I can barely remember what I ate during my week here in Seoul when I was still a teenager, but the one thing I ate that I will never forget is bibimbap (mixed rice). Back then, I came here without an idea of what Korea is like, and all I knew was how to count 1 to 8 in Korean and perhaps a few other basic phrases. The bibimbap was served in a stainless steel bowl and I remember eating it without mixing it up beforehand. Thinking back, I feel abashed by my ignorance. Now, all I can recall is how the beansprouts tasted like, which was nothing like the beansprouts we are used to back in Singapore. The seeds are significantly larger and crunchier, and the stems, thicker and juicier. As for the gochujang (chilli paste)? I don’t remember what I did to it.
That trip many years ago got me interested in Korea and the food. Over the years, I’d craved for Korean food but it wasn’t commonly found in Singapore until recent years. Still, I hardly had any Korean food unless it was a special occasion—it’s just too pricey in Singapore. My mother, who’s undeniably a great cook, knew my love for Korean food and started learning how to make kimchi and bibimbap for me. That was about as much Korean food I had. Fastforward to the present, I’m now in Korea and still in the process of learning more about Korean food. The first few months was a period of exploration; there were so many dishes I’ve never tried before and so many names I had seen for the first time. Then the next few months bored me because it felt like all there is to Korean food is barbecue, deep fried chicken, soy sauce, gochujang and doenjang (bean paste, or distant cousin of miso). I’ve since recovered my love for Korean food and wish I have more time to travel out of Seoul and try out the specialties in different provinces, but before that happens, I’ll continue to explore good food in Seoul.
Where and What to eat in Seoul
Mister Bossam (Edae)
서울시 서대문구 대현동 34-31 (아가타건물B1)
34-31 Daehyeondong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul
Opening Hours: 12:00 ~ 22:00
Apart from bossam (thin-sliced pork belly), the bibimmakguksu (spicy mixed noodles) on the menu didn’t fail to impress. They do takeaways and delivery too.
Dosirak Cafe (Tongin Market)
서울시 종로구 자하문로 15길 18
18, 15 gil, Jahamun-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Closed every 3rd Sunday.
Tongin Market was first established for the Japanese residents during the Japanese occupation, but it has since been converted for Korean street vendors. It is now famous for its Dorirak (lunchbox) Cafe, where you pay 5,000 won in exchange for a string of tokens that you then use to purchase food at participating stores.
서울특별시 서대문구 명물길 27-23
27-23 Myeongmul-gil, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul
Good western food is hard to come by in Seoul, and Chicago Pizza is one of them. Besides pizza, they also serve great sides as well as pasta.
서울특별시 서대문구 연세로2길 3
3 Yonsei-ro 2-gil, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul
While there are many cheap BBQ places in the area, this place serves premium beef in a clean environment. Definitely worth a try if you’re a beef-lover.
Updated: February 2016.