Welcome to the 5th and last post in my South Korea foodie travel series! For a quick recap in case you missed some, the first was my South Korea Foodie Itinerary that I created prior to heading on my trip, then upon return I shared a quick teaser summary with highlights from both my Vietnam and South Korea trip. Then I dove a bit deeper with a post that allowed you to follow me, Eating My Way Through South Korea and finally shared a video of SavoryGirl Exploring the Noryangin Fish Market and eating live baby octopus. This last one highlights a food tour that I took while in Seoul and is honestly one of my favorites in the series…read on and I think you’ll see why!
To be perfectly honest, I’ve never done a food tour before since I fancy myself pretty expert in this space myself (check out all of my foodie itineraries here), but since I was solo in a big city who’s culture around food is all around being social and sharing I thought this might be the perfect time to try one out. And, wow! I honestly might do one of these every time I go to a major new city in the future. What a great experience…not only for the behind the scenes spots and foods you get to experience, but for a glimpse into the true food culture and all of the great insight you get from a local, particularly if you’re chatty like me! You even learn how to pronounce things and what proper manners are related to food and alcohol which can be incredibly helpful as you continue your travels throughout the region on your own afterwards. If interested, I did the Korean Night Dining Tour with O’ngo Food Communications and would highly recommend it.
Onto the first stop of the food tour…Nakwon Market, which strangely enough I can’t find any information on anywhere online. This is not the Nakwon Music Arcade, but instead an underground food and cooking supplies market in the Insadong neighborhood. It has a great mix of food & house ware markets combined with an abundance of spots to eat, where it appeared lots of business men came after work to enjoy. Doesn’t that handmade tofu look just delicious?! And a foreign market just wouldn’t be complete without a shot of some kind of animal head!
Now onto Korean BBQ! This is why the food tour was perfect for me, no way could I order this all by myself! And while I’ve certainly had it in the States, it was important to me to try it out in Korea and I’m glad I did. It was certainly similar, but so delicious. And I learned all about how to properly layer and wrap everything and make sure it all fits in one neat bite (did you know that? I didn’t!). I also didn’t know that the different lettuces you get are for different purposes…so there’s lettuce for the outer wrapper, but then there are also Perilla leaves which are a bit thicker and more coarse and have a lovely mint/arugula flavor. So our guide taught us to layer that on top of the lettuce, then smear the doenjang (Korean bean paste) and then layer in the meat for a perfect bite. So yummy and educational!
While we were having Korean BBQ, our guide also taught us about a popular drink in South Korea…the soju bomb! But the interesting twist on this compared to our typical sake bomb is that there are three components. Which means there are two layered shot glasses in one glass. First shot glass has coca-cola in it, second soju and then you top it all off with a local beer and slam the whole thing. Really interesting…especially how it finishes off sweet. It pays to have a 20-something tour guide!
Oh, the Royal Tteokbokki! So I’ve already shown you the street food version of tteokbokki but the original tteokbokki dish dates back to the 14th century! It’s just kids these days who have made the bright red-orange street food version (which you can see in my Eating My Way Through South Korea post) so popular. But this traditional dish is seriously amazing. It has plum and chicken as the base of the broth and then it is chock full of everything you could imagine. Super-thick rice noodles, normal rice noodles, dumplings, chicken, shrimp, vegetables. Oh my…I really wish I could find this here (although to be fair I haven’t tried yet), it was so great!
Next on the food tour was my absolute favorite spot of the night. It’s technically a pop-up restaurant, blue tarp tent and all, except it has never “popped-down” since it originally popped-up. Because it’s that good. It’s in a back alley, surrounded by a shipping crate so as a tourist you would likely never find this nor would you think it was safe to eat here unless you were adventurous…but lucky for you SavoryGirl has some tips and pictures to help you find it! The alley is right off a main intersection(where Insadong-gil meets Samil-daero) in the neighborhood of Insadong near a giant mural and across a main street from a pretty large park. The picture below shows the 2 signs you are looking for (depending on which end of the alley you are entering…the top one is the alley entrance nearest to the intersection I mention above) to mark the entrance of the alley. The picture on the right in the sign on the outside of the grey metal shipping container that the pop-up restaurant is behind:
Ok, so now that you’ve found the place, you walk in and there is toilet paper hanging from the metal poles for napkins, local art on the tarp walls and tables and tables full of men in business suits and the occasional younger casual locals. It just felt like an institution, and a place that I was honestly honored to be introduced to. Their homemade tofu with kimchi was to. die. for. So that alone would have been enough…but then they brought out a super spicy chicken and potato soup and I swooned (and was the only non-Korean who could handle the spice and legitimately enjoy it!).
Then they introduced me to Makgeolli and I fell in love. Oh, Makgeolli…sparkling, fermented rice wine. Imagine unfiltered sake, but with a sparkle. I’m sure it would cause a mean hangover but I love it and was slightly obsessed with it for the rest of my trip. My next mission is to find it here (update – I have in most Korean markets and also at a new “urban makgeolli & wine bar” called Zoomaak on Fillmore at Geary). Seriously, eating at this place was one of the highlights of my trip.
Last stop of the food tour…one of the foods from my foodie itinerary that was a must try for me, Haemul Pajeon! A deliciously crisp seafood and green onion pancake served with kimchi and onions. It’s one of Korea’s all-time favorite snacks for sharing, and by the rowdy, fun bunch at this place I could see why! Super crispy, savory and served with great kimchi and pickled onions…a bit of rice wine to help it all go down and you have a perfect late night snack!
So as my food adventures in South Korea come to a close, what did I miss?! What other local delicacy, fun food, drink, restaurant, market or food experience would you add for others visiting South Korea or the next time I go back? If you are heading to South Korea soon, I hope the recap of my trip has been helpful…happy eating and exploring!