Restaurants in Seoul
South Korea has a very distinct cuisine, which may take some getting used to for foreigners but provides an exciting and unique taste experience. The selection of Seoul restaurants is vast and varied, with everything from local specialities such as Saeng Galbi (pork or beef ribs cooked on a barbeque) to huge American cheeseburgers and exotic Moroccan kebabs on offer.
Options for eating out in Seoul range from cheap noodle stalls to fine-dining establishments. Travellers keen to mingle with the locals should note that Koreans like to share food and eating is a very communal activity. It's polite to accept offers to share food and friendly to offer to share in return.
The Itaewon entertainment strip has the best collection of Seoul restaurants, serving both local and international cuisine. Otherwise, good areas for traditional Korean food are Gangdong-gu and Yeongdeungpo-gu, while restaurants with international menus can be found in Gangnam-gu, Seodaemun-gu and Namdaemun.
Tipping is not customary in South Korea but some Seoul restaurants may add a service charge of 10 percent to the bill. Restaurant hours vary quite dramatically throughout the city and reservations are recommended for the more upmarket and popular venues, although it is generally possible to stroll into a decent restaurant off the street.
Don't miss the experience of dining at Sanchon or sipping tea in their attached teahouse. Run by a former Buddhist monk, this restaurant specialises in vegetarian dishes prepared with ingredients from the mountain valleys and flavoured with subtle herbs and roots. The menu features a perilla seed soup, radish mushroom and red pepper wraps, Goso-namul (seasoned goso, a wild vegetable favoured by monks), as well as a tofu stew and traditional Korean pastries. Traditional folk dancing every evening is made more colourful by Nong Ju rice beer or a glass of fruit wine. Reservations recommended.
Address: 14 Gwanghun Dong, Jongno-gu, Insadong
Telephone: 02 735 0312
Myeongdong Hamheung Myeonok
Myeongdong Hamheung Myeonok is one of the best Seoul restaurants to go to for a relaxed naengmyeon (cold noodle) meal. Their sweet potato noodles can be enjoyed in a delicious oxtail broth or perhaps with spicy hwae (raw fish). Open daily from 9.30am to 10pm, reservations not required.
Address: 26-1 Myeongdong 2-ga
Telephone: 02 776 8430
Tony Yoo is a Michelin-starred chef who aims to celebrate Korean food at his restaurant Doore Yoo. A fine dining experience set in a beautiful interior of wooden beams and stone walls, the surrounding neighbourhood with its many traditional Korean houses only add to the atmosphere. As one can expect from such a talented craftsman, the menu can vary. However, it is mostly centred on vegetable-heavy cuisine originating from the country's Buddhist temples, as well as modern reimaginings of traditional Korean cuisine using only authentic fermented sauces and pastes. There's also a foraging menu for those who ask a few days in advance. Open Monday to Sunday, 11h00 to 15h00 and 17h00 to 22h30.
Address: 5-24, Insadong 4-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Telephone: (0)2 2743 2468
Dugahun is found in the backyard of the Hyundai Gallery. Its name meaning 'very beautiful house', the premises have a wonderful old-fashioned style while its lovely outdoors area is ideal for alfresco dining. Menu favourites include the king crab, grapefruit and avocado salad, and the glazed beef tenderloin. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and Monday to Saturday for dinner, reservations recommended.
Address: 109 Sagan-dong
Telephone: (0)2 3210 2100
Chinese cuisine is popular in Seoul, as evidenced by the large number of Chinese restaurants. One of the tried and trusted restaurants is Wan Chai, with its vast menu covering all the traditional favourites. Named after Hong Kong's nightlife district, Wan Chai is popular with young Koreans and serves tasty Chinese food in a relaxed environment. Highly recommended are the spicy noodles and spicy Hong Kong shellfish.
Address: 5-35 Jangchun-dong, Seodaemun-gu
Telephone: (0)2 392 7744
Opened more than 40 years ago, Baekje Samgyetang sits in the crowded Myeong-dong shopping area. Diners are seated on comfortable floor cushions around the restaurant's polished wooden tables and served traditional Korean cuisine, soups, and stews. Its samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) is best accompanied by a glass of insamju (ginseng wine), while other options include ogolgye tang (silkie soup) and dakbokkeum tang (spicy chicken stew). Open daily from 9am to 10pm. Reservations are accepted but not required.
Address: 50-11 Myeongdong 2-ga
Telephone: (0)2 776 3267
The Flying Pan Blue
The Flying Pan Blue is located in a quiet Itaewon alleyway, serving as a popular café set in a lofty building charmingly furnished with mismatched chairs and furniture. The menu includes many western favourites, like chicken curry sandwiches, Saturday brunch pancakes, bagels with cream cheese, poached eggs, and the delicious chocolate mud (brownies with wine sauce). Open from breakfast till 9.30pm Monday to Saturday, reservations recommended.
Address: 123-7 Itaewon-Dong
Telephone: (0)2 793 5285