Most people think of Korean BBQ and soju when it comes to Korean cuisine but the capital city has lots more to offer. So, what to eat in Seoul?
Foodies visiting Seoul are in a for a treat. The Korean capital is known for its comfort foods and street snacks. You never need to travel far to find spicy meals ranging from grilled pork belly or pan-fried chicken.
Many outdoor vendors also provide a buffet-style setup, allowing you to customise your dish to suit your tastes. It’s a fun, vibrant, and mouth-watering place to visit for foodies.
Starting to feel a little hungry? Get ready to salivate with this complete Seoul food guide…
Table of Contents
Seoul food guide: Eight must-eat dishes
Korean BBQ (Gogigui)
You haven’t tried Korean BBQ (gogigui) until you’ve visited Seoul. In fact, I’d go as far to say it’s one of the must-do activities while visiting Seoul! It’s often served as a group meal with a grill placed in the centre of the table, making it a fun way to connect with friends, new and old. At some restaurants, the table has a cut-out specifically for the grill.
The server places a series of side dishes and toppings in little bowls and plates around the grill. You can then throw pork, beef, and other ingredients on the grill and help yourself to a filling meal.
Before bringing cuts of meat to the table, restaurants often marinate them ahead of time in a mix of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and pepper, giving the pork or beef a spicy kick.
Chicken is an essential part of Seoul cuisine. You’ll find it served in just about every imaginable way, including pan-fried with slices of cabbage and sweet potato. This dish is dakgalbi and often comes served with other vegetables.
Besides the chicken, cabbage, and sweet potato, it comes with scallions, onions, and rice stirred together on a hot plate.
Restaurants often use diced chicken as the meal originated in the 1960s using leftover pieces of chicken. By the 1970s, it had become a favourite of students needing cheap, filling meals.
It’s now a local specialty and available at just about any family restaurant and at most night markets in Seoul. As with traditional Korean BBQ, you can often cook your own ingredients in a hotplate placed at the centre of the table.
When you first see kimbap, you may assume that it’s just messy sushi rolls. However, it is actually a completely different meal. While it includes seafood, rice, and veggies rolled in seaweed, the ingredients are fully cooked.
It’s also called “gimbap,” named for the edible seaweed used as a wrap. It does resemble sushi rolls but it originated in South Korea with early versions of the dish dating back hundreds of years.
Besides the traditional rice, seafood, and veggies, you may find kimbap with meat, cheese, kimchi, or even egg strips.
For the best kimbap in Seoul, visit Gimgane in the hip district of Myeongdong. The small restaurant has a counter right off the sidewalk so you don’t even need to go inside.
Bibimbap is another food that you can get at just about any restaurant throughout Seoul. This is another traditional Seoul dish that locals have eaten for a few hundred years.
It’s basically a mixture of fried vegetables and rice. You’ll typically get a bowl of warm white rice topped with a selection of sautéed and carefully seasoned vegetables. The chef may spice it up with soy sauce or chili pepper paste.
It comes in many variations with options to suit even the pickiest eater. At some places, you’ll even get bibimbap served with a fried egg and a slice of meat.
A staple of Seoul street food, you’ll find tteokbokki just about everywhere. It’s a popular street snack made from rice and fish cakes often rolled into a ball and served with sweet chili sauce.
As with many of these dishes, chili paste spices up the rice cakes. If you’re not a fan of spicy foods, look for tteokbokki served with non-spicy soy sauce. It’s not as common, but the non-spicy variety is one of the earlier variations, created before the introduction of chili pepper.
The food has a variety of recipe options. Besides spicy and non-spicy versions, you’ll find versions of the snack made from seafood, short ribs, or instant noodles. There’s also a hot-pot variation called jeukseok-tteok-bokki.
One of the best places in Seoul to find a whole lot of tteokbokki to try out is Gwangjang Market.
If you get tired of pan-fried or BBQ chicken, try it braised. Jjimdak originated from the Andong province. It’s a classic meal and popular option in kitchens throughout Seoul.
It’s made with a combination of braised chicken, potatoes, carrots, onions, and other veggies marinated in a spicy Korean soy sauce. It’s typically served with rice cakes and noodles.
To prepare this dish, the chef boils a whole chicken in a broth along with onions, garlic, ginger, and chili peppers. The mixture then simmers while the chef adds more ingredients.
It’s an affordable dish at most restaurants and a popular choice for those on a budget. It also often comes with huge portions, making it the perfect choice for fueling your walking tour of Seoul.
Budae jjigae, or Korean Army Stew, became popular after the Korean War. People needed protein so they threw together this stew using leftover Spam and sausages cooked in a thick chili broth. The sausages came from leftover army rations, leading to the name “Korean army stew.”
Over the years, the recipes have evolved. Today, budae jjigae often comes with Spam, sausages, and ramen noodles. While these main ingredients cook together in a broth, chefs may also add cheese, baked beans, rice cakes, and various veggies.
Many restaurants specialize in this dish. It’s often served with alcoholic beverages such as soju or served as a lunch item in some of the college neighbourhoods.
Juk is a traditional Korean porridge. It’s one of the few non-spicy meals in this roundup.
To make the porridge, cooks boil rice overnight until it’s completely soft. Sometimes it’s made with other ingredients boiled and mashed together. You may find juk made with beans, sesame seeds, nuts, and various grains or legumes.
Although it was traditionally served warm as an early morning snack, these days you can find it served any time of the day. In Seoul, people may prepare juk for friends or family members when they’re sick. While we eat chicken noodle soup to recover from the cold or flu, people in Korea enjoy a warm bowl of juk.
Where to stay in Seoul: The best hotels for foodies
Trying to nail down where to stay in Seoul often presents a wee challenge. As expected, the Korean capital is absolutely huge and sprawls over a large area. For most travellers (foodies included!), I’d recommend sticking to the city’s central districts such as Insadong and Myeongdong for the best selection and the closest proximity to the city’s best food.
- Gateway Korea Guesthouse: This small guesthouse sits in a quiet residential area and is the perfect choice for those on a budget who want to stay in a place that truly feels like a home away from home in Korea.
- Sunbee Hotel Insadong Seoul: A budget-friendly 3-star hotel in the heart of Insadong that features spacious & comfortable rooms. Thanks to its superb location, it’s within walking distance of several amazing street food options.
- Aloft Seoul Myeongdong: One of the coolest mid-range luxury picks in Seoul, this hip & stylish 4-star hotel sits in Myeongdong with some of the city’s top restaurants and markets within quick walking distance.