First-time visitors to the vibrant, exhilarating city of Seoul can find the fast-paced capital of South Korea daunting yet highly addictive. Keeping up with the locals definitely needs to be fuelled by good food. Cheap-and-cheerful to worth-every-cent-expensive, there really is no excuse not to eat well when visiting Seoul.
1. Chef Mingoo Kang
From: Restaurant Mingles
Favourite restaurant: Louis Cinq (33, Seolleung-ro 157-gil, Gangnam-gu). An intimate and cosy bistro pub with French flair serving hearty dishes such as poached eggs with jamon, and onion soup.
“The concept is casual but the food is really tasty and goes really well with their wine selection. I recommend the terrine.”
Lunch pick: Hadongkwan (12, Myeongdong 9-gil, Jung-gu). A 70-year-old restaurant in Myeong-dong, Jongno-gu that first opened in the 1930s, it serves two delicious items: gomtang (beef bone soup) and suyuk (boiled beef) with two side dishes of radish kimchi and kimchi.
“It’s the best beef soup place in Korea.”
Food shopping: Gyeong-dong Market (147, Wangsan-ro, Dongdaemun-gu)
“At Gyeong-dong Market are the best seasonal local products you can find.”
2. Chef Bongsu Kim
From: Korean Bistro 21st Century Seoul (255-42, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu)
Favourite restaurant: Jungsik
“Jungsik is the first Korean restaurant to be listed in the Michelin Guide – two stars in the New York edition. [Jungsik has one star in the inaugural Michelin Guide for Seoul.] It serves a unique form of contemporary cooking; I worked there and have good memories. If you want something more local, try Table for Four in Taean (11 Sapyung-daero 14-gil, Seocho-gu).”
3. Chef Justin Lee
From: JL Dessert Bar
Favourite Restaurant: Lab24 by Edward Kwon. The sleek and tasteful setting here screams luxury, while its open kitchen makes the experience a feast for the eyes and taste buds with contemporary French cuisine on the menu. Truffle cappuccino, scallop foie gras and rib-eye, and that’s just on the lunch tasting menu.
“I highly recommend the Chef’s Signature course.”
Lunch pick: Mangwondong Instant Udong (83, Donggyo-Ro)
“I really like noodles, which can be enjoyed anytime, especially after a long day of working in my Dessert Bar – they open until midnight. I highly recommend the Korean-style noodles (with spice) and pairing it with a big, crispy, tonkatsu pork cutlet. ”
Food shopping: SSG Market (442 Dosan-daero, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu)
“I used to live and work in Australia and New Zealand; my creations are inspired from there. I can find many Oceania ingredients in SSG Market.”
4. Chef Jisun Joung
From: Zhong Hua Fu Chun
Favourite restaurant: Orzo (229-55 Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu)
“I’ve really liked this restaurant since my first visit. It has a great atmosphere and the servers are friendly; it is very clean, which makes it perfect for a date too! It is very close to my restaurant and while I really enjoy eating Chinese food a lot, sometimes you want something a little different. I always order the Spicy Orzo pizza (with two poached eggs) but the pasta is just as good.”
Lunch pick: Okdongsik (385-6 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu)
“The pork soup is the best here – clean and fresh broth which seems so simple but has a rich and deep taste; it is also really affordable. It is starting to get a lot of recognition from food guides like the Michelin Bib Gourmand.”
Food shopping: Mangwon market (486-8 Mangwon-dong, Mapo-gu)
“Take subway line no. 6 to Mangwon station and look out for Mangwon market. It is one of the most traditional markets you can find in Korea and gives me a lot of good memories. On the streets, look for Basakmacha (crispy cart), selling fresh pork cutlet.”
5. Chef James Park (Moohyun Park)
Favourite Restaurant: Restaurant Mingles
“Chef Mingoo of Mingles restaurant is always cooking amazing dishes. His modern Korean style is unique and special, and of course very delicious. It is amazing how he constantly tries to reinvent himself and this season, it is all about concentrating on Temple Cuisine and cooking with vegetables.”
Lunch pick: Toctoc (main photo). It is primed as the restaurant to watch. With Chef Kim Dae-Chun leading the way, there are no rules. European, Japanese and of course, Korean ingredients come into play. Despite a lot of effort going into sourcing and creating his dishes, the restaurant is surprisingly simple – TocToc raw fish, winter dream salad, and a butter poached cod with saffron beurre blanc are easily the best on the menu.
“I have visited Toctoc about 10 times already. Always happy to go there with anyone.”
Food shopping: Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market (674, Nodeul-ro, Dongjak-gu) and Garak Market (932, Yangjae-daero, Songpa-gu).
“These two markets are the biggest ones in Seoul for seafood and vegetables respectively.”
6. Chef Han Man Seang (Daniel Han)
From: Le port 13
Favourite restaurant: Hadongkwan (12, Myeongdong 9-gil, Jung-gu)
“Rice soup in Korea is very popular and the one from Hadongkwan is my favourite. Nothing beats a nice warm bowl of rice in clear Korean beef soup. Here, food is always served fast – in five minutes.”
Lunch pick: Cuisson 82 (453-16 Dogok 2(i)-dong, Gangnam-gu)
“I love spicy food so this is a place I visit a lot. It’s a very small restaurant, however, the food quality and level are not low at all – the food is made with a lot of sincerity and it feels like you are eating at home. Here’s what you should order: lamb stew and French fries.”
Cool place to drink and go food shopping: Le port 13 and Noryangin Fisheries Wholesale Market
“A good place to have a chilled drink is in my seafood pub Le Port 13 – you can find me there a lot, particularly on my way to Noryangin Fisheries Wholesale Market at 3am – this is the life of a chef! It is lively and fresh here.”
7. Chef Edward Kwon
Favourite restaurant: Bong Pi Yang (20, Jahamun-ro, Jongno-gu)
“Known for their famous dwaeji galbi (pork shortribs), the prices are not cheap but the taste and quality are one of the best in the city. The lunch set is worth getting at a much cheaper price – galbi with naengmyeon (cold noodles) or doenjang jjigae (soybean paste stew). I recommend the spicy intestine stew and galbi.”
Lunch pick: Galleria Department Store (343, Apgujeong-ro, Gangnam-gu)
“Asia is known for their wonderful gourmet food courts and Galleria Department Store’s food court has lots of cheap-and-cheerful eats. At the top of my list is the cold noodles with dumpling, and spicy beef soup found in any of the gourmet food courts in any of the high-end department stores in Seoul.”
Food shopping: Kyoung-dong Market, Shinsaegye Department Store Gangnam (176, Sinbanpo-ro, Seocho-gu).
“For imported goods, visit Shinsaegye Department Store in Gangnam, and for high-quality local products, head to Gwangjang in Kyoung-dong Market.”
– TEXT BY MICHELLE TCHEA
PHOTOS: MINGLES (CHEF MINGOO KANG), SSAK COMMUNICATIONS (CHEF EDWARD KWON), KOREA TOURISM BOARD, TOCTOC SEOUL FACEBOOK (MAIN PHOTO)
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.