Part III : Recommended restaurants for American Travelers
As for Korean food, I have been to great restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Toronto, and Seattle; but I feel that it is not the same as in Korea. It seems that there are localized favorites that are not present in Korea. For example my Hawaiian guests always ask for “meat jeon” which is meat dusted in flour, dipped in egg and then pan fried in oil. In Korea, the closest thing that I can think of is yukjeon (pan-fried battered beef). While this dish does exist in Korea, it is a regional specialty for Gwangju. But in Hawaii, according to my guests, that is one of the common dishes on all menus.
When I ask my North American guests what they are curious to eat, they often answer that they want to get the best, authentic, local, and Korean version of specific dishes. My recommendations are what I think are the best versions of different dishes in Korea.
The Best Chicken in Korea
I really like Ddang Ddang Chicken in Hongdae. I think Hongdae is the best place to get fried chicken because it has youthful energy and it makes you want to hang out with your friends, drink some beer, and eat fried chicken. This beer and chicken combination (chi-maek) has been popularized by the media and it seems to be on the “to do list”for many tourists to the country. What I like about Ddang Ddang is that they have many different combinations of chicken including a very spicy one (called buldak). They also have good beer (but I would suggest that my North American friends stay away from the sweetened yuja beer). You can get some different set menus such as the spicy chicken and fried chicken or herb fried chicken and spicy chicken ribs. I feel the sauces are good and so are the selections. Plus, you’ll get some fried kimchi with the spicy chicken, which often appeals to travelers.
Ddang Ddang Chicken
#362-14, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul / +82-2-336-7769
The Best Beef Dish: Galbijjim
Galbijjim, when it is done right, is exceptional. It should have tender, fall-off-the-bone meat that is slowly simmered in seasoned soy sauce, fruit juices, veggies, nuts, and herbs. It should be a dish that a person will remember for years and it should stand out as the best dish they had when traveling. The place that I recommend for this would be Gangnam Myeonok First Store. The emphasis is on the first store, because they have franchised out and the others are not as good as the first. Located in Gangnam, this place always has a line out the door of people waiting to sink their teeth into the deliciously marinated meat. The flavor is an enigma for it is sweet yet not sweet, spicy yet not spicy, it is savory but also has hints of sour. It is elusively delectable. The meat is so tender it just falls off the bone and it is a perfect pairing with a side of rice. Their kimchi is well made and you just can’t go wrong with their cold noodles either.
The Original Gangnam Myeonok
#588-9, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul / +82-2-3446-5539
The Best Noodles
When my friends come to Korea and crave noodles, I just have to take them to Veteran Kalguksu (soup with fresh flat whole wheat noodles). Originally from Jeolla Province, this dish, in my opinion, stands out as a representative noodle dish of Korea. The noodles are round and not flat like normal Korean kalguksu. The broth is thick and like an egg drop soup. The flavor for this dish comes from the wild sesame seeds, dried laver, and the red chili powder. They have great dumplings as well and a spicy mixed cold noodle. You used to only be able to get this in the city of Jeonju, but luckily they have a branch at the Express Bus Terminal which is good, but still not as good as the original.
Rm 111-1, Central City Terminal, #19-3, Banpo 4-dong, Seoul / +82-2-6282-1977
The Best Barbecue
If you go eat real Korean barbecue, you have to have white hot, wood charcoal. In North America many barbecue places have gas grills instead of charcoal. In Korea we know it is all about charcoal. There are some that theorize (like at the website Modernist Cuisine) that the oil dripping and igniting the coal adds that special grilled flavor. While you can’t go wrong with most places, one that I like to visit with my guests is Hwadong Saenggalbi. It is especially good to go there before or after a baseball game at Jamsil Stadium or a visit to Olympic Park Station. Here they grill the meat on copper-coil grills; they have good sides, quality meat, and unique meat dipping sauces: ssamjang (soybean paste mixed with red pepper paste, garlic, and sesame), spicy, garlic anchovy dip, and wild sesame and salt powders. In Korean barbecue, the flavor and the fun come from the many different combinations that can be made by wrapping the meat in leaves, having the meat with grilled kimchi, or simply enjoying it plain.
#251-4, Jamsil-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul / +82-2-420-5882
The Best Dessert Last Call for Patbingsu at Haap
The patbingsu season is here so you must try Chef Yong-il Sin’s famous shaved ice dessert topped with homemade red beans. Chef Sin is reinventing Korean classic desserts such as tteok (rice cake) using his overseas experience at the Swiss Consulate and at the high-end Korean restaurant Poom. His desserts are delightfully unexpected. My favorite dish is his patbingsu: homemade sweetened red beans over finely shaved ice mixed with milk and a bit of citron. It is topped with a soft dollop of potato rice cake. If you don’t get it now, you’ll have to wait till next summer. This unique Korean dessert prepared at this level can only be made here in Korea.
#93-3, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Park Sung Eun firstname.lastname@example.org
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