Traveling around any new country is always a fascinating experience, but discovering a new culture through eating its delicious food is something truly special. Sure, we have Michelin-starred restaurants in Seoul, but if you’re wondering where to eat in Seoul my recommendation would be to ditch your Seoul restaurant guide and dive into the local dishes.
From our incredible street food in Seoul to even finding cheap food in Gangnam, if you eat like a local you’ll discover a whole new world of flavors and eating experiences. You’ll get so much more out of your time here and understand our culture even more through trying dishes visitors don’t usually find. So here are my local tips for places to eat in Seoul for anyone who’s looking not for fancy restaurants or famous places to eat, but for unique restaurants in Seoul, South Korea where you’ll be made to feel like a local yourself.
Noodle soup at Jongno Halmeoni Kalguksu
This is without a doubt one of the best Korean restaurants in Seoul and a firm local favorite. Jongno Halmeoni Kalguksu serves only two dishes; kalguksu, which is a soup made of hand-made noodles and anchovy-based broth, and kaljebi, which is another type of soup made with noodles and hand-pulled dough.
The name of the place comes from Jongno, the area where it’s located and means it’s a soup that’s hand-made by the grandmother who started the place!
The secret of the soup is in its anchovy broth and the noodles which are made by hand from bean powder and salt. In the broth you’ll also find radishes, kelp, and the root of green onions; it’s a very intense flavor which is characteristic of this place, and they never use artificial seasoning.
The noodles here are unlike the more contemporary varieties you’ll probably have tried elsewhere in the city, but you can taste the real traditional, homemade version which is rare in the modern city.
Spicy chicken stew at Gyerim
This is another of the best Korean restaurants in Seoul, also in the Jongno neighborhood. For the taste of the original spicy chicken stew which we love so much here, you have to go to Gyerim, a 50-year-old sikdang, meaning a restaurant, which specializes in this dish. The alley which leads to this restaurant is very old, as is the exterior, tables, chairs, and even pots in which the stew is cooked - over twenty years old!
First-time guests will be welcomed with open arms, but are always surprised and impressed by the garlic on top of the food, which is the size of a fist. So the dish is also nicknamed, ‘garlic bomb chicken stew’. To get this much garlic in the stew, they have to peel up to 10kg every day! This is the secret of the restaurant’s stew though, it brings out the flavor of the soup and adds to the freshness of the chicken.
You’ll enjoy the deep flavor of the soup which is something you’ll not find anywhere else. For the long-standing spirit of the place where you can enjoy chicken and an old Korean-style environment, this is a real local place to eat and should definitely be on your list of places to eat in Seoul.
Dumplings at ChangHwaDang
This is a dumpling restaurant that you should check if you’re wondering where to eat in Seoul like the locals. It’s located in Ikseondong, a neighborhood that is famous for its Hanok-style cafe street. They serve eight kinds of dumplings here, including meat, kimchi steamed dumplings, shrimp fried dumplings, charcoal fried dumplings, and red pepper versions.
Fried dumplings are a bit different from our traditional dumplings, which are usually steamed. The bottom of the dumpling which gets fried goes crispy, but the rest of it remains moist and soft. But the queue is always long, so don't leave it too late if you want to eat here!
Sunhee Mung Bean Pancake at Gwang Jang Market
Boasting a tradition dating back 20 years, the Sungee Mung Bean Pancake stall knows what they're doing! When it comes to street food in Seoul, these pancakes are a must-try.
These pancakes are made by adding bellflower, green onion, kimchi, and red pepper to the mung bean flour, and they're usually stuffed with pork or chicken. The inside of the pancake is filled with green beansprouts, so it’s crunchy, but the dough remains soft. The outside is crispy, the inside soft, and not too thick or greasy.
You can see them grinding the mung beans on a millstone, which makes it an experience to just watch them being made, and you can see that the beans and vegetables are always fresh. This is one of my favorite types of street food in Seoul, and the perfect thing to warm up within winter.
Temple food at Barugongyang
Barugongyang is a totally unique restaurant in Seoul that offers you the chance to eat what we call Temple Food from a traditional wooden bowl you would find in a Buddhist temple. This way of eating is derived from the practice of the Buddha of Sakyamuni, and dates back more than 2500 years ago. It contains the meaning of thanksgiving and devotion.
The purpose of the food in the bowl is only to maintain the condition of the body to be able to perform, it’s not supposed to be created in order to be delicious - although it usually is through its simplicity. Nowadays, this is one of the most distinct and best Korean restaurants in Seoul, as it introduces people to Buddhist temple food which was completely unfamiliar to the public before it opened.
The most important characteristic of temple food is that it doesn’t contain any animal protein such as meat, seafood, and eggs, and it also doesn't contain green onion, garlic, chives, Korean wild chives, or asafoetida (a kind of onion), as these ingredients are all prohibited in the temple.
Nevertheless, with its traditional red pepper sauce, which is supplied directly from a temple, and organic vegetables, the restaurant offers an unexpected and special taste for you, making it one of the most unique restaurants in Seoul.
Sambodang Hotteok in Insadong
This is another of the most famous types of street food in Seoul - you shouldn’t leave the city without trying it! Specifically, Sambo-dong is especially famous in the arty Insa-dong neighborhood, since this is where it was first made in 1997. Sambo-dong hotteok is a type of pancake, made from corn dough and filled with sugar, honey, nuts, and cinnamon.
The inside is soft and the outside is crispy, thanks to the cornflour which it's made from. There are many types of hotteok including sweet hotteok and japchae (stir-fried glass noodle) hotteok, but this is my favorite.
For even more of a real Seoul street food experience, try it with the sweet rice beverage which is sold at most stalls where they make this pancake. I’ll warn you though; it’s insanely addictive!
Noryangjin Fish Market
The Noryangjin Fish Market covers 370 kinds of seafood such as live fish, fresh fish, frozen seafood, shellfish, and dried fish, and the auction is still held at dawn.
There are over 800 wholesale and retail stews here; you’ll find every single one of the sea creatures from the Korean Peninsula here. It’s a unique experience to see the sea life which is still alive and is very different from seeing them in an artificial aquarium.
On the first floor, you can see fish from all over the country, and buy the fish you want to eat. Then, go up to the second floor, where they’ll cook the fish you just picked for you!
After enjoying various kinds of seasonal fish and sashimi, and eating the traditional deep spicy soup you can find here, you’ll certainly feel like one visit wasn’t enough to try all of the delicious foods here!
Ikseon-dong is a small neighborhood that is gaining recognition for its creative vibes and cafe culture - it’s becoming the new trendy district for artists, designers, and small businesses.
Seoul Coffee is one of the popular local places to eat in Seoul for its traditional Korean desserts and bean paste butter. They serve so many types of drinks, but you should try the signature Korean beverage of sikhye, a rice-based drink. On their menu is featured Viennese Milk, a creamy, thick coffee with froth on top of the coffee.
You should also try their bean paste butter which they put in their bread - it's their signature dish - as well as an unusual combination of tiramisu and injeonmi, Korean rice cake. It’s becoming a trendy restaurant - Seoul has plenty of cool places but this cafe is still pretty unique.
Street food in Seoul’s Myeong -dong
Myeong-dong is not only a famous shopping street but also has about 50 different street food carts, making it one of the best places to try street food in Seoul. You can take pleasure in not only eating, but watching the show as different dishes are cooked from scratch, and choosing what you want to try.
You can find so many types of Seoul street food here, from traditional street food like fish cakes, kimbab (rice cakes), twisted sweet potatoes as well as lobster grilled cheese and strawberry flavored desserts.
You can spend a whole evening here, and it’s a cool alternative to going to a restaurant. It’s open-air, and you can try everything from seafood to fusion food to fresh fruits. Eating our street food is one of my favorite things to do in Seoul!
Jong Chun rice cake cafe
From 1975 to today, Jong Chun has been making traditional rice cakes with pride at their little cafe - this is one of the most local places to eat in Seoul. You can feel the uncompromising way in which they’re devoted to making rice cakes, more than in other, more generic rice cake shops.
They also have unusual varieties like black soybean milk, pumpkin sikhye, traditional sikhye, one matured in sugar with fruit, and even a flower rice cake. But you can also taste special, traditional rice cakes like cylinder-shaped rice cakes, sweet pumpkin, and black sesame. They’re trying to show how versatile the humble rice cake dough can be, and pure its taste is.
There are also lots of traditional drinks and teas you can try, so it’s a great place to taste traditional Korean food in one place. Bite-sized rice cakes also make cute gifts! But top tip! You’ll need to take a local with you for this one - you’ll never find it otherwise - and you’ll be the only non-Korean person there, guaranteed!
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