S. Korea: We ate so much in Seoul…

This happened a lot while we were waiting for our food: everyone would take out their phones and search for free wifi

This happened a lot while we were waiting for our food to arrive: everyone would take out their phones and start searching for free wifi


Wow, I didn’t realize until I started uploading, but there are exactly 100 photos in this post. Eep. To make things easier for you (and for me), feel free to use the page jumps to skip to the type of food you most want to drool over!

[   Street food & Meat!   |   Cafés   |   Korean Dishes   |   Fish & Seafood Market (+ video!)   |    Twelve-Course Temple Cuisine   ]

For those of you who don’t know them, HZ and JH could be considered the foodies in our Curtin family group. During those days when we were all in Australia, they were the ones always poking and prodding produce and veggies to find the best ones to put in our cart, while AN and I wandered over to the snack aisles. So it goes without saying, when I took on the mammoth task of planning this trip, I knew I had to include lots of food places in our itinerary to appease the two of them…

See? Such a happy face

See? Such a happy face

 

Street food & Meat!

When I was researching street snacks to look out for, this article and this article (all 4 pages of it) were very, very helpful. We actually ate more than I took pictures of, mostly because the food stalls were located in busy areas and it was hard to stop for pictures and eat at the same time… (nom nom nom)

Most of the stalls looked like this; at night they would set up a tent around the stall to keep out the cold

Most of the stalls looked like this; at night they would set up a tent around the stall to keep out the cold

Sweet hotteok, stuffed with brown sugar, honey, nuts, and cinnamon

Sweet hotteok, stuffed with brown sugar, honey, nuts, and cinnamon

Grilled chicken and veggies in different sauces

Grilled chicken and veggies in different sauces from Insadong

There are stalls everywhere, particularly in Myeongdong

There are stalls everywhere, particularly in Myeongdong

We bought this from a stall that a tiny store had set up to sell their fresh juice

We bought this from a stall that a tiny store had set up to sell their fresh juice (while promoting their rice cakes, haha)

We didn't end up trying these dalgona, but it was fascinating  watching her make them...

We didn’t end up trying these dalgona, but it was fascinating watching her make them…

My all-time favourite street snack: egg bread! So cheap and so yummy -- I could eat them everyday...

My all-time favourite street snack: egg bread! So cheap and so yummy — I could eat them everyday…

Maybe it was the cold weather, maybe because it’s such a Korean thing to do, or maybe because I was with three guys… but we ate yakiniku/Korean BBQ a lot.

Look at that lovely meat...

Look at that lovely meat…

If this place in Gangnam hadn't been recommended by TomEatsJenCooks, we never would've found it

If this local spot in Gangnam hadn’t been recommended by TomEatsJenCooks, we never would’ve found it

BBQ time!

BBQ (and soju) time!

Yay!

Yay!

This was our first meal after coming back to Seoul from YongPyong. It's a mix of smoked duck and pork

This was our first meal after coming back to Seoul from YongPyong. It’s a mix of smoked duck and pork

We also ordered a fried seafood pancake (haemul pajeon)

We also ordered a fried seafood pancake (haemul pajeon)!

We went to the popular Palsaek Samgyeopsal (팔색 삼겹살) restaurant, which is famous for offering a set of pork belly in 8 different flavours

We went to the popular Palsaek Samgyeopsal (팔색 삼겹살) restaurant, which is famous for offering a set of pork belly marinated in 8 different sauces

The servers cooked our meat for us, which was different, but probably more efficient for them because we went during the dinner rush

The servers cooked our meat for us, which was different, but it was probably more efficient for them during the dinner rush

With the set of meat came seafood soup, salad, and raw veggies to wrap up the BBQ

With the set of meat came seafood soup, salad, and raw veggies to wrap up the BBQ

The soup was quite spicy though... so we mostly gave up on finishing it

The soup was quite spicy though… so we mostly gave up on finishing it

While this doesn't really fall under the BBQ category, we had a very good meal here too!

While this doesn’t really fall under the BBQ category, we had a very good meal here too!

We chose this place spontaneously in the Hongik area, so the guys made all the decisions in this place

We chose this place spontaneously in the Hongik area, so the guys made all the decisions in this place

I was just there to help eat this HUGE pile of meat covered in garlic (yum)

I was just there to help eat this HUGE pile of meat covered in garlic (yum)

The salad was also good too

The salad was good too

JH is a bit of a "rice pail", a Cantonese slang for people who have to eat rice before their meal is considered complete

JH is a bit of a “rice bucket”, a Cantonese slang for people who have to eat rice or else their meal isn’t considered complete

Mixed rice, courtesy of JH

Mixed rice, courtesy of JH

Sometimes, I think their stomachs are bottomless...

Sometimes, I think their stomachs are bottomless…


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Cafés

Like Taipei, there’s a strong café culture in Seoul, with countless numbers of shops ranging from cute to artisanal. Early on, we discovered that RP loves cafe mocha, but we also ordered other drinks as well. And cakes. If we went into a café, we would try their cakes too!

Fig cake with Greek yogurt, and the signature red velvet cake from Glamorous Penguin

Fig cake with Greek yogurt, and the signature red velvet cake from Glamorous Penguin in Itaewon

Sweet Potato Latte, from the Coco Bruni in Gangnam district

Sweet Potato Latte, from the Coco Bruni in Gangnam

Our very intimate (read: tiny) table at Coco Bruni

Our very intimate (read: tiny) table on the second floor

We really were in a lot of cafes -- even in the last few hours of New Year's Eve, we were sitting in Caffé Bene just chillin' (Well, I was. Everyone else was playing games on their phones...)

We really were in a lot of cafes — even in the last few hours of New Year’s Eve, we were sitting in Caffé Bene in Myeongdong just chillin’ (Well, I was. Everyone else was playing games on their phones…)

Our cheesecake and chocolate cake

Our cheesecake and chocolate cake

By far our favourite cafe in the entire trip: Books Cooks, near Bukchon Village

By far this was our favourite cafe in the entire trip: Books Cooks, near Bukchon Village. It’s a hanok that’s been converted to a cafe, with the inner courtyard covered over to house the open kitchen

It looks very unassuming from the outside, but when you go inside, the sunken floor where the main baker works in the open kitchen is very charming

It looks unassuming from the outside, but once inside, the sunken floor and the opportunity to watch the baker at work create a very charming atmosphere

They sell all kinds of tea, and they also boast a collection of very pretty (and expensive) tea sets

They sell all kinds of tea (both the leaf kind and the fermented kind), and they also boast a collection of very pretty and expensive English tea sets

This is definitely a cafe to linger in...

This is definitely a cafe you’d want to linger in…

Cafe mocha, and misutgaru (a traditional Korean tea made from grain powder)

Our cafe mocha, and misutgaru (a traditional, healthy Korean tea made from grain powder)

Our pie and brownie

Our pie and brownie

My favourite corner in the cafe. Doesn't it look so beautiful with the low lighting?

My favourite corner in the cafe. Doesn’t it look so beautiful with the exposed light bulbs?


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Korean Dishes

One of the things I’ve grown to enjoy is eating local/traditional dishes whenever I visit a new country. South Korea was no exception. From simple restaurants that specialize in one or two signature dishes to restaurants that offered a full-blown meal, we tried a lot of food that I hadn’t tasted before (with varied results).

Starting with a simple dish, this is the bibimbap breakfast Youmi (from Sopoong Guesthouse) made for us during our stay!

Starting with a simple dish, this is the soy sauce-based bibimbap breakfast Youmi (from Sopoong Guesthouse) made for us during our stay!

We went to Hadongkwan (하동관) for their specialty gomtang, or beef soup

We went to Hadongkwan (하동관) for their specialty gomtang, or beef soup

You could add as many green onions and condiments as you wanted

You could add as many green onions and condiments as you wanted

It was very warming on a cold day, but it felt like we didn't get very much food for the price we paid

It was a warming meal on a cold day, but it felt like we didn’t get very much food for the price we paid…

Our dinner at Myeongdong Gyoja. They specialize in Korean dumplings!

Our dinner at Myeongdong Gyoja. They specialize in Korean dumplings!

Steamed Korean mandu

Steamed Korean mandu

We all agreed, this place was really good, and it was packed full of people even late at night

We all agreed, this place was really good, and it was packed full of locals even late at night

Samgyetang from Tosokchon (토속촌), near Gyeongbok Palace

Samgyetang from Tosokchon (토속촌), near Gyeongbok Palace

Samgyetang is a soup made from boiling a whole young chicken stuffed with Korean ginseng, sweet rice, and other herbs

Samgyetang is a soup made from boiling a whole young chicken stuffed with Korean ginseng, sweet rice, and other herbs

Digging for the ginseng

Digging for the ginseng pieces

The soup is supposed to very healthy, but maybe that got cancelled out by ginseng-flavoured alcohol the restaurant gave us...

The soup is supposed to be very healthy, but maybe that got cancelled out by ginseng alcohol the restaurant gave us… (Kanpai!)

A full Korean meal from one of the restaurants within the Ssamziegil mall

A full meal from one of the restaurants within the Ssamziegil mall

This small restaurant near Sopoong Guesthouse was recommended to us. It's really quiet now, but it filled up to full capacity during the lunch rush!

This small restaurant near Sopoong Guesthouse was recommended to us. It was really quiet in the morning, but it filled up to full capacity during the lunch rush!

Waiting for our food

Waiting for our food (I liked the wallpaper)

Korean-style vegetable tempura (the batter is different from Japanese tempura)

Korean-style vegetable tempura (the batter is different from Japanese tempura)

A spicy but delicious pork dish. It had tteokbokki ("rice cake") pieces too!

A spicy but delicious pork dish. It had tteokbokki (rice cake) pieces too!

The pork was really soft and the meat fell off the bone easily (yum)

The pork was really soft and the meat fell off the bone easily (yum)

Andong simmered and seasoned chicken, from Bongchu Jjimdak (봉추찜닭 명동점)

Andong-style simmered and seasoned chicken, from Bongchu Jjimdak (봉추찜닭 명동점)

The portion was HUGE, even for the four of us, and it was extra spicy (but we tried our best anyway)

The portion was HUGE, even for the four of us, and it was extra spicy (but we tried our best anyway)

There were glass noodles as well as veggies with the chicken

There were glass noodles hidden under the veggies and chicken

Probably one of the most impressive meals (in terms of sheer volume) we ate was from a humble old-school Korean restaurant called Sigol Bapsang, in Itaewon district. There seems to be very little English information about it, but the restaurant specializes in banchan, the small appetizer dishes that accompany every Korean meal. Here though, they serve it in bulk — for the four of us, we got 30 dishes of banchan (thirty!), soup, rice, plus an order of bulgogi. Not surprisingly, we couldn’t finish everything (we made a valiant effort though!)

The small restaurant is decorated in an early 20th century style, and the servers are mainly older women

The small restaurant is decorated in an early 20th century style, and the servers are mainly older women

Souvenirs from the past

Souvenirs from the past

Watching in amazement as dish after dish was set down

Watching as dish after dish was set down before us

The full table

The full table

If you ever come to Seoul with a group of big eaters, this is a very good challenge to try!

If you ever come to Seoul with a group of big eaters, this is a very good challenge to try!

This was probably one of our cheapest meals too. They also seem to be open 24 hours.

Look for the orange sign (they’re around the corner from a bank on the main road)! They also seem to be open 24 hours.


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Noryangjin Fish & Seafood Market

Recently, there have been some blogs that said that Noryangjin Market was getting a little too touristy, and that it was nothing compared to the wet markets in Hong Kong or Japan (well…I can’t really argue with that). But since we were here, we figured it was worth a visit. This is the part of our trip where the “auntie/old lady” aspect of HZ and JH’s personalities showed up the most…

The Korean ahjummas staring curiously at our "aunties" discussing fish

The Korean ahjummas staring curiously at our two “aunties” discussing fish

The day started out with a manly walk through the train station nearest to the market…

Like a drama opening sequence...

Like a drama’s opening sequence…

But then they saw the sheer number of stalls in the market, and got a little over-excited

But then they saw the sheer number of stalls in the market and got a little too excited

The outer stalls seemed to focus more on selling shellfish and crustaceans

The outer stalls seemed to focus more on selling shellfish and crustaceans (these shrimps were quite large!)

At one point, they wanted to buy a crab too, but they gave up after a while (thank god)

At one point, they wanted to buy a crab too, but they gave up after some discussion (thank god)

The inner stalls seemed to focus more on selling fish, though some sellers sold both

The inner stalls seemed to focus more on selling fish

Fish as far the eye can see...

Seafood as far the eye can see…

Buying a fish from a cute grandma

Buying fish from a cute granny

Fresh salmon sashimi

Fresh salmon sashimi

These demonic looking things are stingrays (I think)

These demonic-looking things are stingrays (I think)

Oysters that RP said were very cheap (compared to Australian prices)

Oysters that RP said were very cheap (compared to Australian prices)

Something you just have to try in Korea -- baby octopus sashimi

Something you just have to try in Korea — baby octopus sashimi

After we had bought our fill of seafood, we brought them to one of the restaurants surrounding the market on the second floor. They would cook it for us and we could eat our purchases for lunch right away.

Deciding how to cook each of our purchases with a lady from the restaurant

Deciding how to cook each of our purchases with a lady from the restaurant

Steamed fish

Steamed fish

Grilled fish

Grilled fish

I forget what this was, but it had a funny (bad) taste, and made our tongues go slightly numb

I forget what this was, but it had a funny (bad) taste, and made our tongues go slightly numb

One of our better choices: giant prawns, grilled

One of our better choices: giant prawns, grilled (look at how big they are!)

Oh, remember those cute baby octopi swimming in their orange tub? This is what eating octopus sashimi is like…

The tentacles stuck to our tongues a bit, but the sauce helped them go down easier (RP was a little squeamish about it all after a couple of bites). At the beginning of this section, I mentioned that this market was becoming a little too touristy — this was most obvious when we had to pay our bill (it was quite high, considering the simplicity of the cooking). While I would still recommend this market to visitors, I consider Noryangjin as one of those “once is enough” sort of places.

If anything, you should at least try the octopus.


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Twelve-Course Temple Cuisine @ Baru Gongyang

Originally, I wasn’t sure I could get the guys interested in trying a fancy multi-course meal consisting of temple (a.k.a vegan) food. I mean, a light lunch maybe, but twelve courses?! It was a hard sell. But then I showed HZ this wonderful blog post, which convinced him immediately (it was really thorough and well-written). The likelihood of us eating heavy, meat-centric BBQ meals several days in a row also brought JH and RP on board.

The system at Baru Gongyang is a tad fussy — you’re encouraged to phone and reserve a table a couple of days before you plan to visit (but they only speak Korean), and they serve meals only during specific times in the day. If you can fit a meal here into your schedule though, it is well worth it!

A cup of tea to begin with

A cup of tea to begin with

JH wearing new clothes, and unintentionally matching the decor

JH wearing new clothes, and unintentionally complementing the decor

Wifi-searching, again

Wifi-searching, again

Our twelve-course menu. Even though the staff didn't really speak English, the menu had English translations

Our twelve-course menu. Even though the staff didn’t really speak English, the menu had English translations

First course: brown rice porridge, with mugwort and crushed ginko

First course: brown rice porridge, with mugwort and crushed ginkgo

Wild "deodeok" root with seasonal vegetables, and a pine nut dressing

Wild “deodeok” root with seasonal vegetables, and a pine nut dressing

My portion of the salad

My portion of the salad

Three differently-coloured pancakes with seasonal vegetables

Three differently coloured pancakes with seasonal vegetables

Dumplings, tofu with salted pickles, and rice wrapped in wild herb

Dumplings, tofu with salted pickles, and rice wrapped in wild herb

4-year-old ginseng with citron sauce

4-year-old ginseng with citron sauce

Mixed fried tofu with mushroom salad

Mixed fried tofu with mushroom salad

Mushrooms and veggies in a chili paste sauce

Mushrooms and veggies in a chili paste sauce

My portion (it does sort of look like meat, doesn't it?)

My portion (it does sort of look like meat, doesn’t it?)

Steamed sticky rice with chestnuts, gingko, and jujube, wrapped in lotus leaves

Steamed sticky rice with chestnuts, ginkgo, and jujube, wrapped in lotus leaves

The daily soup, made of seasonal vegetables (I think in this case pumpkin), and the temple's homemade bean paste

The daily soup, made of seasonal vegetables (I think in this case pumpkin), and the temple’s homemade bean paste

Various banchan

Various side dishes + rice

Assorted wild vegetable and fruit chips

Assorted wild vegetable and fruit chips

Sikhye, a sweet rice punch

Sikhye, a sweet rice punch

Red bean jellies with crushed nuts

Red bean jellies with crushed nuts

Surprisingly, even though the portions were small, the meal was very filling. The best part was, afterwards, both JH and HZ were glad they had gone along with me when I insisted on doing this (success!!). The meal was a slightly above our usual budget for lunch, but considering the variety and artistry of each dish, we all felt it was well worth the price — the entire time we meat-lovers also never felt like we were eating a completely vegan meal.

Whee, that was a very long post! If you read this all the way to the end, you are awesome! As you can imagine, preparing all the pictures took me a while, so there probably will be another break before I post about Jeju (I took 700-ish pictures there — even after the first cut, I still have 297 to go through and post process…).

 

Hope you enjoyed all the food pictures!

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