South Korea — Food and Restaurants
Many visitors actually go to Korea just to enjoy the excellent and affordable cuisine. Korean food has become more and more international, and most cultured visitors are familiar with kimchi (pickled Chinese cabbage in chili paste), bibimbop (which literally means “mixed rice” and contains a combination of sliced meat, a raw egg and grilled vegetables in a chili pepper paste), among other delicacies. A highlight of any foodie visit is the Royal cuisine course, which gives an overview of Korean cooking. Always popular are the plentiful Korean BBQ restaurants where you can cook up your own beef or pork. Nightlife choices are also in high demand, especially in Seoul where there are nightclubs, bars, and casinos offering evening fun. Many eateries are open 24 hours for the late night crowd.
Bars and Pubbing in the Republic of Korea
In Asia, the Korean beverage makgeolli has become extremely popular. This sweet alcoholic drink made from rice and rice malt, is highly drinkable and a favorite among youngsters. The traditional Korean drink is soju, a distilled spirit made from sweet potatoes. But whether it’s Korean or international drinks you seek, Seoul offers the best of both worlds. Many bars stay open late, until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., and some even later.
There are a range of bars in Seoul from local to ex-pat hangouts. Many of the popular ex-pat spots are located in Itaewon. The first cigar bar in Seoul is the Burn Cigar Bar & Lounge (305-7 Itaewon 2-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul), which is quickly becoming popular among both crowds. For those that enjoy good bar food and beer on tap, the place to go is Geckos (128-5 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan, Seoul).
Many of the popular and most upscale bars and clubs can be found in the international hotels in Seoul. A popular dance club and bar is JJ’s (322 Sowol-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul), which is located in the basement of the Grand Hyatt in Itaewon. Another stylish bar is Blush (521 Teheran-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul), housed in the InterContinental.
New bars in Seoul that are quickly gaining popularity include Bar 153 (2F, Garden Place, 1-153 Sinmunno 2-ga, Seoul), which emulates the New York lounge scene. Located in an old cinema, it has a unique atmosphere. Another newcomer that serves incredible cocktails is Coffee Bar K (205 River Valley Road, Seoul). This quiet haute with exquisitely mixed drinks is great for a romantic night out or if you just want to enjoy conversation without loud pulsating music.
As the second largest city in South Korea, Busan also offers plenty of nightlife options. Although not quite as international in flair as Seoul, it is nevertheless a popular beach resort with foreigners. The most acclaimed night spots are Nampodong and Haeundae, but the most upscale cocktail bars and nightclubs are found in hotels, such as the Elune Club (Paradise Hotel, Busan) or MurpII (Novotel Ambassador, Busan). For good draft beers and bar food head to the Wolfhound (Haeundae) or Starface (Haundae). In Nampodong, the crowd tends to be younger, as it is close to Busan National University. If you like discovering local music, Soul Trane (PNU Metro exit 3, Nampodong, Busan) or White House (Pujon 2-dong, Pusanjin-ku, Busan) may be up your alley.
Many visitors head to Daegu for a few days to explore the many historic sites. Daegu has a vibrant nightlife with a nice combination of western bars and nightclubs, as well as local hang outs. Expat bars are located primarily around the Samdeok Fire Station and Rodeo Street. Check out Club Monkey (Rodeo Street, Daegu) for dancing or Old Skool (Rodeo Street, Daegu), a popular bar with Americans. For a younger crowd, head to Kyungdae, which is near the university and is full of nightclubs, bars, and restaurants. A popular beer bar is the Gypsy Rock (Kyundae, Daegu), while the busy cocktail bar of Bar Mo Mo (Kyundae, Daegu) is another local favorite.
Nightlife on Jeju Island is not as crazy as it is in Seoul or Daegu, as the island is a top choice for Korean honeymooners. The casinos make for a fun night out, with most being open 24 hours. They are mainly located in the major hotels, such as the Hyatt, the Crowne Plaza and the Paradise. There are plenty of bars and restaurants along the main boardwalk in Jeju City, with most places open until 4:00 a.m.. For a young party crowd, head to the area around City Hall in the old city. A local favorite is Bull’s Darts (1773-6 Ido 2-dong, Jeju) where patrons can even enjoy a game of darts and the Gecko’s Bar & Restaurant (Jungmun, Jeju), a popular hand-out for ex-pats. The trendiest nightclub is the Jeju Aroma Super Dome Nightclub (Yeong-don, Jeju), with DJs and live performances spread out over four floors.
Dining and Cuisine in the Republic of Korea
Korean cuisine is an important part of the country’s culture. Spicy chili paste summarizes the general flavor, but there are also non-spicy dishes, such as BBQ beef. Much of Korean food centers on soybeans, soybean paste, chili and chili paste. Of course, kimchi (picked Chinese cabbage in chili paste) is an integral part of cooking here.
When ordering Korean BBQ, it will come with anywhere from five side dishes to several dozen, known as namul. These sides can be reordered and eaten as much as you want for free! The various types of noodles are also worth trying, especially the ray myung (cold noodles), which are often desert after a big BBQ meal. For authentic Korean BBQ, try the Maple Tree House (Yongsan-gu, Itaewon 1-dong, Seoul), which also has excellent cold noodles. There are so many BBQ joints to choose from it’s hard to know where to go, but a popular one is Byeokjae Galbi (467 Dogok-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul). A specialty cold noodle restaurant is Ojangdong Heungnamjip (Jung-gu, Mareunnae-ro 114, Seoul).
A fun experience is also the Royal cuisine, which involves learning how to cook a variety of courses and a range of dishes. There are many Royal cuisine restaurants to choose from, some offering upward of 14 courses! In Seoul, try Sura-on (118-3 Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul) or Yong Su San (118-3 Samcheong-dong, Jongro-gu, Seoul).
Another Korean specialty is samgetang. This is a chicken soup that is usually eaten during the hot summer or cold winter months. If it’s done well, the meat of the chicken is tender and juicy and simply amazing. There are many restaurants that specialize in samgetangand everyone has their own favorite. One to try is Baekje Samgyetang (50-11 Myeongdong 2-ga, Seoul) or Tok Sok Chon (85-1 Chaebu-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul), which was a favorite of late President Noh. In Daegu, try the Geumgok Samgyetang Restaurant (Samdeok Fire Station area, Daegu).
Seafood is another Korean specialty. Various types of fish, shrimp, squid, and octopus are cooked or eaten raw just about everywhere. The best seafood can be found in the coastal areas, especially in Busan and Jeju. In Busan, try spicy stir-fried baby octopus at Gaemijip (Jung-gu, Sinchangdong 1, ga 14, Busan) and in Seoul, try the seafood dishes at Goraebul (828-53 Yeoksam 1-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul). In Jeju, head to Jeju Haelyong (2526-4 Yeongdong, Jeju) for some of the best local catches like godeung-uh jolim (stewed mackerel). For excellent sushi, head to Donjigae Hwaejib (2618-11 Doudu 1-dong, Jeju).