I typed up a huge blog earlier and accidentally lost it all. Oh well. Here I go again: As promised, a blog from my recent food tour of Korea. I didn't get to try everything I wanted, but I got most things in. There were a few disappointments, but a few surprising keepers as well.
Sat 24 Jan:
1) To Sok Chon (737-7444): THE place for Sam Gye Tang (Baby chicken stewed whole with rice and chinese herb stuffing) located near the Blue House in a converted traditional Korean home. Has both regular and black chicken. The soup is thick, milky and hearty. Comes with a ginseng alcohol shot which you can put in your soup or drink. Also has a metal tin you can put the bones into. Also tried the Tong Dak (Rotisserie roasted baby chicken). The skin is crisp with very little fat between the meat and skin. Must be free range chicken. The white meat was a little dry, but its virtually impossible to get this right.
2) Blowfish: I lost the card, but this is a big, famous place in Kangnam for blowfish. I had the blowfish stew, but it was nothing special. I'm going to find a better place next time I go, as my favorite place which use to be in Shinsa-Dong moved, and I don't know where they've gone. The best thing about the old place was the sauce for the blowfish, and the rice they cooked using the leftover stew from the blowfish plus raw egg, dried seaweed, sesame oil and seasonings.
3) Kogii Kogii - www.kogiikogii.co.kr (543-4244): Good for sam gyeob sal (grilled 3 layer pork belly). I liked this place as the pork belly is cut to roughly 1/4 inch thickness. Just about right. This is supposedly one of THE places for sam gyeob sal. Also, the mini naeng myun is top tier. the beef stock is frozen and shaved over the naengmyun which is chewy and tasty. The noodles are dark as it is mixed with ground greens. Definitely worth a visit.
Sun 25 Jan:
1) Pyeongyang Jib: In Sam Gak Ji, next to Bong San Jib. I wound up going here as Bong San Jib was closed for CNY, and my cousin had taken me there before. It is the second best place in the area for Cha Dol Bae Gi (Grilled thinly sliced brisket), behind Bong San Jib, which is the best anywhere that I've tried. Its Cha Dol is cut thicker, which I'm not a fan of. And it doesn't have Doen Jang Jige. But it does have a very good Gop Chang Gui (Grilled beef intestines), which actually more people ordered. I think its because most people go to Bong San Jib for the Cha Dol. Not a bad backup, but no point if Bong San Jib is open.
2) Smokey Saloon: The best burger in Korea I've tried. And not just b/c it is run by my cousin. He opened the first one in Itaewon about 5 years ago, and now there are 7 around Seoul as it gained recognition. We went to the one in the basement food court at the Hyundai Dept Store in Samsung-Dong. My cousin knows his food, and he uses ground chuck formed into a thick patty covered while grilling to seal in the juices. The bun is thick, soft and fresh. Just right for the patty. BTW, Hyundai Dept Store's food court is an excellent place to try a variety of different things.
3) To Dam Gol (548-5114/5): Located in Kangnam, a good place for a reasonably priced traditional Korean meal. The bulgogi is cooked the old fashioned way - grilled over charcoal between 2 metal screens - not with the soupy gravy you can mix with your rice. The kimchi is very good too. Not a bad place to go for a variety of different Korean dishes and side dishes. They also serve Kong Biji, a stew of ground soybeans. The top set meal cost just W22,000 per person.
Mon 26 Jan: Very few places open for CNY.
1) Oh Mo Ri Jib, Chung Dam Dong: Kimchi Jige and only Kimchi Jige. Famous with lots of celebrity photos and a local news focus on it. Can order ramyon and extra pork separately to add to the Kimchi Jige. Personally, not that great. Have had much better. Will not go again.
2) Grand Hyatt Hotel (797-1234): Great place to stay. Convenient and central. The gym, the sauna, and the food are all good. Stayed in the sauna all afternoon after a workout as most everything was closed. Tried the Galbi Jim (steamed beef ribs), Galbi Gui (grilled bee ribs), and Kori Gom Tang (oxtail soup). The Kori Gom Tang is one of the best anywhere. The soup is thick and milky with plenty of oxtail. Red pepper paste and minced garlic are provided so you can adjust the flavor to your taste. And a soy based sauce to dip your oxtail is provided. The oxtail is tender and gelatinous. The side dishes are all solid.
Tue 27 Jan:
1) Koong www.koong.co.kr (733-9240): Known for its Duk Mandoo Jungol (rice cake and dumpling stew). Decided to try it after reading a review in the newspaper. Located in the antique and art district of Insa-Dong. Tough to find, so make make sure to get precise directions. The soup base was very good: Beefy, with the right amount of seasonings. The black pepper was plentiful, without being overpowering. The rice cake is uniquely shaped into little round balls. And the dumplings had a thick al dente skin filled with meat, tofu and chives. Very similar to the dumplings at Mandoo Jib (544-3710) in Apkujeong-Dong, but with a slightly different filling - chives instead of kimchi. Worth a trip if you're in the neigborhood. Can visit the antique and art shops after lunch.
2) Park Daegamne (545-7708): Top of the line Seng Gogi (Fresh Meat). There are 3 restaurants other than Park Daegamne considered the best in Kangnam (Southern Seoul): Mu Deung San (Tenderloin & Naengmyun); Bud Namu Jib (Unmarinated ribs); Seh Byuk Jib (Ribeye). They all have their certain considered strengths which I've highlighted in parenthesis. Park Daegamne is also known for its Ribeye, and I went there because I'd never been. Quite frankly, all the top tier beef BBQ retaurants are very similar with very good, richly marbled , expensive beef. And I do mean expensive. Each serving of meat was roughly W50,000. When you enter the restaurant, there is a butcher bar to your right with loads of high quality meat filling the glass refrigerator. The butcher is there constantly trimming and slicing and weighing the beef as he cuts up the richly marble slabs of beef to order. We ordered tenderloin, ribeye and beef ribs and grilled the slices over a charcoal fire. The ribeye was definitely the most richly marbled and the best. The naengmyun afterwards was decent, but not outstanding. Personally, I can only take maybe 1 of these meals a trip as it is just too rich and heavy for me. Also, I prefer the other traditional dishes that most foreigners just don't know about. In fact, when foreigners think of Korean food, they generally think of Korean BBQ. Thats because Koreans didn't eat much meat when times were tough due to scarcity and cost. So it was reserved for special events and entertaining.
Wed 28 Jan:
1) San Bul Deung Shim (754-7584): Doenjang Jige (Soybean Paste Stew). My must go place in Seoul every time I visit. Serves only beef based doenjang jige for weekday lunch. The jige is very complex being sweet, spicy, thick and rich at the same time. Unfortunately, for the first time in 20 years, i noticed a drop in quality. There was only 1-2 cubes of beef in each stew, which made it less rich. Maybe due to the economy. Oh well. Still, its the best due to the complex homemade doenjang. Bong San Jib is now also a must go place for me as its Cha Dol is the best, and its doenjang jige is now a close second. Tough to find, but I'll try: Ulchiro 1-Ga, across from Lotte Hotel, behind Doosan Bldg and Samsung Fire & Marine Bldg in a back alley with loads of restaurants. The alley runs north. About 50 meters in on the right hand side marked by a non-descript yellow sign with the name in Korean.
2) Ho Hwa Ban Jeum (543-8543): Famous for Ja Jang Myun, the Chinese-Korean version of spaghetti using bean paste instead of tomato. Not bad. The onions are chopped finely and the meat is also ground pretty well - not the rough cut versions at some of the cheaper places. And not as oily. But something was missing. The sauce was sweet and thick, but it ws more corn starchy vs bean paste and meat. Anyway, noodles were al dente, and its not a bad snack after shopping at the Galleria in Apkujeong across the street.
3) Bon Ga - www.theborn.co.kr (516-3284): Ssam Bab - Various greens used to wrap thin slices of meat. more to eat greens than anything else. very healthy. A keeper. Been here before, but realized the overall quality is excellent, and the price is reasonable. The meat is very thinly sliced cha dol, and there is a huge, long tray filled with a variety of raw greens, some of which you can never get anywhere in the world. The red sauce is excellent, the shredded marinated radish, the shredded scallion, the ssam jang, all put into the greens with the meat are a perfect combination of flavors. These guys got it right. A keeper.
Thu 29 Jan:
1) Pro Kan Jang Gye Jang - www.prosoycrab.com (543-3529): The place for soy sauce based raw crab and raw crab roe bibimbab. Do not mistake the older one on the corner as the original. It is run by a younger sister who had a falling out with the older due to her now decease husband. Anyway, this is something you will never find anywhere else, and absolutely delicious. Open 24-hours in Shinsa-Dong. Another keeper.
2) Grand Hyatt (797-1234): Club sandwich. As good as I've ever had. Really. Very surprising. But the fries are mediocre thick cut. I pefer thin crisp cut.
3) Seng Kimchi Oh Gyeob Sal (3443-7727): Famous for its 5-layer pork belly, which means it has the rind & an extra layer of fat vs the 3-layer pork belly. Each order is a slab of belly and a quarter head of kimchi which is cooked on a cast iron skillet and cut up with scissors. Very good for what it is, but I prefer thinner slices of pork, and more greens vs just cooked kimchi. The kimchi naengmyun here is very good. Depends if I'm in the mood I guess.
Fri 30 Jan:
1) Wang Soon Dae (564-3546): Ok this is another surprise keeper. The soon dae guk is amazing. Has an extremely rich broth loaded with thin slices of organ meats. Oh, and 2 pieces of soon dae. But the soon dae is amazing. And I don't even like soon dae. Soon dae is a sausage made by stuffing clear glass noodles into what is normally an intestinal casing. Here, the noodles are stuffed into real gop chang, which is the intestines that are grilled and eaten separately. There is also plenty of different seasonings and chopped chili peppers to flavor the soup. It is somewhat hard to find. Right behind the Posco Steel Bldg in Yeoksam-Dong.
2) Kkang Jang Jib (753-0179): Next to the KAL Bldg in Seosomun. Forget it. I went there b/c I had never had this, and it was recommended by my cousins girlfriends. What a waste. Oh well. It is a thick mix between doen jang and chung guk jang. You put a bowl of rice in with some vegetables, and mix in the kkang jang. Nothing spectacular. Never again.
1) Won Jo Ssam Bab Jib - www.theborn.co.kr (548-7589): Same owner as Bong Ga, and located next door. Difference is it is pork instead of beef. Thinly sliced 3 layer pork belly with a huge tray of greens. Keeper.
2) Bong San Jib (793-5022): I missed this place twice, but a definite must go restaurant for me every time in Seoul. THE very best Cha Dol Bae Gi (Grilled brisket). And the second best Doen Jang Jige ever. Definite keeper.
3) Ddok Da Ri Kimchi Jige: Located in Jamsil, Songpa-Dong. Heard good things.
4) Songbuk-Dong Don Katsu: A taxi driver favorite. Never been, but they all know.
5) Young-Dong Seollong Tang: In Shinsa-Dong behind the gas station. Supposed to be the best for this beef based soup with rice and noodles. Can get various different meats included.
6) Sariwon - www.sariwon.co.kr (3474-5005): Didn't have time to try this place recommended by applesister.
7) Kang Nam On Chon: Very similar to a Japanese Onsen. You can take the whole family there. Get great massages for a reasonable price. And good food is available.