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
South Korea has many incredible pork dishes, and Bossam (보쌈) is one of the best. Most foreigners are familiar with Samgyeopsal (삼겹살), but many have never heard of Bossam and that’s unfortunate. Bossam is made by boiling pork belly and then slicing it into thin strips. The meat is extremely tender and it’s served with kimchi, rice, and side dishes. It usually comes with cabbage leaves, lettuce, and/or parilla to wrap the meat with. I prefer to wrap the succulent pork in Kimchi. At Jangsu Bossam (장수 보쌈) the kimchi is packed with flavor. We ordered the Bossam Baek ban (보쌈백반) for 9500 won for one person, and it includes pork, rice, kimchi and other side dishes. I’ve lived in Seoul for the last two years and this kimchi is the best I’ve eaten. The sauce is marvelous and the kimchi makes a great companion to the juicy pork. The fattiness from the pork melts in your mouth and mixes perfectly with the rich, slightly sweet and spicy, kimchi. It’s a true mom and pop establishment and it’s always packed with Korean people. Follow the locals, they always know where the best food is. The fact that it’s popular despite being neighbors with Gwangjang Market is an even better indicator of its quality. This small restaurant has two floors and is operated by a friendly group of old women. Every time we go there, the restaurant chatter stops when the foreigners walk in, but speak a little Korean and their faces light up, the conversations resume, and you will be well taken care of. The restaurant is authentic as it gets and they serve an outstanding example of a dish that is unknown to a lot of foreigners. If you want to try delicious Bossam and have an authentic dining experience then Jangsu Bossam (장수 보쌈) is a great place to go.
Go to Jongno 5 ga station, exit 6.
Walk a little ways and cross over the Cheonggyecheon stream.
Keep walking and the restaurant will be on your left.
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 Ashley Heil
Being pork lovers, samgeyopsal is one of our favorite Korean foods. However, sometimes the standard samgyeopsal that you get at a lot of Korean BBQ restaurants can become boring. A few months ago we started going to a new Crossfit gym in Hongdae, and we asked the owner what were some of his favorite restaurants in the area. He immediately told us to go to Dojeok (도적) for some awesome samgyeopsal, as it’s his favorite place for it in Seoul. So, that night we went. Over the past few months, we’ve continued to go back to this restaurant regularly and been amazed every time. We’ve brought Korean and foreign friends and they have loved it as well. This samgyeopsal is amazing. We have tried their traditional (plain) samgeyopsal, and it is great. It’s extremely tender, and one of our favorite for traditional samgyeopsals in Seoul. Sometimes while eating samgyeopsal you bite into those little hard pieces of cartilage that totally ruin a perfectly delicious bite, but you don’t get those here. Our favorite thing at this restaurant is the Gochujang samgyeopsal (13,000). I have to admit that the pictures don’t do this dish justice, it is hands down are favorite samgyeopsal in Seoul. The meat comes out marinated already and the servers help you cook it. The meal is also served with various raw veggies, such as carrots and sweet potato sticks that you can cook on the grill to enjoy alongside the meat. You also get the usual various lettuce wraps and garlic pieces, and a side of delicious doenjang jjigae (I just love this soup!). But it’s the meat that stands out here. The gochujang marinade is delicious and goes perfectly with the meat, but doesn’t have an overly powerful taste. The meat is good by itself or in the lettuce wraps. If you’re looking for a barbeque restaurant to go to in the Hongdae/Sangsu area, definitely give this place a try!
Come out of Sangu station exit 1.
Walk straight until you get to the first big street on your right.
Turn right on this street and walk along the left hand side.
When you see the Babeans coffee on your left, turn left on that street and the restaurant is across from it.
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.
by Michael Jones
Over the weekend we went to Pajeon alley with a group of friends and we were completely blown away by the Jeon (전). It was definitely the best Jeon we’ve ever eaten. For those of you who might be new to Korean food, Jeon is essentially a Korean pancake that can be made with many different types of meat and vegetables then mixed in flour/egg batter and fried in oil. Pajeon alley is a small street located near Hoegi Station on line 1 that is famous for making the best Pajeon in Seoul. Pajeon is a seafood variety of Jeon and it’s savory, packed with flavor, and extremely filling. I’ve been there a few times with a good friend who lives next to the station, and although I enjoyed the other places, they never impressed me as much as I was expecting them to. That changed this time. The place our friend took us to on Saturday is called Nakseo Pajeon (낙서파전) and like many incredible restaurants, a shoddy looking exterior belies the incredible food inside. The interior is intimate and filled with wooden tables and the roof is small in places, so watch your head. It feels very comfortable though and very authentic. The place was busy the entire time and the reason was the otherworldly food and the cheap prices. For 5 people we ordered two different types of Jeon: kimchijeon (8,000) and modeumjeon (9,000), one order of Jeyuk-Bokkeum (spicy pork) for 8,000, and three bottles of Makgeolli for just over 38,000 won. It was a very cheap meal split between 5 people and the serving sizes were huge. The Jeon was served on a wooden tray and was the size of a pizza, and I’m talking about a large pizza. My girlfriend and I are huge eaters and it is hard for us to get full, but this place pushed us over the edge. The Jeon was crispy and just greasy enough to be delicious, but not enough to make you feel like a horrible person. The Jeon was packed with seafood (octopus) and vegetables and was very rich. It’s the perfect food to eat with Magkeolli and share with friends. The kimchijeon still had a little octopus in it, but not as much as the modeumjeon so its a better choice if you're not a fan of seafood. The pork bokkeum was average, but that might just be because after eating the Jeon anything we ate would’ve tasted bland in comparison. This place is truly a special restaurant and deserves a visit.
Directions: Go to Hoegi station (회기역) exit 1.
Turn left on 회기로28길 (the second big street on your left after exit 1).
Nakseo Pajeon will be on your left.
Address: 서울 동대문구 회기로28길 11
by Michael Jones.
Gamjatang (감자탕) is a delicious soup made with tender chunks of pork, pork spine to be specific, potatos, sprouts, rice cake, onions, and other vegetables. The broth is a rich dark red color from the boiled peppers and is extremely flavorful. The flavor from the spices mixing with the fat from the pork is otherworldly. The bean paste, chili powder, and garlic accentuate the rich flavors of the pork perfectly. This is hands down one of our favorite dishes and we are always on the lookout for new Gamjatang restaurants. This week we found a new place that serves some great Gamjatang near Sangsu station. This place is one of our favorites. The place has been open since the 1980s, longevity is always a good sign in a highly competitive market like Seoul, and that's because they serve some mouth watering soup. Another bonus is that Su Bong Gamjatang (수봉 감자탕) does not abuse the salt. Some places use far too much and the salt dominates the other ingredients. For the money (33,000 won), split between 3 people, I've never seen more chunks of pork. There was at least 7 or 8 huge pieces and the meat was perfectly cooked. The tender strips came right off the bone. It was a large serving and the perfect amount to share with friends. Next time you visit the Sangsu area you should give Su Bong Gamjatang (수봉 감자탕) a try.
Directions/Address: 서울 마포구 어울마당로 56
Here is the easiest way to get here: Come out of Sangsu station exit 1
Walk down the road a little ways and turn right on 어울마당로.
Walk down this road about 300 meters and Subong Gamjatang will be on your right.
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.
Army Stew (부대찌개), pronounced Budae-jjigae, is one of my favorite Korean Dishes. Budae-jjigae is an incredibly delicious hodgepodge of ingredients, and like many great dishes, poverty was the reason for its creation. During the Korean War, food was scarce and many Korean families had to incorporate cheap foods from the local army bases into their traditional recipes. This meant utilizing foods like spam and hot dogs, and these were usually leftovers. These desperate times, however, resulted in one of South Korea’s greatest culinary gifts to the rest of the word, Budae-jjigae. When the weather starts to get frigid in Seoul, nothing makes me feel better than a steaming hot bowl of Budae-jjigae. My favorite place to have this is located in a back alley near the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. The shop is inconspicuous, just a large, average looking, white neon sign can be seen from outside. What it lacks in aesthetics, it makes up for in popularity. As dinner time approaches, the place becomes crowded with hungry people. The old women in charge of the restaurant constantly sprint back and forth between tables taking orders, refilling side dishes, and distributing copious amounts of alcohol. The stew is served in a large metal pot and cooked in the center of the table. Each serving costs 7,000 won, so between 4 people we spent 28,000. The metal bowl was huge and it was loaded to the brim with spam, hotdogs, kimchi, ramen noodles, and some other vegetables. The stew is spicy and the smoky flavor from the boiled spam and hotdogs makes a wonderful broth. I should say upfront that I was not a fan of spam and that I probably only tried it once before coming to Seoul, but in this soup it is transformed into something not only edible but delicious. I actually find myself digging through the bowl, every time I eat budae-jjigae, desperately searching for any pieces that my friends might have missed. On paper, this dish sounds like a catastrophe. How could all of those ingredients possibly combine to create such an incredibly delicious, rich, complex, and satisfying food? It beats me, but if you live in South Korea and have not had this dish yet, then you should change that as soon as possible. Your taste buds will thank you.
Go to Dongdaemun History and Culture Park
Take Exit 12
Immediately take a left and walk straight (away from DDP, AKA the thing that looks like a spaceship)
Walk two streets down and turn left
The restaurant will be the second one on your right
by Michael Jones
On Sunday, I hiked Inwangsan for the first time, a beautiful mountain near Gyeongbokgung with fantastic views of Seoul. After reaching the peak, I was craving some food so we went to a small Korean restaurant on the way back to the station. The restaurant was a tiny mom and pop place sandwiched in a small alleyway. Like all good restaurants, I could smell the food before I saw the place. The smell of pork, duck, and stew filled the street outside. As I craned my neck to get a good look at the menu, a woman spoke out in perfect English and asked if we wanted to sit down. We said yes; it was an easy choice. The menu was small. This is the kind of place where they focus on the tried and the true. The owner spent 15 years living in Melbourne, Australia and her mother was busy cooking in the kitchen. In the back of the restaurant a small television was playing a Korean drama. The lunch options were: kimchi jjigae, doenjjang jjigae, jeyuk bokkeum, and ddukbaegi, usually a soup made with beef, but here they use duck. We decided to get one serving of jeyuk bokkeum and one serving of ddukbaegi. Jeyuk bokeum is basically thinly sliced pork cooked in a spicy sauce and mixed with onions; it is served on a hot plate. The ddukbaegi was filled to the brim with succulent duck meat and a large serving of green vegetables. The broth was a dark gray color and the soup came with a few toppings: salt, pepper, and diced green peppers. The woman told me that the soup takes 12 hours to prepare and after trying it, I don’t doubt it. The soup was incredibly rich and the broth took on the flavors from the roasted duck fat, the salt, and the pepper. It was delicious. The pork was also outstanding. The spice was perfect and not overpowering or tear-inducing. In short, it was actually enjoyable. The old lady in the kitchen watched us with a smile. She was happy watching us enjoy her food. She was clearly proud of her cooking. Her daughter told us that she has been making these dishes since she was a child. No matter where you are in the world, it is always great finding people that are passionate about the food they make and the culture in which it comes from. Korean food is incredible and Korean people are very passionate about the food they eat, and make. Whether you live in Korea, or you are on vacation, I encourage you to visit the less famous neighborhoods and eat at an authentic Korean restaurant. If you find yourself near Gyeongbokgung and you want to try a place off the beaten path, I strongly recommend trying 오리야 전야. The two dishes we bought were only 8,000 won each and the side dishes were delicious too. Embrace the authentic places and happy hunting.
Go to Dongnimmun Station and take exit 2
Walk about 15 yards and turn left down the alley
In about a minute the restaurant will be on your right
We're just a couple addicted to great food. We love Anthony Bourdain!