The highlight of our Seoul trip was going on a Korean Food Tour and there’s no better person to show you where the locals eat than Daniel Gray (see his Seoul City Insider guide). Daniel is a Korean-American adoptee that returned to Korea in 2005 to learn about Korean culture. He then started a popular food blog called Seoul Eats and now arranges private Korean food and culture tours. FYI: Prices depend on the tour and length so consult their website.
Natalie and I were tired from the 13-hour time change so we went on an abbreviated Korean night dining tour. It began by meeting Daniel at our hotel and then hopping in a taxi. FYI: Customers are required to pay for transportation and food costs so it’s a good idea to get some Won ($1 USD = 1,110.91 KRW). We took a couple of short taxi rides and they were super cheap – just around $3 each time and I paid using my credit card.
The main stop on our tour was the Eunma Market which is in the basement of an unattractive shopping center that no tourist would probably ever find or go in by the looks of its exterior. But inside is a gold mine of Korean food where you are able to sample what the locals eat for relatively cheap. I was impressed by how friendly everyone was and a few offered us samples even though they knew we weren’t buying. They also didn’t mind me taking photos.
Daniel likes taking people to a variety of stalls so you can sample a bunch of different food. At one “restaurant” we ate Jeon — an assortment of savory fried snacks like pork, zucchini, sesame leaf stuffed pork and chili stuffed pork.
We then stopped by a shop to get “fried chicken in a cup” that also came with fried sweet potato and fried rice cakes in a spicy sweet sauce. Both of those meals were so good and cost around $5 each.
Daniel wanted to take us out for Korean BBQ but we hit a wall — not only with jet lag but with our stomachs. The Koreans can eat!
But before calling it a night Daniel insisted we visit the Bongeunsa Temple (once known as Gyeonseongsa Temple) which was just a couple blocks from our hotel and I’m glad we did. It was so cool that we went back again the next day to get a better view.
According to Wikipedia, Bongeunsa Temple was constructed in the 10th year of Shilla King Weongseong’s reign (794) and in 1498, Queen Jeonghyeon refurbished Gyeonseongsa Temple at the east of King Seongjong’s royal mausoleum and renamed the temple as Bongeunsa. It was originally near the royal mausoleum but was transferred to its current location during Joseon King Myeongjong’s reign. There are 3,479 Buddhist scriptures of 13 types, including the works of Kim Jeong-hee stored here.
Across the street is the COEX underground shopping center which we walked through and nearby is the Hyundai Mall which has an amazing food court. We went back the next day for lunch and got some more fried chicken and a variety of tasty desserts.
Some random things we learned from Daniel:
- People in South Korea are friendly and emotional. He referred them as the Italians of Asia.
- He also said education is very important to Koreans so they will move to parts of town that have the best schools.
Some random observations by me:
- Everyone in South Korea is polite especially the service workers who all bow before and after they serve you. Heck, even the security agent at the airport bowed just before and after he scanned me.
- There was no line at customs and the agent didn’t ask any questions.
- While we were there Korean singer PSY was on the Today Show singing his hit song…Gangnam Style. That’s the neighborhood we stayed in!
- 10-Day Seoul Weather