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an eating plan – Korea’s oldest restaurants

One of the hard things about living in Seoul is that it is absolutely not a foodie city. Coming from London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong or even the Spanish provinces to Seoul is a painful experience. I think the only place worse where we have lived would be McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Yes there is Korean food. Unfortunately it is also probably the worst place for Korean food in Korea; expensive and average.

Moreover you might think that as a capital city it has all the other, international, foods. You would be wrong. Every single one of the worst non-Korean meals of my life I’ve had have been here. It doesn’t matter whether you throw time or money at it you cannot have good Western or Asian food here. It is either Korean or Korean and all the while knowing that it is no-where near as good as the food down in Jeolla province. To put it mildly I am disenchanted with the food scene in Seoul. All the invention, the adventure, with Korean food is happening with the US. The US gets Hooni Kim whilst we get a chef who has worked in average middle Eastern hotel chains and a press which lauds hacks like Edward Kwon.

Korea restaurant book

So rather than being disappointed I am going to use this to learn about the basics of Korean food. All of the best meals I’ve had in Seoul have been in old, grotty, and most of all, old places. A restaurant which has stood the test of two World Wars, one Korean civil war and the 80s is generally pretty good. So starting from next week I am going to eat my way chronologically through this book which sets out Korea’s oldest restaurants.

If you find yourself in Korea or in Seoul come along. Just drop me an email. It begins with a restaurant from 1904 which is Korea’s oldest restaurant.

17 Comments

  1. Sounds like an interesting plan and sure you can get good material for coming blog posts. So, this makes me wonder about the food places we say in Semipermanent, they arent that good right? like the china town or the hot dogs. Looking forward to.

    • Javier – sorry for the slow reply as I’ve been in Japan! The food places in SP are all legit as well it is directed by Jen who is more than a slight food obsessive. Still for a city of 12 million the food is pretty bad. Definitely worse than other world cities like London, NY, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai etc..

      The places in the food episode are all actually good as we definitely wouldn’t feature them. However, if you said, take me to another good Chinese restaurant… that would probably be impossible :/

  2. I found a post on Seoul Eats (I know) ages ago, bookmarked it (http://www.seouleats.com/restaurant-review/seouls-oldest-and-best-restaurants-starting-from-1902/) and managed to go to exactly none of them.
    I’m interested to hear how you find these places. I’ll be back in Seoul in March and would love to tag along.

    • Lili – let’s do it. The details he has in that post are a big wrong by the look of this book. So the wrong dates etc.. Been on holiday but now back so eager to get eating.

  3. DG

    After living here for 4 years, I agree it’s not up to snuff as it should be. Many Seoul restaurants are into style over substance and you pay for the experience of eating mediocre food in nouveau riche, overly pretentious surroundings. Some of the better food I’ve had have been home cooking or at holes-in-the-wall. I would love to join one of your excursions.

    • DG – I should probably have your email from the admin section of this email for comments so will drop you a line. Otherwise will publicize the eat- ups on this website.

      But I definitely agree with your analysis. The worse looking the place, the more likely you are to get good food. Not guaranteed but erring on the side of possible. Places like ELBON; guaranteed the reverse.

    • DG

      Thanks for the comment. Seoul’s dining scene is like an adolescent going through an awkward gangly phase. I see what it aspires to so I’m hopeful that in in a couple of years, a swan will emerge. What is your take on ELBON?

  4. Chef

    Wow! The truth!

  5. Lisa

    hi!

    I’m going to be in Seoul Dec 31-Jan 3 w/ my husband and another couple. We’d love to join you for a meal on your journey.

  6. Exciting. I look forward to reading about it.

  7. Jegs

    Food trip!!! I’ll be in seoul march 9 and 10 . Hopefully there’s a food outing I can join .would be a good intro also for my friend Sheryl who just moved there from Malaysia . You may get in touch with me also at 01048427995. Will be arriving march 8 and staying at yeungpodong area :)

  8. TYR

    While I agree, Seoul’s international food scene is rather lame, it has come a long, long way since I first visited back in 1988. Yes, the majority of international food is a weak reproduction of the original with no thought given to either expand on the original or even imitate it properly. Even the celebrity chef restaurants such as Elbon by Chef Choi or Spice by Chef Kwon are like caricatures of what a great restaurant should be.

    However, to say that Seoul is not a foodie city is IMHO false. The sheer amount of restaurants tucked away into every city block is only equalled by NYC. The problem is that with the sheer amount of restaurants, trying new restaurants is always a hit or miss. There are gems to be found, and not always expensive, but hunting down these restaurants and actually finding them are a bit of a challenge as some of these restaurants are tucked away making them nearly impossible to locate.

    As far as Seoul having the worst Korean food, I’m not sure how to understand this. It seems almost as if you’re trying to find nouveau fusion Korean food and being disappointed by the more traditional Korean food which is obviously abundant in Seoul. Yes, there are plenty of bad Korean restaurants in Seoul but there are more good ones than any other place in the world, including Los Angeles which is probably the mecca for Korean food outside of Korea.

    Anyways, a very nice blog and good reading nonetheless!

  9. As someone who spent 5 months in Seoul in 2011 – I certainly feel your pain. I didn’t really consider Tampa Bay to be a foodie city when I went to Korea back then, but after my experiences in Korea I realized that Tampa is actually a food hotspot in comparison. Seoul, like any other place though, has gems well hidden.

    I spent months chasing a decent taco and finally found Taco Rico in Gangnam which finally satisfied my taste buds even though it was crazy expensive – the chorizo was spot on. http://www.seoultaste.com/en/restaurants/taco-rico

    Still – Seoul certainly leaves much to be desired especially with foreign cuisine and my trip through Jeollanam-Do province with Hansik Korean Food Foundation really opened my tastes to better Korean food than what was lying around Seoul. Also my food tour with O’ngo Communications and Dan from Seoul Eats was excellent. They know their stuff.

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