Ahead of opening her new Korean restaurant in London, Seoul Bird, Judy Joo gives us her food guide to Seoul - sharing the best places to go & dishes to try.
Korean food has well and truly mainstreamed now. And it’s not just seen with the prevalence of kimchi all around London. Korean BBQ stalls are popping up in City markets, restaurants dedicated to Korean buns have lines out the door while Judy Joo’s new Seoul Bird is about to open out in West London.
That’s why we at City Matters think that it’s well about time we had a food guide to Seoul in our newspaper. We haven’t been to this mega city ourselves so reached out to Judy Joo to tell us where to go and what to eat when we’re there.
Below, she has written her very favourite spots to find all of the country’s most famous delicacies. So, when visiting Seoul, follow this guide religiously to find all the best bits on offer.
Shinsaegae Department Store Food Hall
All of the high-end department stores in Seoul boast elaborate food halls in the basements, where traditional fare and modern trendy dishes are on display alongside high end groceries. Grab lunch at the counter of one of the many kiosks and enjoy anything from a traditional silken tofu stew, to chicken curry katsu sandos, to gourmet rice rolls. And, don’t forget to save room for dessert and try a shaved ice with red bean, or classic French desserts infused with Korean flavours. There is something for any hankering you may have.
One of the largest food markets in Seoul, Gwangjang is loud, bustling, and serves up some of the best street food in town. The mung bean pancakes, bindaeduk, studded with savoury pork and tart kimchi are a must have, and you can even watch a large stone mill at work grinding down the fresh beans into a pulp.
Hot Korean flat doughnuts, hotteok, are also a necessity and fried to order—just be careful when biting in as they are stuffed full of oozing brown sugar and roasted nuts. Wander down one of the many alleys and find many speciality stalls offering just one dish such as Korean steak tartar, Yookhwe, or hand cut noodles, Kalguksu.
Noryangjin Fish Market
Pull on your wellies and head over to Noryangjin fish market to see where the best of Seoul’s restaurants purchase their seafood. Unlike most fish markets, here the offerings are all still alive in tanks and you’ll find highly unusual things from the sea that you have never seen before.
Sea snails, mollusks, clams, fish of all sizes, squid, and strange amoeba like creatures all can be bought squirming and then taken to one of the many restaurants located around the perimeter of the market. There you can request any preparation you desire. Most go for Korean sashimi, hoe, served up with both soy sauce and a spicy sweet dip. Or, my favourite is a satisfying spicy seafood stew, maeuntang, that warms you from the inside out.
You can’t miss Korean barbecue in Korea, and one of my favourite places is Maple Tree House. The meat is high quality and they also offer Korea’s version of Wagyu, Hanwoo, which is an ultra-luxury highly marbled beef, but worth every penny. Roll up your sleeves and get ready to grill on your table and eat like a king. The traditional Korean table is covered in small side dishes, banchan, that come out gratis, and at least a dozen of these small plates will flank your grill. It is a lot of meat, but tons of veggies too. And, be sure to eat your meat like a local, wrapping it in fresh lettuce leaves (ssam) with a slathering of sauce (ssamjang).
Fried Chicken & Beer
Known as “Chimaek”, which is the portmanteau of chicken and the Korean word for beer, Maekju, eating fried chicken with beer is practically a national past time.
There are more chimaek shops in Korea than there are McDonald’s worldwide– the entire country is addicted to this version of super crunchy chicken dosed in your choice of sauces paired with an ice-cold beer. I am partial to an old standby called Hanchoo that serves up lip smacking crispy chicken in a super casual setting. The secret is in the double frying technique that renders a super thin eggshell like crust that keeps you coming back for more.