Spicy in the morning: A Seoul food trip

It’s a good thing everything we ever ate in Seoul, Korea, was good because half the time we could not even decipher the menu.

After encountering a particularly grumpy driver who took us to our hotel on the day we arrived, we spent a good part of the morning looking for a place to eat. No hotel restaurant for us, no, no. We wanted authentic Korean food in an authentic local bistro.

So, we meandered around quaint, narrow streets in a neighborhood near Myeongdong, trying to make sense of signages in Korean. We ogled food posters, getting hungrier by the minute. We were just about ready to cave in and go into a local coffee shop when one of our friends came running back, saying he had found a perfect place.

It was an old local restaurant, alright, with Korean words all the way. The only letters we could understand spelled Chicken and Happiness. Yes, that sounded about right.

Best of all, it was a buffet lunch, and laid out for customers’ pleasure were traditional Korean fare like kimchi and japchae, jajangmyeon and other dishes that frankly did not matter what name, as we were ravenous. A smiling proprietor took the time to explain to us what was being served, and even went out of his way to demonstrate how to assemble a noodle dish from the huge pots steaming at one end of the long table.

It was good, hot meal, very satisfying, and all for about P300-plus in the current exchange rate. Out came our thousands of won, and we all felt like a winner.

The next day, lunch was another serendipitous Korean discovery. We were at the shopping district in Myeongdong this time, and while many food choices were available, we could not find anything that appealed to everyone.

Looking for a particular place that one of our friends had found in a local map, we hunted around for someone to ask for directions. A very nice Korean guy who had the job of inviting passersby to try the restaurant he was working for gave us his time to point out directions, but because of what he did, we all decided we would eat at the restaurant he was hawking instead.

There we had bibimbap, or mixed rice with vegetables and meat, and choice of chili or soy sauce. Bibimbap, in case you are still not familiar, “is a tasty mixture of rice, beef, vegetables tossed with gochujang (a hot red pepper paste) and soy sauce. Finally, it is topped with sesame seeds for some extra flavor.”


I loved the beef bulgogi — and I must say it truly could be “the 23rd most delicious food in the world,” as ranked in a CNN Travel reader’s poll. Made with melt-in-your-mouth thinly sliced grilled beef sirloin, its combination of “soy sauce, black pepper, green peppers, onions, garlic, ginger, sugar and sesame oil” gives it a distinct yet somehow familiar, comforting taste. The sides of kimchi and other pickled vegetables just made the whole meal so satisfying.

Throughout our stay, we also discovered the Koreans’ love for coffee (coffee shops were everywhere!), baked goods, burgers and cheese. One particular combination we loved was chicken and beer, and we went back to a place called Chicken & Beer twice, to be exact.

Here are more glimpses of the kinds of food we saw and sampled in Seoul. Enjoy!