Where to eat: South Korea edition

By Kelly Chiu and Silke Mulder

South Korea is known for many things, their rocky relationship with their neighbour country, being the fashion capital of Asia, Samsung, cosmetics, etc. But one very important aspect of Korean culture that definitely shouldn’t be forgotten is food.

Worldwide the cuisine is known for the spicy fermented cabbage “kimchi” and their endless barbecue restaurants, but there is definitely more to it than that.

We rounded up the best cheap eats in Busan and Seoul to make your trip to South Korea even more special (and food filled).

Seoul

Seoul is the capital of South Korea. Next to being one of the largest cities in Asia, Seoul is full of history and sights to see. Being in the north of South Korea it has a bit more extreme climate. This allows for many attractive indoor activities and food opportunities. A tip next to the wonderful restaurants are the hipster coffee places all around town.

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Sunset over Mapo bridge, connecting the two sides of Seoul split by the Han river

Myeongdong Street

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Tornado Potato and more street food

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One of the things that is quite prominent while walking through Seoul is the copious amount of street food there is available. Myeongdong street in particular transforms into a long street of street food stalls around 5 p.m. After a long day of shopping you can indulge in some tornado potatoes or lobster with cheese.

Wangbijib Korean Barbeque

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So even though korean barbeque is quite stereotypical to add to such an article, this one does stand out from other similar restaurants. Korean food is known for their banchan (side dishes) that you can order unlimitedly. While normally this is only limited to salad leaves and onion, this restaurants gives you a variety of fresh and pickled vegetables, salad and sauce.

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The meat is grilled on an aluminium grill and you can choose whether to sit on the ground or on a chair, depending on how traditional you want to go

Kwangjang Food Market

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Korean steak tartar

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This may be a bit out of the normal touristic route, but definitely worth the effort, Kwangjang food market is a lively indoor marketplace where 200 stalls are lined up selling all different types of korean goodies. Take a seat at one (or more) of the stalls and watch your food be prepared for you. Some recommendations to try: Japchae (korean glass noodles), Korean steak tartare, fresh bibimbap.

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Gimbab (Korean sushi)

Busan

Busan, second largest city after Seoul, is situated in the southeastern part of the Korean peninsula. With its proximity to the sea, fresh seafood come in daily for locals and tourists to devour. Many visit the city during summer days for its famous beaches but it also has lots to offer during its fall season with annual activities in October such as the Busan International Film Festival and the fireworks festival.

Jalgachi Market

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Closing of the 27th Busan Jagalchi Festival with Jagalchi Market building in the background.

The place where you can find freshly caught seafood cooked in front of your eyes. Recently, the nation’s largest seafood festival also known as the Jagalchi Festival, spectacularly came to end with various performances and competitions. However, prices in the market building are on the expensive side. Thus, to satisfy your stomach you could take a 10-minute walk towards BIFF square, for temporary food stalls that cook the freshest seafood right in front of you. Eat like a local with some soju shots.

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A crowded night view of BIFF square.
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Food hawker stalls for the freshest grilled seafood at an affordable price.
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A must-have busan speciality, Ssiat Hotteok (sweet rice korean pancake stuffed with seeds) found at the square.

Gukje Market

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One of the food alleyways of Gukje Market

Also situated near Nampo-dong, Busan’s central commercial and shopping area, Gukje Market is where you could get all types of souvenirs ranging from food to electrical appliances. Stretching over 4 alleyways, it connects to nearby local markets where you could spend the entire day finding your way out. Vegetarians could also find their appetite bigger here as they can savour freshly grilled seaweed seasoned to taste and vegetarian Gimbap.

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Special made vegetarian Gimbap, replacing crab imitation meat and ham with other greens.

Seomyeon 1 Beonga (Seomyeon First Street)

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Food stalls shortly open after noon.

Known for its underground shopping mall, this is the place where you could stop by for a quick lunch or dinner at local restaurants. Stop by Gyeongju Bakga Rice Soup Seomyeon Branch for a rich pork and rice soup, a Busan speciality. If you don’t mind waiting in line for a while, hop over to Gijang Handmade Noodle Soup for made-to-order meals with local families.

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A limited menu but each made by hand and to order right outside the restaurant.
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Each noodle has a unique cut creating great texture to the simple soup base.

Travel tips for tourists:

To get your way around South Korea, Naver Map (available in English and Chinese) is the best online maps for directions especially when driving. Due to security issues, some areas and public transportation lines are not complete on Google maps.

Download Naver Maps for iPhone here and for Android here.

For all the foodies out there, Mangoplate is a great guide for all the best reviewed restaurants and food in South Korea. Anything with 4.5 stars (out of 5) or above is definitely worth visiting.

For any cultural visits or activities, you could check out KKDAY for any discounts on guided tours or entrance tickets. They provide services ranging from portable wifi rentals to various shows and performances. Do bear in mind that most reservations need to be made in advance for at least one working day while few have instant confirmations.