by Michael Jones.
In two months we will be leaving Korea. We will miss many things about Seoul, especially our friends, but we will also miss our favorite Korean foods. With a deadline in mind, we have made it our mission to find some of the best Korean restaurants in Seoul. Our first goal was to find a spectacular example of Dakdoritang (닭도리탕), also known as Dakbokkeumtang (닭볶음탕). Dakdoritang is a spicy chicken stew and is one of our favorite dishes. A whole chicken is cut into pieces and thrown into a pot filled with potatoes, onions, garlic, and scallions. The sauce is made from a base of gochujang (red chili paste) and then other ingredients are added such as: soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. Every restaurant probably has a slightly different recipe and I would feel inadequate trying to list everything that goes into this wonderful soup. The only definite thing I can say is that you should try it.
Our search for Dakdoritang led us to a place called Gyerim sikdang (계림식당). This restaurant is located in a narrow alleyway near Jongno 3-ga Station. As soon as you enter the alleyway the smell of garlic fills the air as it wafts through crowds of hungry people and neon signs. On both sides of the alley restaurants are piled up and tempt potential customers with smells of roasting meat, boiling soup, and the clink of alcohol-filled glasses. In front of Gyerim sikdang there is always a line of eager and hungry people.
The restaurant is small, intimate, and about as authentic as it gets. Gyerim Sikdang is packed with locals winding down after a long hard day at work. Here blue collar and white collar workers sit shoulder to shoulder as they enjoy a phenomenal bowl of soup. The soup comes in small, medium, and large, but we always pick the large size. I would suggest the large for 3-4 people. The soup is served in a large golden pot and topped with a heaping spoonful of minced garlic. The garlic stands out nicely against the dark red of the broth, green scallions, and golden potatoes. The steam tickles the nose and makes the eyes water, but the taste is worth any discomfort. The chicken is tender and is easily pulled off the bone. The garlic balances the spiciness of the gochujang and the slight sweetness combines to make a truly delightful broth. Long after the chicken and potatoes have disappeared, it is enjoyable just to eat the broth. It seems to taste better the longer it boils in the pot and if you’re still hungry you can add a portion of noodles for 2,000 KRW. If you get them, the noodles are thick, covered in flour, and soak up the delectable flavors. Gyerim Sikdang is a wonderful place to share a meal with friends and is definitely our favorite Dakdoritang in Seoul.
Price: 22,000 for 2-person serving
32,000 for 3 person serving
44,000 for 4 person serving
Extras: Fried Rice, white rice, and 갈국수 noodles.
Address: 서울 종로구 돈화문로4길 39 (종로3가)
Directions: Go to Jongno 3 ga station, line 1. (종로3가역), exit 12.
Walk down to the 2nd big street on your right and turn right (종로26길)
Turn right into the first small alleyway on your right.
Walk down until you see 계림식당 on your right. There should be a sign for 닭도리탕.
by Michael Jones
I’m a huge fan of soups in Korea and Gamjatang (pork bone soup) is one of my favorites. When I found out that there was a Gamjatang alley near Saejeol Station (line 6) I made plans to go there as soon as possible. We’ve had this soup in a lot of places around Seoul, but the restaurant we went to in Gamjatang alley is hands down our favorite so far. By the way, the alley calls the dish Gamjaguk instead of Gamjatang. I’m not sure why, but it’s the same dish and it’s outstanding. We ordered the medium portion to split between three people (32,000) and the bowl was huge. The large bowl was overflowing with chunks of pork, potatoes, and some leafy vegetables. The tender pieces of meat were large enough to trick you into thinking they possibly came from a small dinosaur instead of a very large pig. The meat was incredibly tender and easy to scrape off the bone. The sauce was rich, creamy, and slightly spicy. The potatoes were boiled to perfection, soft and lightly brown. Every spoonful was an incredible variety of flavors on the tongue, from the spiciness of the broth, the rich fatty taste from the boiled pork, and the slightly bitter taste from the kkaetnip (perilla leaves). The kimchi at this restaurant was also incredible and we ate three sides of it. If you love Korean food as much as we do, I strongly advise you to visit Gamjatang alley. The experience is authentic and the food is out of this world.
Go Saejeol station (line 6) and come out of exit 2.
Walk straight for about 200 meters until you see Wasangyo Bridge.
Cross over the bridge and turn right.
Turn into the first alley on your left and go straight.
You'll cross an intersection and then see the signs for Daerim Market, where Gamjatang alley is.
Sigol Gamjaguk is the first restaurant on the left side of the street.
by Michael Jones.
Korea produces some of the most delicious soups on the planet. I would say on par with, or even greater, than the other more well-known soups from Asia such as Ramen and Pho. There are so many varieties of soup in Korea that the Korean language has many different words like 국, 탕, 찌개, and 죽 to describe them. One of the most famous of these soups is Samgyetang. Samgyetang is the closest thing you will get to finding some old fashioned American style chicken noodle soup. My grandma always made hers with a whole chicken, freshly sliced carrots, onions, celery, and noodles. Samgyetang also uses an entire chicken, but instead of noodles, rice is used and is usually stuffed inside the chicken. The vegetables are also different and Samgyetang is made with ingredients like garlic, scallions, dates, and spices like ginseng and jujube. I’ve only had Samgyetang a handful of times, probably because it’s fairly expensive compared to a lot of other Korean dishes, and because I was never that impressed by it. This changed, however, when I went to Tosokchon Samgyetang (토속촌 삼계탕), near Gyeongbokgung, this month. I’ve walked by this restaurant many times and have witnessed lines 50 people long, so I knew someday I had to try it. The other day we did. It was about an hour before closing, so they were not packed, and I was impressed by the size of the restaurant. The place is basically constructed out of many conjoining traditional Korean buildings. I can’t believe a place this large could have waits out the door consistently. I knew at this point that we were in for something special.
The three of us ordered the basic, traditional Samgetang (~15,000 won) and a bottle of Makgeolli. A complimentary bottle of Insamju, or ginseng wine was served. However, this alcohol tasted so strong we didn’t drink very much of it. The chicken came out boiling and in a dark, rich smelling broth. After waiting a few minutes to save my taste buds, I ate the first spoonful and it was extraordinary. The chicken was tender and the broth was creamy rich from the bones. On the table there was salt and pepper provided so you could season it to perfection. I added just a pinch of salt before dismantling the chicken and spreading the meat and white rice through the broth. Every spoonful was packed with flavor and I savored every bite. Now I finally understand why so many people rave about this dish. I know one thing for sure, when you see Korean people waiting in line for Samgyetang this summer, be on the lookout for some foreigners, it might just be me and my friends.
Directions: Come out of Gyeongbokgung, exit 2 (subway line 3)
Walk straight about 120 meters.
Once you pass Popeyes and GS25, turn left onto the small alleyway.
The restaurant will be on your left.
Bindaetteok is a Korean pancake made from ground up mung beans and mixed with assorted vegetables and sometimes meat. This mixture is then fried in oil on an open top grill. Gwangjang Market, in Seoul, is famous for traditional Korean food and the Bindaetteok there is outstanding. My favorite restaurant is called Soonheenae Bindaetteok (순희네 빈대떡). If you go there during lunch or dinner, be prepared to wait. Although the restaurant is a good size, the demand always seems to exceed capacity. Thankfully, the wait time is usually short. Bindaetteok is often eaten quickly, think of it like an appetizer, and washed down with Makgeolli (막걸리), Korean rice wine. The atmosphere inside is snug and shoulder room is hard to come by, but the Bindaetteok is phenomenal. A group of older women patrol the restaurant constantly and they are very attentive. I recommend trying the different types of Bindaetteok and buying a bottle of Makgeolli. I usually buy the Daebak Makgeolli which literally translates to "Awesome Makgeolli." I think it tastes smoother than the Seoul Makgeolli and the drink compliments the meal. I like the set which comes with meat and vegetable Bindaetteok. The pancakes arrive on a tray covered in aluminum foil and are served with Kimchi. It also comes with a sauce, but I prefer the pancake by itself. The crust is flaky and hot, the insides are gooey, and the meat is tender. I believe eating Bindaetteok is one of the greatest food experiences you can have in Korea. Like most great foods, Bindaetteok is simple. The combination of fresh ingredients, traditional recipes, and old women who know how to cook always results in delicious food. If you have never eaten Bindaetteok, or maybe you have and you want to try a great one, then Soonheenae Bindaetteok (순희네 빈대떡) is a must visit. If you go to the center intersection of the market, look for a large orange sign and white letters. If you don't see the sign you will probably see the line. Happy eating.
by Ashley Heil
In the heart of Insadong is a wonderful Korean fusion restaurant in a traditional hanok building. This was one of the first restaurants my boyfriend and I accidentally found while walking around Insadong. Because of this restaurant's great location, in Insadong and a close walk to Gyeongbokgung and Samcheongdong, we have been back here regularly. What I love most about this restaurant is the atmosphere. When you enter, relaxing piano music plays while you sit down at nicer tables in a traditional hanok house. It's a great place to unwind after a morning or afternoon of walking around and seeing the sights. Another great thing about restaurant is the menu. While the restaurant is famous for their "special menu" of Insadong Seafood Rice,” they also have many other famous Korean foods such as bibimbap, ddeokbokki, and pajeon. Additionally, they give you a few different side dishes, a cold seaweed soup, and rice along with your meal. Not being a seafood lover, every time I go here I always order either the Chulpan Dalk Bulgogi or the Chulpan Gochujang Jeyuk Bulgogi. Each time I go, the Chulpan Dalk Bulgogi, a grilled chicken dish served in a hot pan with carrots, onions, and green onions, is always a huge hit with me and my friends. Priced at only 8,000 won, this is a great dish to try for anyone weary of spicy food, seafood, or anyone new to eating Korean food. The chicken is always very tender and all of the flavors come together very nicely. Another favorite is the Chulpan Gochujang Jeyuk Bulgogi (8,000 won), a slightly spicy pork dish (cooked with a Korean spice gochujang) with onions and peppers. Because I love pork and spicy food, this dish is amazing each time i have it. Finally, my boyfriend has tried the Nakji Deolsot Bibimbap (7,000 won) before, and told me this is his favorite nakji bibimbap that he has had. The bowl comes out burning hot, with a little bit of the rice getting burnt on the bottom. In addition to the food, the restaurant serves delicious teas, and makgeoli. On busy days there might be a little bit of a wait at the restaurant, but we are always seated very fast and the service is very good at the restaurant. I recommend this restaurant if you want some well-priced Korean food in Insadong!
Directions: Go to Anguk station, line 3. Go out exit 6, then walk a little bit until you see the walking street on your left. Turn left there, and walk a little bit down into Insadong. When you see the sign for the street Insadong 12-gil (인사동 12길), turn left. The restaurant is right there on your left.
We're just a couple addicted to great food. We love Anthony Bourdain!