Score ALL of the classic Korean foods
While there are some designated Korean food streets scattered throughout Seoul, it makes more sense to learn what to eat, rather than where. Korean food is, after all, EVERYWHERE here, and, as long as you avoid the tourist centers (and even there!) it’s pretty hard to go wrong if you stick to the classics. The top must-eat dish, of course, is Korean barbecue, a sit-down restaurant experience where you choose your preferred cuts of beef or pork and cook them yourself over a grill at the center of your table. Samgyeopsal, or pork belly, is the most popular and budget-friendly option, but steak is a terrific choice too, especially if you shell out for Korea’s own premium Hanwoo breed. If you can find it, the black pork breed from Korea’s tropical Jeju Island is among the most premium and delicious types of belly meat, and if you happen upon Jeju’s luxuriously marbled ogyeopsal pork belly, it’s well worth the extra won: the “sam” in samgyeopsal means “three,” as in the number of layers of fat; the “o” in ogyeopsal means “five” -- so imagine the deliciousness once that’s all rendered. Whatever you choose, enjoy the bowls and bowls of banchan, little side dishes of prepared in classic Korean marinades.
Street food seems to get harder to find in Korea in recent years, but the crowded Myeongdong neighborhood, packed with giant department stores popular with overseas visitors, still comes alive with food vendors in the evenings. They hawk grilled meat skewers; ice cream swirled into fish-shaped pastries; torched lobster tails; and gyeran bbang, a whole egg baked into a slightly sweet mound of bread -- a terrific winter snack. Gwangjang Market is packed with food stalls dishing out kimchi pancakes, seafood pancakes, noodle soups, and dumplings right in the midst of the outdoor mall’s main alley. Meantime, fresh seafood lovers can pick their favorite live fish and shellfish and have it prepared on-the-spot at the upstairs eateries at Noryangjin Fish Market. If you couldn’t tell from previous mentions, Korean fried chicken is always a must-try, too, available at any number of shops in pretty much every neighborhood. It’s perfect for eating as the locals eat most everything -- communally and with a beer.
If you’re a fan of soup, Korea makes some of the tastiest, good enough for eating year-round: Seek out the chicken-in-every-pot specialty samgyetang; the spicy, beefy sogogi gukbap, meant to be eaten over rice; galbitang, starring loads of beef rib meat and glass noodles in a potent clear broth; and gamjatang, a huge, shareable stewpot of red-pepper broth decked with potatoes and tender pork spine meat. Then there’s naengmyeon, an icy-brothed buckwheat-noodle soup similar to Japanese soba that you may think sounds perfect for summer slurping. Have at it, but it’s actually enjoyed locally in the winter. It’s believed that making your insides as cold as the outside chill will keep you warm. Give it a shot!
Culinarily adventurous? Then you’ll want to sample sundae, Korea’s sweet-yet-savory blood sausage; yuk hue, freshly ground, raw beef topped with a raw egg; or gopchang, grilled pork or beef intestines served alone or in a soup.