Features Korea Travel Guide

Seoul Travel Guide: Where to Eat and What to Do in the Heart and Seoul of South Korea

November 2010

From the spicy tang of a classic kimchi to the subtle and natural flavors of temple food, Korea is the place for culinary pros looking to enhance their repertoire with age-old traditions. Take fermentation, for instance. Fermentation is as Korean as apple pie is American, and it’s got 2500 years on our national tart. The power of fermentation lies in its ability to renew and transform flavors, and its beauty lies in its mystery, since the actual fermentation process is still under the microscope. Kimchi, marquee star of the art of Korean fermentation, is a multi-generational practice, long-steeped in custom. And the age-old process is gaining popularity in the kitchens of some of the world’s greatest chefs.

But Seoul is more than fermentation—although that’s almost enough for us. A journey into the heart and soul of kimchi country promises to be educational, savory, and satisfying. As a food city, Seoul is wonderfully saturated with both traditional and modern fare. We tasted recipes from time immemorial believed to harness the power of good health and tried 21st century stylish and uber-urban dishes too. The global trend of high quality and local products as well as modern twists on traditional fare has not skipped over Seoul, so expect to find high-caliber chow, young chefs and restaurateurs, and adventurous foodies of all ages.



La Callas
Pierre Gagnaire a Seoul
Poom Seoul
Millenium Seoul Hilton Gyeongbok Palace
Noryangjin Fish Market


Templestay Information Center, Fl. 5
71, Gyeonji-dong, Seoul, South Korea
+82 2 2031-2081


In this spartan, wood-paneled restaurant, ease into tradition by taking a cushion on the floor. The temple food served to you will leave you feeling very zen, for it is flavorful, healthful, and spiritual. Try the light and airy three-colored pancakes, made with vegetables and beans, and take in the energy provided by the carefully prepared color combination—an element of Korean temple food that many believe has a direct link to health.

Recommended Dishes:
  • Sam Saek Jeon: Three-Colored Pancakes
  • Lotus Leaf Rice
  • Lotus Leaf Rice
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    127 Sogyeok-dong
    Seoul, South Korea
    +82 2 739-6086

    This little den of a dumpling joint is hidden within the warren of busy streets that is Samcheong-dong. Make a pit stop here to keep your motor running for the first class shopping this area has to offer. The steamed meat dumpling was succulent and juicy, with a good amount of broth tucked inside. And the fried leek dumpling was textural heaven, with a soft tasty filling embedded in a crunchy dumpling shell.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Steamed Meat Dumpling
  • Fried Leek Dumpling
  • Steamed Meat Dumpling
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    Cong-du camera icon
    Seoul Museum of History 1F
    50 Saemunan-gil, 2-1 Shinmunro-2-ga Jongno-gu
    Seoul, South Korea 110-230


    Looking for neo-Korean in a super-chic space? Chef Eric Kim lovingly nudges traditional Korean flavors into the new millennium at Cong-du, located in the Seoul Museum of History. Dishes, like the Green Apple Sorbet with Red Bean Jelly, become playful pop-art for the mouth. The chef cleverly combines multiple textural components with clever bursts of color and flavor that brought to mind wd~50 or Momofuku in New York City.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Abalone and Sticky Texture Rice
  • Green Apple Sorbet and Red Bean Jelly
  • 3.	Green Apple Sorbet and Red Bean Jelly
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    Doore camera icon
    8-7 Insa-dong, Jongno-gu
    Seoul, South Korea 110-290
    +82 2 732-2919

    Like something out of the Matrix, to eat at Doore, you must first find Doore. Hidden in a back alley of Insa-dong, calm pervades in its honeycomb of eight small dining rooms. To induce further quiet and perhaps amp the sense of Bladerunner futurism, orders are taken via a personal touchscreen device. Owner Lee Sook Hee makes it a point to keep up to date ever since she took the restaurant over from her mother 23 years ago. Although her menu focuses on the classics, it’s peppered with a few modern dishes that come through with each season.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Pajeon: Green Onion Pancake
  • Chilhyanggae: Chicken Cooked In Double Boiler
  • 4.	Chilhyanggae: Chicken Cooked In Double Boiler
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    La Callas camera icon
    Sam-heung Bldg. 1st Fl, 1451-79 Seocho-dong
    Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
    Hours: Mon-Sun 11am-11pm; Coffee Break 4pm-5pm

    Korea’s love affair with Italian cuisine mirrors that of the rest of the world, and has spawned the same myriad offspring in the nation’s capital. La Callas, a restaurant favored among Seoul’s passel of international and traditional dining spots, strives to adhere to its Italian breeding. The vibe is akin to the Godfather, in a cozy way, and the food is authentic Italian through-and-through.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Spaghetti, Abalone, Arugula, and Red Pepper
  • Sea Bream, Potato, Broccoli, and Mushrooms
  • Antipasti with caeser salad, eggplant with mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, mushrooms, balsamic vinegar and scallops and An Chang Sal beef tenderloin, thinly sliced
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    Pierre Gagnaire à Seoul camera icon
    The Lotte Hotel
    1, Sogong-Dong, Jung-gu
    Seoul, South Korea 100-721
    +82 2 371 7181-2
    Hours: Lunch Mon-Sat 12pm-3pm; Dinner Mon-Sat 6pm-10pm

    It's Pierre Gagnaire, so you know it’s going to be luxurious. The décor is Alice in Wonderland goes on a dinner-date, with splashes of purple, green, and burgundy, and winding walls striped black and white.  Located on the 35th floor of the Lotte Hotel, guests get a sweeping bird’s eye view of Seoul.  And at Pierre Gagnaire’s first restaurant in Korea, Chef de Cuisine Julien Boscus combines traditional French flavors with Korean products for an even deeper foray into fantasy-land, such as with the Banana in Chocolate, Dulce de Leche, Banana, and Avocado.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Langoustines Variation
  • The Amuse Bouche: Tuna, Chorizo, and Carrots
  • Panna Cotta, Pea and Mint Ice Cream
  • Banana in Chocolate, Dulce de Leche, Banana, and Avocado
  • The Amuse Bouche: Anise Stick with Parmesan; Dried Tuna Belly Confit, Chorizo, and Carrots; Mascarpone and Lemon Meringue with Red Wine Filling; Tomato Foam, Black Olive Powder, Basil, Tomato, and Arugula Cake with Salt Sablé
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    Poom Seoul camera icon
    3F Daewon-jeongsa B/D 358-17
    Huam-dong, Yongsan-gu
    Seoul, Korea 140-901
    +82 2 777-9007
    Hours: Lunch Mon-Sat 12pm-3pm; Dinner Mon-Sat 6pm-10pm

    Nestled in a mountainside, this serene restaurant offers the culinary equivalent of a day at the spa. Everything is a guided journey, from the carefully designed path through Poom Seoul’s garden to your table, where former food stylist Chef Young Hee Roh uses skill and artistry to guide you through her dishes as though each were a deep breath of fresh air. With a view either into a fully exposed kitchen, where the absolute synchronism and total silence of its staff is on display, or unto the heart of Seoul from up on high, Poom Seoul is a restaurant well-worth the trip.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Gajimaleenaengchae: Grilled, Skinned, and Filled Eggplant Roll
  • Saengran: Ginger Balls, Honey, and Ground Pine Nuts
  • Amuse bouche jujubes served with pinenuts
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    Millenium Seoul Hilton
    395, 5-ga, Namdaemun-ro
    Chung-gu, Seoul, South Korea 100-676
    +82 2 317-3114
    Rooms start at $260

    Located at the base of Mount Namsan, this hotel will provide you with expansive views of south central Seoul. As you step through the entryway, a waterfall beckons you into the splashy two-tiered lobby. The rooms are well-appointed and quite comfortable. With a fitness center, pool, beauty salon, and barber shop, you won’t find yourself searching Googlemaps for the nearest anything. The hotel even has a casino, if you’re feeling lucky.

    Gyeongbok Palace
    1 Sejongro, Jongno-gu
    Seoul, South Korea
    +82 2 171-2461

    Dating back to the Joseon Dynasty of the 14th century, this palace offers a glimpse into the lives of emperors of yore, and its expansive grounds are perforated with tranquil gardens, flowers, and photo-op spots, repose being the general idea. Ponder long-ago palace intrigue, or just meditate on your next meal at the serene Hyangwon-jeong Pavilion, encircled by a picturesque lotus pond perfect for reflection and or daydreaming.
    Gyeongbok Palace
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    Shopping Area
    Subway stations nearby:
  • Jonggak Station (Seoul Subway Line 1)
  • Jongno 3-ga Station (Seoul Subway Line 1, Line 3, Line 5)
  • Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line 3)

  • Insa-dong is browsing: through anything from antiques to art supplies to surplus chopsticks. In this bustling shopping area known for its clutter of tea shops and store-lined streets, don’t look past the food carts, where you can get a real taste of Korea’s sundry street food. For those blessed with patience, rewards are forthcoming and manifold: a shop literally bulging with what appeared to be burlap bags was actually bursting at the seams with dried mushrooms of infinite variety.

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    Noryangjin Fish Market
    Retail Hours: Sun-Sat 3am-9pm
    Wholesale Hours: Mon-Sat 3 am- pm
    Next to Noryangjin subway station (Line 1, Exit 1)
    +82 2 814-2211

    Whenever you’re looking for a burst of pre-dawn energy and or a tale to tell, make for the fish market. The smell of the sea, the hustle, the bustle, the camaraderie among stall-keepers, the persistent crow and chatter of the live auction…you may arrive with sleep in your eye but your a.m. drowsiness won’t withstand the caffeinated buzz of the crowd for long.

    Most of the stalls at Noryangjin Fish Market are family businesses, and since the sellers themselves aren’t fishermen, they place their bids every morning at the live auction— which makes for a show as each sea creature goes up on the block. Fresh from your stall of choice, haul your catch upstairs, and if you’re with a group of chefs, pause together to ooh and ahh over the entire wall of knives for sale in the stairwell. With your hunger sharpened from a morning amok among seafood, head to the restaurant at the top of the stairs: they’ll slice your fish and cook it for you.

    Noryangjin Fish Market
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    Subway stations nearby:
  • Anguk Station (Subway Line 3)
  • Gyeongbokgung Station (Subway Line 3)

  • For anyone enthralled by the mystique of art galleries, or attracted by their relative small size and non-existent admission fee, Samcheong-dong is a must-see neighborhood. Located about a ten-minute walk from Insa-dong, this cluster of streets and alleyways is a fun place to get lost: especially if you need an excuse to find yourself completely detached from a strict itinerary with nothing more to do than dip into one chic shop after another, with stylish restaurants everywhere you turn.
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