You can guarantee yourself a decent pot of kimchi jjigae, or kimchi stew, if you have decent kimchi to put in the stew. But if you’re out to create really good kimchi jjigae, there’s no limit to how far you can go. Eunjujeong is a restaurant that kimchi jjigae aficionados revere as sacred. It’s fairly difficult to find, tucked away as though hidden in the alleys of Bangsan Market. Despite this there’s a long line of patrons waiting for a taste of the savory stew. Eunjujeong kimchi jjigae has an addictive quality, and once you’ve tasted it you can never go back. It’s easy to see why the owner talks of first-time patrons and their return—they’re always bringing in some new patron. It seems 30 years of serving stew in the same location paid off; somehow Eunjujeong seems to have hit upon the optimum ratio of sweet to sour in its broth. The thick slabs of meat certainly don’t hurt, and the generous portions of vegetables provided to wrap the meat in aren’t unwelcome, either. At lunchtime the restaurant does just kimchijjigae; at dinnertime the star is samgyeopsal (grilled pork belly), with kimchi jjigae as the sidekick.
There's something special about old traditions, and even more so when they're maintained with sincerity. Step into Hadongkwan, where you can taste and see that special something. Initially located on a back alley near Cheonggye Stream 70 years ago, the original restaurant was demolished during a period of redevelopment. But the owner kept the original wooden doors and wooden tables and continues to use them in his relocated Myeongdong location. He made this gensture to console long-time customers who bemoaned the loss of a landmark. Their signature dish is gomtang (simmered beef soup with rice), a comforting meal one tends to crave when feeling exhausted, physically or mentally. A plentiful amount of rice and pieces of beef with soup made from hanwoo (Korean beef) stock are served in traditional Korean bronzeware bowls. We suggest adding a handful of minced green onions to your soup. Before you gulp down everything, don’t forget to ask for "ggak-guk." At Hadongkwan, ggak-guk is a nickname for the juice from ggakdugi (diced radish kimchi). The piquant and sour flavors of ggak-guk add new depths to your gomtang. Hadongkwan normally runs out of ingredients by 4:30pm, so remember to stop by early get your fill of this savory, nutritious dish.
OKitchen 3, or OK3 as it is nicknamed, is the third in a line of beloved restaurants from owner and chef Yonaguni Susumu, who has become a local celebrity in his own right. At age 22, enamored of John Lennon, he left Japan for England, where he happened to get a job washing dishes at a French restaurant. From there, he fell in love with the kitchen, eventually working at a French restaurant in New York City, where he met his Korean wife and opened his own restaurant. As a restaurateur here in Seoul, he is more teacher and father figure than owner, encouraging his chefs to experiment with recipes and branch out on their own. At OK3, the bones of the menu are solidly Italian. Susumu-san’s chef spent two years in Italy, and they have both a salami aging room and a steak aging room on-site. Creativity is encouraged and fresh, local Korean ingredients are incorporated in unique ways. In fact, Susumu-san brings in fresh herbs and vegetables from his own farm. All of this comes at very reasonable prices, making it one of the best deals on upscale dining in the city.
Yukhoe (Korean style steak tartare) is a very difficult dish to make. The raw beef must be tender and smell fresh, and the mixture of the few spices involved needs to be perfect so that it doesn’t overwhelm the original scent of the beef. Even though several yukhoe restaurants have opened over the years around Gwangjang Market, there’s a reason why people insist on going to the area’s first yukhoe shop. Two sisters, as hinted from the shop’s name, opened Jamaejib (meaning “store run by sisters” in Korean) forty years ago in a 16 square meter space in a narrow alley of Gwangjang Market. One dish of yukhoe cost 1,000 KRW at the time. Today, it now prices in at 12,000 KRW, which is still a ridiculously good deal for yukhoe, which can cost 30–50,000 KRW at fancier restaurants. Jamaejib is not only cheaper, their yukhoe tastes better. Early at dawn, fresh meat is delivered daily. The meat is seasoned and set to marinate before being served. Their top secret recipe not only brings out the original flavor of the raw meat, but also blends perfectly into the meat. If you're looking for more variety, Jamaejib also serves yukhoe bibimbab and beef liver. Seven years ago, they opened a second restaurant right next door, and recently a third restaurant opened near Exit 9 of Jongno Oh-ga Station.
Gung is the top Seoul eatery for Gaeseong mandu (Gaeseong-style dumplings). The sight of the cooks shaping the dumplings by hand in the restaurant recalls the studio of a master craftsman. The restaurant began as a small business in the house of the founder, and as news of the dumplings spread, so too did the business. The current proprietor follows in the footsteps of the mother and grandmother, who was the original founder. It’s frequently the case that the original taste changes as the business is handed down, but not so with Gung—the taste of their dumplings remains exactly as it was years ago. Supposedly we have the many loyal patrons to thank for this consistency, as they’re not shy about voicing their opinions at the slightest change in the taste of the broth or the dumplings. The soft dumpling skins—rolled out in-house—are generously stuffed with pork, green bean sprouts, tofu, Napa cabbage, and leek. The main attraction is the uniquely gentle and lightly seasoned flavor of the Gaesong-style dumpling. In appearance, too, these dumplings are so prettily and elegantly shaped that it’s almost enough to make you feel bad as you bite into them. Yet there’s no special recipe. If you were to single out some trick in their method it’s that they mix the dumpling filling by hand. A machine just can't compete with the taste of a hand-mixed filling. You can’t skip the ddeokmanduguk (soup with rice cakes and dumplings), with dumplings, hand-shaped joraengiddeok (rice cakes shaped
Though good fried chicken can be found everywhere in Seoul, people travel from all corners of Korea to visit Gyeyeolsa (formerly known as Cheers). Is their chicken fantastic? Absolutely. The fried golden and crispy pieces open to tender meat inside and it's served with loads of crispy fried potato wedges that have just the right amount of salt. Also worth trying are the snails and noodles doused with spicy sauce (골뱅이 국수 (소), 23,000원). Owner Park Seon-ok has been in the business for over 25 years, and sources local Koreans chickens himself every week. A 20,000 won serving will feed two. Though it’s pricier than other options around Seoul, the customers still flood in. With just a handful of tables available, there’s always a wait, even in the middle of the afternoon—and service is notoriously brusque. But if you’re in the area and craving some fried goodness, Gyeyeolsa is definitely your best bet.
One of the biggest food trends to hit the Korean peninsula in recent years has been that of chimaek, or fried chicken and beer. The latest restaurant to put its on twist on the classic is Brew 3.15, tucked away in an obscure corner of Insadong. The focus here is all about the chicken, which is fried using a Southern approach more so than a Korean one. Floury and tender, it's even better with the homemade sauces that incorporate local ingredients and flavors. Brew 3.15's chicken pairs perfectly with the craft beers on tap. Get a sampler to try a few, or take our suggestion and go straight for the Ryepa, an American-style rye strong ale produced in Busan. Don't miss out on the Totchos!, a messy mountain of tator tots smothered in meat, cheese and sour cream, or the Fried Chocopie with Ice Cream, an addicting tribute to one of Korea's favorite snacks.
Mingadaheon (Min’s Club) is a designated Folk Cultural Property of Seoul where you can have a Korean-Western fusion take on the traditional Korean course meal (hanjeongsik). The restaurant is housed in a Westernized hanok designed by pioneering Korean architect Park Gil-ryong, which originally served as a salon for Min Byeong-ok, descendent of Empress Myeongseong. This sense of harmony between East and West can be felt in the food as well as the architecture. Dishes such as the spicy tomato spaghetti with seafood, served in a traditional Korean earthenware bowl, or the roasted mero (Patagonian toothfish) steak in truffle soy sauce, or the braised hanwoo (beef from Korean-bred cattle) ribs with abalone and turmeric puffed rice all convey this sense of harmonious fusion, even just with their names. This balanced combination of Korean tradition with Western ingredients and cooking methods has gained the place its fair share of non-Korean fans also; Mingadaheon is popular with diplomats and foreign professionals living in Korea. With a dining room, a café/library, and an outdoor terrace besides the restaurant proper, visitors can also derive enjoyment from a leisurely tour around the premises after their meal.
In Seoul, kimchi jjigae is the hardest food to become famous for, because it's what you eat at home. Any Korean can sing praises about the kimchi their mother makes at home. So any restaurant that manages to woo a variety of guests—who all have a different idea of what good kimchi is—and have them line up every lunchtime for one type of kimchi jjigae deserves respect. The Jangho Wanggopchang kimchi jjigae recipe known to the world is as follows: “Take cabbage from Gochang, North Jeolla Province and add fermented salted shrimp, red pepper powder, minced garlic, and yellow croaker fish sauce. Let the ripened kimchi mature for a year. Then heap the fermented kimchi along with pork foreleg, leeks and onions into a nickel pot, add red pepper powder, red pepper paste, minced garlic, the juices of the kimchi, and water. Bring to a boil.” But no matter how hard anyone tries to reproduce the Jangho Wanggopchang recipe at home, it just doesn’t taste the same. It’s little short of a miracle.
If ever you want to indulge in the happiness of seeing hearts in the eyes of your significant other, take them to Ginza Bairin in the neighborhood of Sagan-dong and feed them the Katsu Sandwich. It’s an extremely simple and surefire method. Donkatsu (deep-fried, breaded pork cutlet) made from Jeju Black Pig pork is slathered in sauce and placed between two succulent pieces of bread. There’s no division of opinion—it’s just that good. The Ginza Bairin in Sagan-dong is the Korean location of a famous donkatsu (bread pork cutlet) restaurant that opened in Ginza in 1927. The Katsu sandwiches are good, but at Ginza Bairin you can also try other items on the menu, such as the hirekatsu (deep-fried, breaded pork fillet) or the “Special Katsudon" (a bowl of rice topped with tonkatsu, egg and condiments) and experience the essence of Japanese-style donkatsu. The owner of the Ginza Bairin in Japan visits at least three times a year, to fine-tune recipes and the menu, and to ensure that the taste matches up perfectly with the taste at the original Japanese location. With ingredients like the Jeju Black Pig pork, and a superior brand of rice called “Cheolsaedoraeji,” the quality conforms to that of high-quality hotel standards. The artisan spirit can be fully felt even in the production of the breadcrumbs used, which are made in-house. This is because the breadcrumbs must be near-tasteless to truly let the flavor of the meat shine. But breadcrumbs found in the Korean market are usually s