The 10 Best Things to Eat in Seoul

Seoul Travel Guides / November 04, 2016
The 10 Best Things to Eat in Seoul Image credit: shalamov

Sampling Korean food in Seoul for the first time is a lot like falling in love.

First, you fix your gaze on a dish that catches your fancy. Then, you slowly test the water – give it a closer look, catch a whiff, and take a little bite. After which, you go all the way in and savor all the flavors, the sensational highlights, the interesting textures, and all the elements that make you yearn for more.

You never forget your first taste of Korean food – the same way you’ll always remember falling in love for the first time.

Korean food is a breed above other cuisines. It is characterized by the unabashed use of spices, juxtaposed alongside ingenious methods of food preservation and skillful consumption of all parts of an animal. Korean fare is one of those cuisines that you can heartily partake without feeling much guilt as it is among the more healthful foods across the globe.

The best time to enjoy Korean food in Seoul is March-May and September-November because the beautiful colors of spring and summer, respectively, make for the most lavish backdrop.

If it’s your first time in The Land of the Morning Calm, here’s your guide to the best foods in Seoul.

1. Banchan (Korean side dishes)

Banchan (Korean side dishes) Image credit: Jean-François Chénier/Flickr

A Korean meal always ends up looking like a feast because of all those side dishes served in tiny, little plates, or what the locals call “banchan”.

These banchan come in a wide range of assortment such as vegetable, egg, fish, and seafood. They are served in plenty of different ways, too – raw, fermented, braised, fried, etc. Kimchi, the most popular Korean dish, is also the most common banchan.

What’s great about eating in Seoul restaurants is that you can never predict the kinds of banchan that would be serving. It’s almost always a different set in each restaurant every day.

Oh, and you know what’s even better? Banchan refills are usually free, so you can fill up to your appetite’s content.

Here are the best places to have banchan in Seoul.

  • SIGOL BAPSANG | Yongsan-gu
    For banchan that takes the center stage 24 hours a day
    What to order: Banchan, Bulgogi, Gyeran Jjim
    Price range: 8,000 to 13,000 won ($7.04 to $11.44)
    When: 24 hours, daily
    Where: 738-17 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
  • HANSIK OLBAAN | Seocho-gu
    For a huge buffet spread that showcases the best of Korean cuisine
    What to enjoy: Banchan, Barbecued pork belly, Bibimbap, Bing-su
    Price range: 21,000 won ($18.49)
    When: 11:00 – 21:00 daily
    Where: Famille Station, Banpo-dong 118-5, Seocho-gu, Seoul

2. Gogigui (Korean BBQ)

Gogigui (Korean BBQ) Image credit: Travis/Flickr

Nobody goes to Seoul without the intention of indulging in authentic Korean BBQ, or gogigui as the locals would call it. It is, after all, Korea’s most valuable export, next to catchy K-Pop tunes and intricate nail art.

Barbecue places are found in every corner of Seoul, and though it’s “practically just pieces of meat grilled on charcoal”, you’ll find that these Korean BBQ places are not created equal.

The most mouth-watering gogigui is made from high-grade meat with beautiful marbling of fat – so delicious that marinades and sauces won’t even be necessary. Pickled veggies are a perfect accompaniment to gogigui as the acidity cuts through the richness of the meat.

Here are the best places to have gogigui in Seoul.

  • WANG BI JIB | Jung-gu
    For melt-in-your-mouth pieces of meat with snowflake marbling
    What to order: Gogigui, Beef tartare, Seafood pancake
    Price range: 13,000 to 32,000 won ($11.44 to $28.17)
    When: 11:30 – 22:30 daily
    Where: 26 Myeongdong 8ga-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
  • GANGNAM MYEONOK | Gangnam-gu
    For Korean barbecue marinated in a secret savory broth
    What to order: Galbi jjim, Nengmyun, Galbitang
    Price range: 15,000 to 20,000 won ($13.20 to $17.61)
    When: 11:00 – 22:00 daily
    Where: 34, Nonhyeon-ro 152-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
  • TWO PLUS BBQ | Gangnam-gu
    For delicate, luxurious pieces of beef that you will never forget
    What to order: Aged striploin, Hangover hot noodle, Beef tongue
    Price range: 20,000 to 42,000 won ($17.61 to $36.97)
    When: 11:30 – 22:00 daily
    Where: 12 Dosan-daero 50-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

3. Mandu (Korean Dumplings)

Mandu (Korean Dumplings) Image credit: Tialna Wolfs/Flickr

Mandu, or Korean Dumplings, are a popular dish in Seoul. These bite-sized morsels are both light and filling at the same time. They can be enjoyed as street fare, as appetizers in a full-fledged Korean feast, or accompanied by a warm bowl of Korean noodles.

Just like dumplings in other Asian countries, Korean dumplings come in a huge assortment of variants, from the simplest ones such as chicken and veggies to the more exotic like pheasant and kimchi.

Mandu are prepared in several ways: boiled, steamed, or fried, and are often served with a ubiquitous dipping sauce of soy, vinegar, and chili.

Here are the best places to have mandu in Seoul.

  • MAPO MANDU | Mapo-gu
    For traditional mandu that is quick and easy on the pockets
    What to order: Galbi mandu, kimchi mandu, Tteokbokki, Gimbap
    Price range: 2,500 to 6,000 won ($2.20 to $5.28)
    When: 24 hours daily
    Where: 393-1 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
  • BUKCHON SON MANDU | Jongno-gu
    For huge, handmade dumplings that are worth waiting in line for
    What to order: Fried mandu, Combination mandu, Shrimp mandu
    Price range: 3,000 to 12,000 won ($2.64 to $10.56)
    When: 11:00 – 22:30 daily
    Where: 153-1 Insa-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
  • MYEONGDONG KYOJA | Jung-gu
    For award-winning dumplings and noodles that locals love
    What to order: Kal-guksu, Mandu, Bibim-guksu
    Price range: 8,000 to 10,000 won ($7.04 to $8.80)
    When: 10:30 – 21:00 daily
    Where: 25-2 Myeongdong 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul

4. Pajeon (Korean Pancake)

Pajeon (Korean Pancake) Image credit: Rachael Neumiller/Flickr

Pancakes are a favorite in any part of the world. Korean pancakes are a little different from the sweet, fluffy ones that we’ve grown to love, but they’re a big hit in this dynamic city, too.

Unlike the pancakes we’re used to having at breakfast, pajeon is savory, flavorful, and can be found any time of the day.

Loosely translated, pajeon means “green onion (pa) pancake (jeon)”, crediting to the abundance of green onions as main ingredient. Korean pancakes are often prepared with a variety of fillings such as squid, oysters, and mussels.

For a truly Korean flavor, try the kimchijeon. Far from being just a breakfast fare, locals love their pajeon with a side of soju, Korea’s most popular liquor.

Here are the best places to have pajeon in Seoul.

  • NAKSEO PAJEON | Dongdaemun-gu
    For thick, enormous, and generously filled pajeon
    What to order: Octopus pajeon, Spicy chicken stew, Kimchi pajeon
    Price range: 6,000 to 8,000 won ($5.28 to $7.04)
    When: 14:00 – 02:00 daily
    Where: 319-40 Huigyeong-dong, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul
  • GWANGJANG MARKET | Jongno-gu
    For well-loved pajeon recipes that boast strong Korean flavors
    What to order: Buchujeon, Kimchijeon, Nokdujeon
    Pricing: 4,000 won ($3.52)
    When: 07:00 – 19:00, daily except Sundays
    Where: 6-1 Yeji-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
  • CHAMSAE BANGATGAN | Jongno-gu
    For a beautiful selection of Korean pancakes and Sujebi
    What to order: Pajeon, Sujebi, Jjookkoomi Bokum
    Price range: 6,000 to 10,000 won ($5.21 - $8.69)
    When: 11:00 – 21:00 daily
    Where: 102 Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul

5. Dakgalbi (Pan Fried Chicken)

Dakgalbi (Pan Fried Chicken) Image credit: Craig Nagy/Flickr

Korean dishes are known for packing plenty of flavor – and dakgalbi is no exception.

This popular Korean street food starts with pieces of diced chicken marinated in gochujang, a kind of chili pepper paste that is the base of plenty of marinades, dips, and sauces. These chicken bits are then stir fried in a cast iron pan with cabbage, sweet potato, scallions, perilla leaves, and rice cake.

Originating in the city of Chuncheon in Gangwon Province in the late 1960’s, dakgalbi was created as a cheaper alternative to grilled meats as anju, or bar fare. The locals couldn’t get enough of it that dakgalbi restaurants sprouted in different parts of the city, even giving birth to a dakgalbi alley – yes, an alley of dakgalbi eateries. If that’s not enough, Chuncheon pays tribute to dakgalbi by means of an annual autumn festival.

Here’s where to get the best dakgalbi in Seoul.

  • YOOGANE | Mapo-gu
    For the much-sought after and most famous dakgalbi in Seoul
    What to order: Octopus and chicken galbi, Mozzarella-stuffed rice cakes, Chicken barbecue rice
    Price range: 5,000 to 15,000 won ($4.37 to $13.10)
    When: 10:45 - 00:00 daily
    Where: 163-11 Donggyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
  • CHUNCHEONJIP DAKGALBI MAKGUKSU |Seodaemum-ga
    For delectable dishes, inexpensive prices and cozy atmosphere that earned the restaurant a massive number of devotees
    What to order: Cheese dakgalbi, Octopus duruchigi, Octopus meal dakgalbi
    Price range: 4,000 to 8,000 won ($3.49 to $6.99)
    When: 10:00 - 18:00 daily
    Where: 1, Yonsei-ro, 5 Ga-gil, Seodaemum-ga, Seoul
  • MAPO SUTBUL GABI | Nonhyun-dong
    For spotting Korean actors and celebrities while enjoying dakgalbi
    What to order: Wang-seng galbi, Pork belly, Raw crab
    Pricing: 30,000 won per person ($26.20)
    When: 24 hours daily
    Where: 2-6 Gangnam-gu, Nonhyeon-dong

 

6. Bibimbap (Mixed rice)

Bibimbap (Mixed rice) Image credit: SnippyHolloW/Flickr

Happiness does not always need a profound definition. In Seoul, happiness can be conveniently found in a sizzling bowl of bibimbap.

As pleasing as the colors of each ingredient in this dish are, it’s when you finally mix all the elements together and put a scoopful of it in your mouth you can truly understand that the feast of the eyes was just a prelude to a more exciting surprise.

This filling combination of white rice with sautéed and seasoned vegetables, chili paste, soy sauce, fermented soy bean paste, egg and beef slices promises to leave you grinning from ear to ear.

Ranked number 40 on the World’s most delicious foods readers’ poll made by CNN Travel in 2011, bibimbap will not fail to please anyone.

Here’s where to get the best bibimbap in Seoul.

  • GOGUNG | Jung-gu
    For a variety of good bibimbap in a traditional setting
    What to order: Bibimbap with yukhoe, Octopus bibimbap, Jeonju
    Price range: 10,000 to 15, 000 won ($8.73 to $13.08)
    When: 09:00 - 22:30 daily
    Where: 12-14, Chungmuro 2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul
  • SAE BYUK JIB | Gangnam - gu
    For your daily fix of bibimbap that you can get anytime of the day as it is open for 24 hours
    What to order: Yukhoe bibimbap, Galbi, Seonjitguk, Korean barbecue
    Price: 10,000 won ($8.73)
    When: 24 hours daily
    Where: 129-10 Cheongdam-gong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
  • MOKMYEOKSANBANG | Jung-gu
    For authentic Korean cuisine in an astoundingly beautiful scenic spot
    What to order: Bibimbap, Korean dates, Korean teas, Sanbang
    Price range: 6,000 to 28,000 won ($5.24 to $24.46)
    When: 11:00 - 21:00 daily
    Where: Yejang dong, Jung-gu, Seoul

7. Kimchi Jjigae (Kimchi-based stew)

Kimchi Jjigae (Kimchi-based stew) Image credit: cokemomo

We have yet to find somebody who lives in Seoul who does not love a fiery hot bowl of Kimchi Jjigae. A staple food in Korea. Koreans eat this kimchi-based stew once or twice a week or sometimes even more.

Kimchi Jjigae is so delicious that one might get quite addicted to having it. No wonder it is one of the most loved dishes in Seoul.

It is a simple but flavorsome recipe of diced tofu, pork or seafood, scallions, onions and, of course, the iconic spicy-sour kimchi made into a flaming hot stew.

The broth will sizzle your palate down to your throat so it is best followed by gulping a refreshing beverage so you could just easily ladle another spoonful of the stew. Do expect yourself to repeat the slurping and gulping motions and (just what was like mentioned above) get addicted to it.

Here’s where to get the best Kimchi Jjigae in Seoul.

  • HANOK JIP | Seodaemun-gu
    For Kimchi jjigae and bulgogi that will give you bliss all throughout your dining experience
    What to order: Kimchi jjigae, Bulgogi, Egg roll, Kimchi jjim
    Price: Approximately 8,000 won ($6.99)
    When: 10:00 – 22:00 daily
    Where: 178 Naengcheon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul
  • TTUKBAEGI JIP | Jongno-gu
    For a lot of tasty yet cheap dishes wonderfully conceptualized to satisfy any hungry tummy
    What to order: Kimchi jjigae, Soft tofu jjigae, Wonjo sondubu, Stir-fried pork and squid
    Price: 5,000 won ($8.73)
    When: 06:30 - 22:00 daily
    Where: 5-1 Gwancheol-dong, Jongno-gu
  • EUNJUJUNG | Jung-gu
    For having kimchi jjigae in a unique way: Wrap the pork of kimchi jjigae in lettuces and enjoy
    What to order: Kimchi jjigae, Bibimbap, Samgyeopsal
    Price range: 7,000 to 10,000 won ($6.11 to $8.73)
    When: 11:30 - 22:00 daily
    Where: 32 Changgyeonggung-ro, 8-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul

8. Jajangmyeon (Black bean sauce noodles)

Jajangmyeon (Black bean sauce noodles) Image credit: egg (Hong, Yun Seon)/Flickr

In Seoul, “Black Day” is a day when all the single people wear black clothes and eat black foods such as this dish of black bean sauce noodles. While it seems like a gloomy occasion, gloom is the last thing Jajangmyeon would make you feel once you get to try it.

This ubiquitous dish in Seoul is made of classic hand-pulled noodles, salty black soybean paste (called jajang when heated and chunjang when unheated), diced pork and sometimes seafood, and vegetables. It’s chewy, rich and thick, flavorful and saucy, that it is Asia’s counterpart to Italy’s spaghetti.

It’s a big part of Korean food culture that was served on special occasions only but now, people can enjoy this noodle dish all year round in almost all Chinese-Korean restaurants.

Here’s where you can get the best Jajangmyeon in Seoul.

  • SINSEONGGAK | Mapo-gu
    For enjoying traditionally made Jajangmyeon in a lovely place with an old school vibe
    What to order: Jajangmyeon, Jjampong, Japchae, Tangsuyuk
    Price: Approximately 10,000 won ($8.73)
    When: 11:00 - 19:30, daily except Sundays
    Where: 04190 55-1, Imjeong-ru, Mapo-gu, Seoul
  • GAEHWA | Jung-gu
    For plenty of excellent and affordable food in one dining place
    What to order: Jajangmyeon, Fried shrimp balls, Fried dumplings, Palbochae
    Price range: 5,000 to 35,000 won ($4.37 to $30.57)
    When: 11:00 - 21:30, daily but closed on 2nd and 4th Sundays
    Where: 52-5 Namdaemun-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul
  • DAEHANGAK | Yongsan-gu
    For Jajangmyeon and authentic, world-class Chinese cuisine that the restaurant specializes in
    What to order: Jajangmyeon, Sweet and sour pork, Dongbei, Fried dumplings
    Price range: 10,000 to 50,000 won ($8 73 to $43.67)
    When: 11:30 - 15:00, 17:00 - 22:00, daily
    Where: 140-200, 21 Hoksapyeong-daero, 26-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

9. Bibim Naengmyeon (Korean cold noodles)

Bibim Naengmyeon (Korean cold noodles) Image credit: cokemomo

This is the kind of food that you will love in any kind of weather. It’s very light and refreshing that it does great wonders to one’s mood.

Bibim Naengmyeon is a delectable recipe of cold, chewy noodles bathed in an Asian spicy sauce, garnished with julienned cucumber, Korean pear slices, pickled radish strips and a boiled egg on top.

As if the lovely sight of all these in a bowl is not enough, the taste that you get when you mix the elements together makes it amazing all the more. Combine it with vinegar and mustard, and bam! For all the delicious adjectives it will make you think of, it will actually leave you speechless and just make you enjoy the dish, spoonful after spoonful.

Here’s where to get the best Bibim Naengmyeon in Seoul.

  • OJANG-DONG HAMHEUNG NAENGMYEON | Jung-gu
    For delicious Bibim Naengmyeon that rocks since 1950’s
    What to order: Bibim Naengmyeon, Meat broth tea, Steamed dumplings, Hongeo hoe
    Price: Approximately 8,000 won ($6.99)
    When: 11:00 - 21:00, daily but closed on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month
    Where: 90-10 Ojang-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
  • YOOKSSAM NAENGMYEON | Seochu-gu
    For a large variety of Naengmyeon that made the restaurant well-known
    What to order: Bibim Naengmyeon, Pork bulgogi, Fist rice, Water naengmyeon
    Price range: 5,000 to 7,000 won ($4.37 to $6.11)
    When: 11:00 - 22:00, daily
    Where: 1318 Seocho 4 (sa)-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul
  • PYEONGYANG MYEONOK | Gangnam-gu
    For world-class Naengmyeon that’s been loved by politicians and celebrities
    What to order: Bibim Naengmyeon, Dumpling soup, Eobok jaengban, Jeeyok
    Price range: Naengmyeon starts at 11,000 won ($9.61), mains start at 12,000 won ($10.48)
    When: 11:00 - 21:30, daily
    Where: 6, Nonhyeun-ro, 150-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

10. Samgyetang (Ginseng chicken soup)

Samgyetang (Ginseng chicken soup) Image credit: AppleSister/Flickr

If you have just finished your marathon-like shopping spree and want to be reinvigorated so you can do more shopping, then Samgyetang can help you with that.

Ironically, a piping hot bowl of this ginseng chicken soup is popular during the sweltering hot summer in Seoul. Not only it is comforting and healthy, but it also helps you regain your stamina, thanks to the ginseng infused in this recipe. Some restaurants even use more medicinal herbs, making it more nourishing and can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

It may remind you of porridge but it has more broth and is done in a different way. Samgyetang consists of a whole young garlic-and-rice-stuffed chicken, scallions, spices and Korean ginseng. Soothing, reenergizing and downright slurpy-good.

Here’s where to get the best Samgyetang in Seoul.

  • TOSOKCHON SAMGYETANG | Jongno-gu
    For legendary Samgyetang that is known to be the best in Korea
    What to order: Samgyetang, Rotisserie chicken, Cabbage kimchi, Seafood and green onion pancake
    Price range: 15,000 to 40,000 won ($13.10 to $34.94)
    When: 10:00 - 22:00 daily
    Where: 5, Jahamun-to, 5-Gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
  • KOREA SAMGYETANG | Jung-gu
    For a wonderful satiation of one's Samgyetang cravings in the oldest and first Samgyetang restaurant in the world
    What to order: Samgyetang, Chicken broth with abalone, Black bone chicken broth with Korean ginseng, Five-flavored pork hock
    Price range: 15,000 won to 30,000 won ($13.10 to $26.20)
    When: 10:00 - 21:00 daily
    Where: No. 1 Seosomun-ro, 11-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
  • HWANGHU MYEONGGA| Jongo-gu
    For Samgyetang that is very healthy from the 19 special medicinal herbs mixed with the broth
    What to order: Samgyetang, Korean dishes, Duck dishes
    Price range: 14,000 won to 40,000 won ($12.23 to $34.94)
    When: 11:00 - 21:00 daily, closed on holidays
    Where: 6, Jahamun-ro, 6-gil, Jongo-gu, Seoul