China is the largest group of tourists to Korea by a large margin. According the Korean Tourism Association 6 million Chinese tourists came to visit Korea in the year 2014. I am sure that they spent some money on food, but popular dishes for Chinese are different from other nations.
My Chinese guests seem to have a bucket list of places they must try in Korea. Some were popularized by Korean dramas and others are recommended by Chinese travelers. Price is factor. My Chinese guests prefer frugal meals for typical meals but will splurge for a special meal on one of the days. There is often a bucket list of must eat foods such as Royal Court Cuisine, tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cake), and samgyetang (chicken soup with ginseng). Also, I have found that the Chinese prefer to have marinated barbecue meats or plain meat. Or course, I am aware that this does not apply to every traveler that comes to Korea.
Here is my bucket list recommendations for Chinese tourists to Korea.
Royal Court Cuisine at Philkyungjae
Popularized by Korean dramas, royal court cuisine is one of meals that you can only have in Korea. Nestled in a beautiful Korean traditional house that dates back to the 1400s, the restaurant oozes tradition. The foods are opulent and diverse and you’ll have almost a hundred different dishes of difference foods, sauces, soups, side dishes and main courses. The highlights of the meal are the sinseollo: royal court stew served in a special bronze bowl that is used for cooking and serving. There is also tteok-galbi which is chopped and marinated grilled beef and giant steamed shrimp that is adorned with a confetti of yellow and white egg and red and green bell pepper.
Gwangpyeong-ro 205, Gangnam-gu, Seoul / +82-2-445-2115 / Price: KRW120,000-200,000 a person
Korean Barbecue at Hongneung Galbi
Since 1966 this beef barbecue place has been serving top quality beef barbecue over white hot wood charcoal. They have different cuts of beef but they are most famous for their thinly sliced and sesame marinated beef bulgogi and their marinated beef ribs (yangnyeom-galbi). The sauce is the key as it has a secret mix of fruit juices, soy sauces, sesame oil, garlic, seasonings and much more. The sauce makes the meat very tender and it caramelizes the meat when it hits the grill. This is a classic barbecue place so you’ll get a wide range of Korean side dishes to accompany your meat along with shots of cold soju (Korean distilled liquor). This is one of the most authentic places in Korea.
#520-14, Cheongnyangni 2-dong, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul / +82-2-966-0420 / Price: KRW20,000-40,000 a person
Chicken Soup at Jin Ok-hwa Halmae Dak
The place where I feel healthiest is at Jin Ok-hwa Halmae Restaurant. The broth has this lift of delicate herbs with a warming garlic note, which is accented by the fresh green onions. Honestly, I think an IV of this broth could probably cure cancer. As the broth cooks the chicken, you use scissors to cut it up into chopstick-managable pieces and then let the rice cakes and potatoes cook. The chicken-dipping sauce at Jin Ok-hwa Halmae restaurant is a DIY affair and you can add as much spicy sauce, mustard and soy sauce you’d like. After you enjoy eating the chicken, leave some broth to make some fresh noodle soup. This is a taste experience you must have while in Korea.
Jin Ok-hwa Halmae Dak
#265-22, Jongno 5-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul / +82-2-2275-9666
Price: KRW18,000 for 2-3
Noodles at Myeongdong Gyoja
Myeongdong Gyoja is the Steve Jobs of noodle shops in Korea. There are many imitators, it’s more expensive than similar products, it has grown from a little store to many, and it has stubbornly stuck to its core principles while everyone else has changed. What they serve is simple. They serve flavorful, steamed dumpling or silky noodles in a pork broth. The noodles are silky and light and broth is savory and complex. This dish is has renown all over Asia as there are long queues of local and international diners at both locations of new and returning diners. They are also known for their kimchi which is spicy and garlicky. This is one of the best noodle places in Asia.
#29, Myeongdong 10-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul / +82-2-776-5348
Tteokbokki at Ma Bok-rim Halmeoni Tteokbokki
This dish was popularized by the Korean dramas and often it is featured on the shows. Ma Bok-rim is the original one. Opened in 1953 by a woman known as Ma Bok-rim, the restaurant takes pride in its 60-plus years of service. They serve a Korean casserole dish called tteokbokki which has chewy rice cake noodles in a spicy soup broth that has noodles, fish cakes, seafood, dumplings and more. This restaurant started as a small food stall that was serving snacks to guests going to the nearby theatre when a mistake was made. A rice cake noodle fell into the black bean sauce and Ma Bok-rim had an eureka moment. She cooked the noodles in a sauce and tteokbokki was invented. As Ma Bok-rim gained popularity, other similar establishments opened nearby, and eventually, formed “tteokbokki street.” The elderly owner is well known. She even starred in a red-pepper paste ad in the 1990s. The secret of this restaurant’s tteokbokki lies in the sauce. Here red pepper paste is mixed with Chinese soybean paste for a sweet and spicy taste.
Ma Bok-rim Halmeoni Tteokbokki
#5, Dasan-ro 35-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul / +82-2-2232-8930 / Price: KRW8,000
Park Sung Eun email@example.com
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