In August last year, I finally made it to Seoul, a city that had been near the top of my travel bucket list for a number of years. I’m not going to pretend that this didn’t have anything to do with K-Dramas or K-Pop because they absolutely were a huge influence. (Lee Min Ho anyone? 😍) Whilst I’m not as into these anymore, when I was a teenager, I was a girl obsessed. My second reason for wanting to visit Seoul, is that I adore Korean food. Give me a bowl of plain rice and some kimchi and I’m all set! Whilst that might sound boring to some, this is one of my favourite easy meals. For those that are unimpressed by my kimchi/rice, combo there is a huge variety of exciting food available in Korea and Seoul. So without further ado, here is my guide for what to eat in Seoul: 14 Things to Eat in Seoul, South Korea:
Cold noodle soup
Cold noodles might seem a little gross to you at first but in Korea this is a very popular dish. And yes, it’s supposed to be cold, almost icy. I wasn’t convinced at first but this soon became one of my favourite meals in Seoul, especially because we were visiting in August when it was incredibly hot! It’s a surprisingly refreshing meal and full of flavour, despite its simple appearance.
Spicy cold noodle soup
This is the brother to naengmyeon mentioned above but this guy should come with a warning sign! The noodles are pretty much exactly the same but the super spicy cold soup makes all the difference. This is a bit of a weird one because the noodles are icy cold but the spice makes your mouth burn – quite the combination!
Ginseng Chicken Soup
People in Korea seem absolutely obsessed with Ginseng and its supposed magical properties. I went on a day trip to the DMZ, the border with North Korea, and on the way back we stopped off at a Ginseng museum! It went through the entire history of Ginseng and then gave us the opportunity to buy, you guessed it, more ginseng!
As such, ginseng chicken soup is a very popular dish with Korean locals and with tourists. It can be a little pricey, because of said “magical properties”, but it really does taste amazing. This is a tender chicken broth and the chicken itself is filled with sticky rice. We went to a restaurant called Tosokchon, which is consistently named the number one place to get samgyetang and it has the queues to prove it.
Seafood and onion pancake
Another thing to get at Tosokchon is haemul pajeon, or a seafood and onion pancake. it was definitely a mistake for my friend and I to get both this and the gingseng chicken above because they’re both so filling but this is a very homey meal in one of the more authentic Korean restaurants I visited. If you’re going to try this anywhere, try it at Tosokchon.
Korean BBQ is a trend that has recently become popular in the West but there’s nothing quite like the authentic Korean experience. As soon as you sit down, a huge number of spicy side dishes are brought over and you’ll be battling for space at your own table! To be quite honest, I’d be quite happy if the meal ended at this point, the side dishes alone are amazing.
As there were only three of us at dinner, we decided not to go for the full on BBQ experience but that involves barbecuing at your very own table! The safer (though less exciting) option is to have it cooked for you and then it arrives at your table ready to eat. My personal favourite BBQ dish is kalbi, which are Korean-style short ribs – my mouth is watering just thinking about it!
Bibimbap is one of the first Korean dishes I ever tried and that’s where my love story with Korean food began. It’s a simple dish, often just rice and vegetables, but what’s special is that it’s served in a burning hot pewter bowl, that keeps the dish cooking at your very table.
There are so many different bibimbap combinations out there with some coming with a raw egg or even raw beef that will cook right in front of your eyes thanks to the piping hot stone bowl! This is a dish that I always find comforting and filling and will always be one of my favourites. It should be available at pretty much every restaurant as it’s a Korean staple but do some research as to the best in your area of Seoul!
First off, let me just clarify that there is no actual poop involved with poop bread. It’s a popular sweet treat with the tourists because of its amusing shape but really it’s just dough filled with chocolate. Not that there’s anything wrong with dough and chocolate 😏I wasn’t overly impressed with ddongbbang but it was certainly nice enough and I happily munched away chuckling at its poop shape!
I’ve always been under the impression that eggs are way more popular in the East than they are in the West but I didn’t expect to find them atop a sweet treat here. You’ll find gyeranppang on the streets of Seoul alongside the Korean fried chicken and other street delicacies and whilst it’s definitely not the most popular option here, it’s well worth a try. It’s a sort of poached egg atop a slice of sweetened bread and is something I’d rather have for breakfast than dessert but it’s quite nice all the same.
Hotteok is described as a sort of Korean pancake though it seems to be more like a savoury doughnut to me. You can get a wide variety of fillings, both meaty and vegetarian, and I opted for the latter here. I watched mine be made from scratch which is pretty cool but it did also mean I saw it floating in oil for around 3 minutes before being presented to me.
If you’re looking for a lunch on the go, you could grab two of these on your travels as they’re quite dense and filling. Oh, and, in case you’re wondering, it is indeed served in a paper cup.
Everybody knows that sushi is a Japanese thing but did you know that Korea has their own version of sushi? It’s called gimbap and it usually has a much, much large diameter than Japanese sushi. You can often find boxes of these being sold on the streets, which make for a great breakfast or lunch on the go. Really simple, but really tasty.
Spicy rice cakes
Ddeokbokki is definitely one of the top things to try in South Korea and also one of my favourites. The levels of spiciness can vary but I think the bright red colour makes it pretty damn clear that this stuff is HOT! It has a sort of doughy and chewy consistency and it’s basically just super super yummy. The closest thing I could compare this to in the West is perhaps gnocchi. Be sure to have a bottle of water on you though before you dig into this!
Korean Fried Chicken
KFC takes on a whole different meaning in the Korea, standing for Korean Fried Chicken. And damn, it’s good. I’ve had a lot of fried chicken in my time but this version, found all over the streets of Seoul, has to be in my top two. It’s sticky, spicy, crunchy and DE-LICIOUS. It’ll often be served with little pieces of ddeokbokki, the spicy rice cakes mentioned just above. This is an absolute must-eat if you’re in Seoul and is number one on this list for sure!
Asians desserts are quite different from the cakes and pastries we find in the West but one crazy popular sweet treat in Korea is “bingsu” or “shaved ice”. This might sound a bit weird but it is literally just flavoured shaved ice and it tastes guurd. My personal favourite had to be honeydew melon, condensed milk and cornflakes. It’s very hard to explain how that could possibly be a good combination to someone who hasn’t tried it so you’ll just have to trust me on this one!
You’ll find lots of different flavour combinations of bingsu ranging from a super chocolatey Oreo mound to a refreshing melon dessert. Word of warning: these desserts are enormous and despite the fact that they must be about 50% water, they are very, very filling. I’d always recommend sharing!
Honeycomb Ice Cream
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find a commonly known Korean name for this as it seems to just be known as Korean soft serve or honeycomb ice cream. This is something you can find either from a street vendor or from dessert cafes and is an astoundingly sweet dessert. As you can see from the picture, it is literally a large piece of honeycomb sat on top of soft serve. I loved it, but I have a sweet tooth, and you might find that your teeth ache from the sheer amount of sugar and sweetness!
If you get this from a street vendor, it’ll probably come served in fish-shaped dough, the effect of which is slightly lessened by the fact it is stuffed into a plastic cup, but hey ho. In the shops, it tends to just be ice cream and honeycomb.
There are a couple of other tasty (and wacky!) things you can try during your time in Seoul, especially in the district of Harajuku. I couldn’t find the 32″ willy ice cream that most tourists seem to rave about and it made me SO SAD. All the directions on blogs and google led me to different places and none of them led me to ice cream.
All in all, if it hasn’t been made clear by now, Korea has way more to offer than kimchi and you’ll find lots of these delicacies on the streets of Korea. Be sure to add these to your list of things to eat in Seoul, particularly the korean fried chicken – you definitely won’t want to miss that.