What an adventure I have coming up! After a week-long, whirlwind trip with my girlfriend to Vietnam, I decided to turn our 20 hour layover in Seoul, South Korea on the way back into a 5 day layover for myself since I had extra time I could take off. So I’m headed to South Korea…and I’m doing it all alone! Since I only have a week I’m focusing on Seoul and Gyeongju only for this trip, but even if I just stayed in Seoul the whole time there’s a lot of great food experiences to fit in!
Many people say that Seoul is 6 cities crammed into one…and if I’m just judging by the variety of food alone that I’m going to be challenged to fit into my tummy shown below I can already see how overwhelming this city may prove to be. But have no fear, SavoryGirl is up for the challenge! That being said, I’m going to be a bit more flexible with this itinerary than with others that I have done and instead of focusing on restaurants, I’m going to simply focus on the types of food I really want to make sure I don’t miss. There are a few restaurants I’m going to try to make as well, but on this trip that’s lower priority than simply sampling as much authentic South Korean cuisine as I possibly can!
- Haejangguk (Hangover Stew) – I love the morning soup tradition in Asian cultures…and the fact that this one is geared towards curing hangovers makes it even better! This stew made up of beef broth, cabbage, bean sprouts, radish and chunks of congealed ox blood is said to really kickstart your day. Hangover or not (ha ha ha, who am I kidding?), I’m trying it!
- Gamjatang – Technically this can be enjoyed for dinner as well, but it sounds like it’s a popular alternative to Hangover Stews in the morning, but this one has potatoes, ground perilla seeds (which are apparently key to the unique flavor), pork and hot peppers. Sounds amazing no matter what time of day you’re eating it!
- Egg Toast – simple but delicious street food that is a buttery pancake like toast with an egg baked right into the top of it. Should be great for mornings on the run and if I’m missing a little taste of home by the end of my 2 weeks away!
- Doenjang Jjigae – this is a must for me and it’s basically one of Korea’s national dishes! Simple, rustic simmering tofu stew. Yum.
- Bibimbap – the traditional Korean lunch bowl made up of rice, vegetables, egg, beef and seasoning…easy and delicious. Since this is so easily found in the states I may be tempted to skip it if I’m running out of room for food!
- Haemul Pajeon – a crunchy Seafood Korean pancake…holy yum this is right up my alley and I can’t wait to try it! Kind of reminds me of the Japanese Okonomiyaki, which I adore, so I’m excited to try the Korean cousin!
- Gopchang – small intestines from pork or cattle chopped into small rounds and served in a variety of different manners. Apparently great with Soju.
- Gomguk – since it might be kind of chilly while I’m there and a bit rainy, this Ox Bone Soup sounds like the perfect lunch to warm me up if I need it. I’m kind of hoping for cold and rainy now!
- Nakji Bokkeum – spicy stir-fried octupus and vegetables? Yes. Right now please, yes.
- Kimchi, of course! This isn’t really a “snack” but I imagine will be served alongside lots of the foods I’m eating throughout my stay. I’m really looking forward to trying some of the more unique kimchis, like ggakdugi (chopped radish kimchi) or the less spicy Yeolmumul kimchi that I believe is served almost in soup form.
- Tteokbokki – this is a traditional rice cake Korean street food that dates back to the 1400s according to some sources! It’s a bright red-orange and spicy-sweet, sounds delicious, looks fun and it’s my historical duty to try some. I’m also keeping an eye out for steamed fish cakes on a stick with street food.
- Gimbap – similar to bibimbap, but rolled into sushi-like bitesize pieces. While this technically could be just a snack, I might try to make it to an actual recommended restaurant, Kkoturi Gimbap (#101 Koggiri Sangga, 615-1 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul), for this if I’m in the neighborhood because I’ve read their gimbap is almost too beautiful to eat and some of the best.
- Sundae – apparently the Korean version of blood sausage and a popular street food. I loved the sausages in Thailand so I’m really looking forward to trying this!
- Ppeongtwigi – SavoryGirl’s love of salty, crunchy foods makes this a must! I think it will also be nice as a relatively bland snack when my tastebuds are starting to get a bit flavored out as they sometimes do when I’m trying to cram this much food in!
- Korean BBQ (Galbi & Bulgogi, Samgyeopsal, etc…) – these are, of course, some of the most popular exports from Korea and while I’m excited to try the authentic versions while in South Korea I’ll likely have to prioritize given all of the other yummy foods already in this post! Particularly since these may be a bit hard for me to pull off traveling solo unless I make some friends. A friend of mine loves Maple Tree House. She suggests getting their cold noodle soup as well at either of their two locations.
- Noryangjin Fish Market – I can’t wait for this experience! You walk through a huge fish market, pick out your fresh, live seafood of choice and then bring it upstairs to a restaurant to cook it up fresh for you or even enjoy it as Hwe I suppose! This is right up my alley! Make sure to get Sannakji – live baby octupus, I’ve heard it’s simply amazing. Other suggestions are flounder sashimi, stingray soup, skinned eel, pickled jellyfish, scallops, abalone and king
- Jjajangmyeon – this is traditionally a Chinese dish that Koreans have adopted and adapted to be their own. Thick noodles (you know how I feel about noodles!) topped with a sauce made of black soybean paste, pork, vegetables and sometimes seafood. I read that many Koreans eat this dish at least once a week! Another traditional Korean Chinese food that I’ve heard I should try is Kkanpunggi, sweet and spicy meats along with a side of noodle dish, like Junghwa naengmyeon. It seems every country I travel to has their own version of Chinese food and I’m looking forward to trying it here!
- Hobakjuk – I’ve read that this pumpkin porridge is often served as an appetizer, so I hope I find some to fit into another meal that I’m already eating because it sounds pretty unique compared to all of the other Korean food so I’d like to try it.
- Gyeran Jjim – this one is a side dish made up mostly of egg and water, but apparently it is essential when eating spicy food!
- Hotteok – this is one of my Korean friend’s favorite street foods when she goes back home. It’s a little fried and filled Korean pancake.
- I know from one of my favorite Korean spots here in San Francisco that shaved ice desserts, Patbingsu, are very popular. They have all different toppings. This actually doesn’t sound all that interesting to me at all, but if I see them around I might have to try one simply because I’m not interested!
Activities and Excursions:
So what am I actually doing while in South Korea? According to the information above, do you really think I’ll have time to do anything other than eat 24/7?! Yikes! But of course I will need some activities to keep me busy while I”m digesting and to work up my next appetite so here are a few things currently on my list, although I’m likely going to play a lot of it by ear:
- Dongdaemun Market – a large commercial district with traditional markets and shopping centers. From some photos I’ve seen looks like there’s some pretty great food stalls and markets as well!
- The Neighborhood of Buamdong – this is said to be one of Seoul’s best kept secrets and pretty diffrent from the hustle and bustle of other Seoul neighborhoods. Sounds like there’s a nice hike up to an old fortress as well!
- Insadong Tea Rooms & Neighborhood – this is supposed to be one of the more traditional neighborhoods where you can get authentic “only found in Korea” goods and a cup of tea at a traditional tea house.
- DMZ Tour – I may not have time for this, but if I can fit it in I really want to get out to the Demilatarized Zone between North Korea and South Korea. Many say this is one of the most dangerous tour attractions in the world, so it’s not for everyone but it sounds pretty exciting to me and like a once in a lifetime opportunity!
- 2-Day Excursion to Gyeongju – this is an ancient capital from the Shilla Dynasty and from what I’ve heard a must on anyone’s list who is visiting South Korea. It has the nickname of “museum with no walls” and it’s a pretty easy train ride from Seoul.
- Visit a Jjimjilbang (Korean Bath House) – I’ve been to US versions of these but I have to have the authentic experience while in Korea! So I’m heading to Siloam Spa right near the Seoul Station for easy access to the airport before I fly out at 4:30 on Friday. Not only is it convenient, but it’s supposed to be one of the best Jjimjilbangs in Seoul. I can’t think of a better way to prepare for a 10 hour flight!
- Jeju Islands – unfortunately I won’t have time for this and since the weather isn’t super warm in April I’ve decided to prioritize Gyeongju over Jeju for my trip, but I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about Jeju islands from everyone I’ve talked to and the photos look simply amazing.
- Korean Folk Village in Suwon – I’ve also heard great things about this day trip from Seoul, but I won’t have time this trip.
- Airport Dropoff – ok, this one isn’t an activity as much as it is a suggestion from my friend that sounded helpful enough I wanted to share. On your last day when flying out, you can check into your flight, get your boarding pass, check in your bags and clear customs all from the middle of Seoul (at the Sam Sung Station) hours before your flight takes off…so like 9am for an evening flight. Then you can enjoy your last day stress free, without having to go back to the hotel to get your bags and head over to the airport much later. Sounds dreamy, but I haven’t been able to find much information on this online so I’ll report back if I figure it out and it works!
So there you have it…3 days in Seoul and a 2 day excursion to Gyeongju. With about 10 days worth of food to eat! That being said, I’m always looking for more suggestions so if you’ve been please share any good finds or misses from my list…particularly if you have specific restaurant recommendations since I’m not as focused on that myself this time around. I’ll report back with photos when I return!