Seoul's sandwich scene is changing and becoming much more diverse. Here's the best places (sometimes, the only places) to get the sandwiches you know and love.
The Francesinha literally means “little Frenchie” in Portuguese and at Taverna de Portugal, Seoul’s only Portuguese restaurant, the Francesinha goes all out. It’s loaded with mortadella, chorizo, ham, sirloin steak and prosciutto between two slices of white bread, which is then covered in mozzarella cheese and lightly toasted. “But the secret is the sauce,” says chef Agostino Silva, who owns the restaurant with his wife Hee-rah. “Anyone can make a sandwich, but the sauce is a different story.” All Francesinha sauces are made with a tomato and beer base, though every restaurant has their own variation. Agostino’s version includes a little wine and a little seafood, and that’s all he’ll say—the recipe is a secret. Each sandwich is topped with olive tapenade after being liberally doused with their signature sauce. For a truly Portuguese experience, upgrade to the deluxe sandwich (not on the menu), which includes a fried egg on top and fries on the side. And please, Agostino implores, don’t use side plates (you miss so much of the sauce) and don’t waste time photographing it (it gets cold).
The bánh mi got its start with the introduction of the baguette in the 19th century, during the French colonial era in Vietnam. Moon Gi-duk, owner of Lie Lie Lie in Yeonnam-dong, fell in love with this dish on one of his many visits to see his younger brother, who works in Saigon. He gets to the shop at 7am and starts baking the baguettes himself. “These baguettes are lighter and airier than regular baguettes, so they take more time to rise,” he explains. Inside each loaf he layers Vietnamese ham, pickled vegetables, cilantro, Maggi sauce and mayo, to which you can also add either spicy pork or chicken (or forego meat altogether in the vegetarian version). We’d like to add a note about pâté, an optional add-on at Lie Lie Lie: Moon Gi-duk used to make his own pâté but because so few customers opted for it, he ended up throwing out batch after batch and eventually had to switch to a canned version. We highly encourage you to order your bánh mi with pâté, and moreover, give the owner some words of encouragement so that he’ll consider making it in-house again.
True Philadelphians just call it the “cheesesteak,” but everywhere else we know it by its allusion to the City of Brotherly Love. But the Philly cheesesteak isn’t about coddling you; it’s unpretentious, doesn’t count calories and tells you to f*** off if you can’t finish. The story goes that this sandwich had its humble beginnings one fine day in the 1930s at a hot dog stand owned by two brothers. In Seoul, you can get a little Philly love at Napkin Please in Seoraemaeul. Owner Park Hyun, who’s traveled back and forth between the States and Korea, wanted to open a tap house here in Seoul with simple but delicious food and added the Philly cheesesteak to his menu. In keeping with tradition, the Philly comes on a long hoagie roll, with three choices for cheese (white American, provolone or Cheez Whiz) and optional grilled onions and bell peppers. Hyun says that though Gene’s in Philly makes the most famous cheesesteak, he modeled his after the thinner and more finely chopped sirloin at Pat’s and Jim’s. Be forewarned that this sandwich is large and oozing with melted cheese (yes, you’ll find yourself asking for a napkin, please).
Never has a sandwich inspired so much pride and so much debate. While a version of the Cuban sandwich originated amongst the cigar factories and sugar mills around Havana in the 1800s, it was cigar factory workers immigrating to Florida who brought the Cubano into its own. But did the Cubano start in Miami or Ybor City, Tampa? It’s a fiercely raging debate that we’ll leave to the experts; all you need to know is that the Cubano is delicious, and you can get a good one at 320 Libre in Gyeongridan. (Were you not dying to have one while watching Jon Favreau’s 2014 film Chef?) While their Cubano is not entirely authentic (it’s pretty hard to get Cuban bread in Seoul, for one), it is a hearty and flavorful take on this beloved sandwich. The pork is marinated in Cuban mojo, a garlicky, citrusy sauce, for the better part of a day before being roasted and added to slices of ham and cheese, yellow mustard and sliced pickles. All of that is then put into a press and flattened into a compact, toasty creation that is served with cassava chips.
Quite possibly the most iconic American sandwich out there, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is the stalwart companion of paper bag school lunches, hospital cafeterias and hiking trips. It’s that friendly sandwich, always filling and never offensive, that you sometimes forget about but can always turn to. Let’s give the humble PB&J a little love, we say. It’s also more popular than you might think. (Fun fact: by the time they finish high school, the average American student will have consumed 1,500 PB&J sandwiches.) It all started during the Great Depression in the 1920s, when peanut butter was a cheap source of protein and the invention of sliced bread made it easy for kids to make their own sandwiches. During World War II, American soldiers added grape jelly to the mix, popularizing it back home. For some, the thought of paying for a PB&J would be sacrilege, but if you’re feeling irreverent and hungry, Toast Monster in Haebangchon serves up a variety of sandwiches on toast, including the classic PB&J with grape jelly, served hot and gooey just the way we liked it as kids.