With a food culture as rich as Korea’s, it can sometimes be hard to decide exactly which dishes to try when you are on vacation in Seoul.
Therefore, we made this blog post to help you with some ideas about which local dishes you should try during your stay.
Seolleongtang stems back to the Joseon Dynasty when Koreans would make sacrifices to their ancestors. In the 1400s during the reign of King Seongjong the country experienced food shortages so the king wanted to find a way to use the sacrificed animals for easy dishes. It is commonly thought that this is where Seolleongtang originated. Others argue that a form of the dish was introduced during the Mongolian invasions of Koryo since the Mongolian dish ‘Sulen’ is very similar to Seolleongtang.
Seolleongtang is a milky white soup with thin slices of beef usually served with rice and different kinds of kimchi served on the side. Green onions are added as garnish and you can add salt and pepper to heighten the taste. The dish is made by boiling ox bone or other parts of the cow for several hours until the broth turns white and thick. It is enjoyed by Koreans all year round but is especially great in the winter months as the soup is warm and comforting. Perfect for those times where you need a good pick-me-up.
There are many great places to eat Seolleongtang in Seoul but we recommend visiting the restaurant chain 신선설농탕 (Sinseon Seolleongtang). This restaurant chain offers consistently good Seolleongtang at a fair price and the stores can be found all around the city.
Find your nearest store here
Gomtang also stems back to the Joseon Dynasty where the dish was a part of the royal style food tradition called Surasang. Surasang consists of 12 dishes consisting of soups, side dishes, and various other things and would be enjoyed by the king and his royal court. Throughout history, the dish has become more popular with the common people as it was made from meat scraps and was very filling, easy to enjoy after a day of hard work and during times where food was scarce. Especially in the period during and after the Japanese Occupation the dish grew in popularity. During this time in Seoul, the dish was served in the areas around the Cheonggyecheon stream as a popular street food made in huge cast-iron cauldrons.
Gomtang consists of a clear broth made by boiling brisket or pieces of beef for several hours. In the broth, there are thin noodles, beef, and rice making it a very filling meal. Like Seolleongtang, you can add salt, pepper, or green onions to fit your taste.
We recommend trying out Naju Gomtang. This is a regional version of Gomtang from the Jeollanamdo region and possibly one of the most well-known types of Gomtang in Seoul. There are several places around the city where this version of Gomtang can be enjoyed.
The origin of Kalguksu is not clear but it is believed to stem back to the Goryeo era where descriptions similar to the dish have been recorded. In the Joseon dynasty, the dish was rare as flour was expensive and imported from China. When flour became a more common commodity the dish also grew in popularity and has been widely enjoyed ever since.
This dish consists of a bowl of delicious fresh knife-cut noodles made from wheat flour in a thick soup often topped with different garnishes. Kalguksu comes in various versions but most regular ones have chicken or clams in the soup.
We highly recommend trying Kalguksu at Gwangjang Market. Here there is an abundance of small stalls where sellers make Kalguksu fresh in front of you. You can enjoy the warm comforting bowl of noodles right there while you take in the atmosphere of the market.
Pork Galbi (돼지갈비)
It is hard to specify the origins of pork galbi but some believe that the tradition of pre-marinating meat and eating larger quantities of meat come from the nomadic group called Maek. this group is said by some to be the early forefathers to present-day Koreans. The Meak would pre-marinate their meat as they were often on the move, so it was easier to stop and cook this way. It is not certain that this is the origins of the dish Pork Galbi but might be where the method of marinating the meat for a long time before cooking it comes from.
Pork Galbi is pork ribs that are marinated in a sweet and savory sauce. The dish is usually cooked at the table where guests can cook and eat the meat simultaneously. Along with the meat you get side dishes that can be added to the meat and wrapped in lettuce leaves for a little extra taste kick. It is a really good dish to eat if you are a bigger group of people or to have with drinks such as beer and the Korean traditional alcohol Soju.
Galbi Jjim (갈비찜)
Traditionally, Galbi Jjim was a dish that Koreans consumed during the holiday Chuseok, which is kind of like the Korean version of Thanksgiving. Chuseok is the harvest festival where Koreans celebrate a good harvest. These days, the dish is enjoyed at any time but is a tad bit expensive because of the type of meat used in the dish. However, it is possible to find restaurants that serve it at a reasonable price.
Galbi Jjim consists of marinated short ribs steamed with various types of vegetables and mushrooms. The dish is made with either pork or beef ribs. Even though the price point of the dish is medium to high depending on the place you eat it but it is definitely worth trying.
Jokbal is a famous Korean dish made of pig feet that are braised in soy sauce, spices, and rice wine. Recently, many Koreans also enjoy the spicy version of the dish. The meat is really tender and the skin has an amazingly rich taste. It is usually served in large portions so it is good to eat it in larger groups. Like Korean barbecue, Jokbal is served with many side dishes that can be combined with the meat and wrapped in lettuce leaves.
There is a famous restaurant chain in Seoul called 뽕나무쟁이 (Ppong Namujaengi) that serves delicious Jokbal. We advise going a little early since there might be a long line later at night. Also, in Seoul, there is an area famous for its Jokbal restaurant by Dongguk University that is worth a visit.