best of both worlds.
I am obsessed with tteokbokki so obsessed that I’ve probably made it at home a billion times. Legit street food style tteokbokki has a thinner sauce than what’s served in restaurants in Vancouver. The rice cakes were so incredibly chewy (even when cold). We got the real deal here aite.
Milky Bee Rose Ice Cream
Not sure if this would be considered street food since they do have their own physical store not just a cart but eat it for the gram am I right. The outer layer consists of matcha flavored ice cream, the middle yogurt, and the most inner one is strawberry. Great treat for the girlfriend if she gets mad catching you checking other girls out. It ain’t ever too cold for ice cream!
Last but not least, fried chicken in a cup. Did I mention there’s melted cheese on top? This is Hong Cup in Hongdae and it reminded me of Chinese sweet and sour pork. The way the sauce was glazed on the chicken and then that bubbling cheese atop… This was quality food porn I tell ya. There were also a few tater tots hiding inside so you get your protein and your carbs. Super healthy eh. And uhh hello, forget popcorn, can we start serving these in movie theaters?
Hongdae, and Seoul in general, has a lot of great street finds but we were only there for so many days. For the first time in my life I realized what a blessing it must be to have a big appetite. This list is barely just the tip of the iceberg and I definitely wish we could’ve gotten more time to explore what else Korea has to offer. I know this is more of a general “what to eat in Seoul” guide and not necessarily all that winter themed but that’s the thing with good food right? Sometimes when it hits you at the right spot it’s perfect no matter the weather.
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