Myeongdong shopping district, Jung-gu, Seoul
In recent years, Korea has shot to the forefront of Asian fashion and technology as a trendsetter. Seoul, this once elusive northern capital, has transformed into the epicenter of style, with makeup brands, fashion labels, K-pop and K-drama, all jostling for a place under the limelight. So, when it came to our group of friends planning a girls’ bachelorette weekend this past July, Seoul, with its glitzy 24-hour shopping and mouth-watering cuisine, was an easy win. We barely slept for the entire weekend and uncovered a host of Korean treasures that were like a dream for food-lovers. Check out our whirlwind trip to one of the ultimate girls’ getaway destinations.
Icy shards of raw beef mixed with sweet crunchy apple, pear and velvety egg yolk from Wang Bi Jib 왕비집 / 王妃家
Wang Bi Jib 왕비집 / 王妃家
2/F, 63–6 Chungmuro-2ga, Jung-gu, +82 2 3789 1945
In the land of Korean barbecue, which restaurant reigns supreme? Our answer came in the form of Wang Bi Jib, which literally translates to “Queen’s House”. With several branches around town, we tumbled into the branch in bustling Myeongdong shopping district and had the best Korean barbecue we’ve had to date. The second floor restaurant seats around 30, with each table fitted with a powerful charcoal grill. The marinated, garlicky sweet galbi (beef short ribs) were incredibly tender, but we were most impressed with the Korean beef tenderloin. The fine, buttery threads of snowflake marbling can rival those of any Wagyu! The icy shards of raw beef mixed with sweet crunchy apple, pear and velvety egg yolk are also a must try – it will transform the way you look at beef tartare. Another added bonus – all the servers spoke fluent Mandarin, which ensured no “lost in translation” moments!
Soy sauce marinated crab from Keungiwajip 큰기와집
62, Bukchon-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu 서울특별시 종로구북촌로5길 62, +82 2 722 9024
This traditional Korean restaurant specializes in the classic dish of ganjang gejang, or soy sauce marinated crab. The dish might sound a bit gag-inducing, but adventurous foodies will be royally rewarded with the incredible sweetness of the raw crabs. Fresh blue crabs are cut into pieces, then marinated in a concoction of soy sauce, chilli, ginger, onion and scallions and allowed to ferment before serving. The golden crab roes are especially a treat, and burst with umami flavours! A classic way to eating the crabs is to reserve some roe and sauce at the bottom of the crab shell, and then mix in a few scoops of rice to soak up all the delicious juice. Other classics such as galbi jjim (sweet, slow-braised short ribs) and grilled eels are also available here. 맛있어요!
649–7 Sinsadong, Gangnamgu, +82 2 517 4654
Korean cuisine is often associated with homey, rustic dishes cooked in unassuming mom-and-pop shops. Jung Sik, the first (and only) Korean restaurant to be listed this year in S. Pellegrino’s 50 Top Tables in Asia, has worked to shatter this image. Opened in 2009, and now with a sister 2-Michelin establishment in New York, Jungsik, named after Head Chef Yim Jungsik, has been winning plenty of accolades. We dined in the slightly “shabby” fine dining establishment with great expectations, especially looking forward to the modern molecular gastronomy spin on Korean classics. The tasting menu reads like a haiku poem, and we loved the sound of sea urchin rice, mushroom quatorze and galbi with yoghurt cream. However, the dishes did not live up to our expectations but we do feel obliged to list this restaurant in our guide as advice to fellow travellers to decide for themselves.
7–20 Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu
Jeju Island black pigs are prized for their smokey flavours. At Samdayeon, a Korean barbecue joint specializing in grilling up these dark piggies, guests will chortle with delight at the array of cuts available. From thick slabs of pork belly, to beautifully marbled pork jowl, to flavourful thick-cut bacon, there’s enough to satisfy the biggest of appetites. Couple the caramelized grilled pork with soft roasted garlic, and wash it all down with plenty of kimchi and an ice-cold brew. With several locations around Seoul, this chain of venerable barbecue is a great way to sample the local livestock!
Moon Jar Makgeolli Bar
644–19 Gangnam-gu Sinsa-dong, +82 2 541 6118
Makgeolli, once a low-rent rice wine, has repackaged itself as the hipster drink of Korea. Fun, lively makgeolli bars have popped up all over Seoul in recent years, serving up interesting cocktails made from the relatively mellow rice wine. Moon Jar is one such bar, with its two-story white washed interiors accentuated with big stacks of firewood and vintage rustic charm. Ask for the Presidential line, and you’ll get to sample original makgeolli favourites of former Korean leaders. The most popular variety, though, is the Yuja (citrus) makgeolli. By day, Moon Jar is a quiet cafe, and by night, it transforms into a lively bar. Plenty of good food is served here, allowing guests to sip their makgeolli in between bites of fried chicken, grilled sirloin and tofu kimchi.
Gingseng Chicken Soup
Gingseng Chicken Soup
After partying or shopping all night long, the best way to revive is with a hot bowl of ginseng chicken soup. This classic Korean soup eats rather like a meal, as an entire spring chicken is stuffed with glutinous rice, ginger, garlic, wolfberries and jujube fruits, and slow-simmered in a ginseng broth. Definitely a hangover cure, as we sat down for this after an all-night bender. In Chinese medicine, both ginseng, jujube and chicken are considered “heaty” foods, and this obviously has carried its influence to Korea, as this soup is often drunk in the hottest days of summer to replenish the nutrients lost from sweating. Tosokchon, is perhaps the most popular joint to sip this soup at.
- Eat It Alive! Prove your bravery, or challenge your curious palate by eating sannakji, otherwise known as squirmy live octopus. Wrap up the tentacles around a chopstick, then chomp down like crazy. Just be careful not to get the suckers stuck in your throat!
- Shop ‘til you drop – Ate too much? Walk it off and unleash your inner fashionista with (almost) 24-hour shopping at Doota. The multi-story shopping haven is open until 5am, so you can pull a shopping spree all-nighter.
- “Draw me like one of your French girls” Well…not quite, but you can certainly get your image immortalized in a photoshoot, K-pop style of course! Get your makeup and hair done based on the latest Korean trends, and start practicing your poses in front of the camera. A bit cheesy, but a fun way to remember a great trip with the girls!
- Army Stew – Better known as budae jjigae, this hearty stew sprung up after the Korean War, when food shortage was rampant. Locals used American army surpluses such as SPAM, hotdogs, and instant noodles, to make this robust stew, mixed with spicy gochujang and kimchi.
- Soft-serve – The latest craze in Korean food is soft-serve ice cream, often topped with gooey honey. You can get your hit at the famous Softree.
Read more of Celia’s food adventures here: www.girlmeetscooking.com