everything i ate in seoul

OCTOBER 2019

a spontaneous three day first time visit to the world’s biggest ktown and eating like its my own local ktown 

I’ll be honest, I didn’t do much planning prior to landing in Gimpo. I had a general idea of the neighborhoods I wanted to exist in, and figured it would be best to go with the flow for the short trip and eat whatever looks good. I had a vague list of things I knew I wanted to eat (obligatory eats, if you will) and some haphazardly Googled spots jotted down in a note on my phone but the lack of Google Maps (my preferred method of orienting myself) deterred me from digging further.

That said, despite the lack of planning, we ate well if spontaneously. Korean cafés did not disappoint. And the casual hole in wall joints delivered on those cravings. 10/10 would go again. And maybe be a bit more intentional in the planning the second time around.

We flew in mid-afternoon. By the time we figured out the train and checked into the Airbnb, it was already getting dark. Keeping it easy, I figured it would require the least amount of mental energy to just go where all tourists go: Myeongdong. A neighborhood so infested with tourists I think I heard more Chinese than I did Korean. Despite the congested streets that were reminiscent of Ximending in Taipei, it was impossible to get lost with multilingual local guides posted throughout the pedestrian area ready to answer questions.

For dinner, it was comfort food forward with a quick and satisfying meal of dumplings and noodles (kalguksu) at Myeongdong Kyoja (a decades old establishment which ironically now has a location in LA’s ktown too). Cash only. Cheap. Fast service (it’s all a blur but I remember sitting down, having someone take our order, take the money, and then boom food there before I even got the chopsticks out of the drawer). Nothing fancy but it was just the level I needed for a first meal.

And it left enough room for some street snacks. Between the neon lit retail signs on either side of the street were smoking grills of street vendors. While street food is always fun, nothing really stood out to me. Except the delivery: I did appreciate things being handed to you in a cup for easy eating without the mess.

day two

BREAKFAST

The next morning began with coffee. But the most basic version. As in we basically went to a local Starbucks. Paul Bassett is a chain coffee shop with countless locations around Korea. But it made for an easy morning stop conveniently located right by the subway station before heading to Gyeongbokgung. 

(don’t worry, the soft serve was from a pick me up later in the day)

LUNCH

Cheonggukjangbob
청국장밥

29-5 Samcheong-ro 2-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul

Lunch was spent between the two palaces in Bukchon Hanok. There seemed to be a lot of cozy tea shops and small eateries tucked in the village houses. We wandered a little further in from the more touristy spots on the main road and ended up in a small restaurant where they didn’t bother to romanize their name (not to mention cheonggukjangbob 청국장밥 literally translates to fermented soy bean rice) and no one really spoke English but the food was delicious. The set meal came with a choice of main, plenty of banchan and a bowl of doenjang jjigae.

AFTERNOON SNACK

Lotte Department Store Main Store
롯데백화점 본점

81 Namdaemun-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul

After wandering the grounds of the other palace (Changgyeonggung), it was back into the hypermodern bustle of the city. There are few things in this world that bring me more joy than an Asian department store food court, and the Lotte Department Store in Namdaemun was everything I wanted and more. After perusing all the stands, I couldn’t help but gravitate towards the bread (duh) at OPS Bakery which made for a delightful “afternoon tea” in an admittedly chaotic setting.

DINNER

For dinner, I wanted soondubu. What else is new? So I ended up literally just looking up a soondubu spot nearby in Myeongdong, and ended up in some hole in wall (read: basement) tofu house aptly named Myeongdong Soondubu (very SEO-friendly) where we were the only non koreans, the menu was posted up with pictures on the wall, and I was very happy with this meal choice. 

day three

breakfast

Anthracite

240 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

http://anthracitecoffee.com/

Another morning, another coffee. This time we went from chain store to third wave in the most aesthetic way. I can’t remember how I found Anthracite, but I think it is safe to assume it was probably sitting in one of the saved folders in my Instagram. The coffee was solid, but the food selection lacking (it seems Korea is more serious about the coffee compared to Taiwan who for better or worse gives you an entire buffet and more any chance it gets). So we walked along to Passion5, which was a pastry girl’s (me) fever dream come true. Beautiful cakes glistening like jewels on display, ample selections of breads, categorized sections of pastries and sweets. 

LUNCH

After hitting Dongdaemun Design Plaza for the aesthetics (and crashing fashion week lol), we followed my mom’s friend’s recommendation and detoured into the local side streets (read: wholesale fabric market mixed with traditional open food market) and ended up in a surprisingly touristy spot (considering its obscured alley address) specializing in chicken soup.

And man was this an experience. Imagine hot pot except they bring a whole raw chicken to your table and then cut it up with kitchen shears (we are in Korea after all), give you a plate of ddeuk and self serve ecoutrements to round out a delightfully unsophisticated meal.

AFTERNOON TEA

After lunch, we went down to Gangnam for some shopping. And while decision paralysis could have stricken me with all the pretty cafés in the neighborhood, the objective was luxury and so we walked over to Maison Hermes and got bougie afternoon tea.

It was surprisingly not overpriced (at least for US standards) and a decent amount of food. Not too special, mostly there for the expensive feeling atmosphere and designer tea cups (lol).

DINNER, KINDA

And since we successfully ruined dinner, we finished off wandering more department stores, eating McDonalds (mom loves McD’s) and then picking up obligatory fried chicken and soju (and convenience store haul) for a late night meal. 

day four

breakfast

The next morning, we got breakfast at a cafe near the Airbnb and did some final shopping in the supermarket (Asian style supermarket where it’s like Costco and Target had a baby and then had a mall growing out of it).

Suitcases filled with a whole lot of snacks and face masks, it was back to Taipei. One last snack in the airport lounge (petition to have all airport lounges serve build-your-own bibimbaps – it is truly a superior airport food), and it was back to, well, more delicious food in Taiwan. 

see also

SNAPSHOTS FROM SEOUL

EVERYTHING I ATE IN PORTO

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