British Airways High Life

Food & Drink

South Korea: Seoul food

February 2010

 Page 2 of 3
Abalone dishes at Woorega, grilled and garnished with gingko nuts. Once the preserve of kings and queens, abalone is elaborately presented and made with sought-after ingredients
Abalone dishes at Woorega, grilled and garnished with gingko nuts. Once the preserve of kings and queens, abalone is elaborately presented and made with sought-after ingredients
Jason Michael Lang

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Two locals take a break and chat in Jeonju
Two locals take a break in Jeonju
Jason Michael Lang

The tearoom on the ground floor is run by a local food historian, who makes and sells dozens of gaily coloured rice cakes, alongside different teas served in dinky glass pots. We sip plum flower tea, which we're told is good for our immune system, and nibble on an array of the chewy, gluey cakes, served by waitresses who swish about in long traditional dress. 

 

To walk off the day's eating we nose around Samchongdong, the most appealing district in this skyscraper-dominated city. With its traditional hanok houses perched high on the hillside, and its narrow alleys hiding chic restaurants and cutting-edge design shops, this area offers plenty of atmosphere and is a pleasant place to hang out before our next meal — with a monk.

Jungsan Kim Yun-Sik is the Dean of Temple Food Culture at the Dongsen Buddhist University. A monk since 1961, Yun-Sik runs Sanchon, a temple food restaurant in the heart of the lively Insadong district, with its arts and crafts shops and busy street food stalls. Temple food is intriguing vegetarian cooking, with its foraged, wild dishes devoid of the ever-popular chillies, which, according to the monks, can over-excite.

Ordinarily you would find this kind of food in Buddhist temples (where you can eat it for free) but you need to sing, or rather pray, for your supper. On this occasion we opt for Sanchon, where the acorn jelly with deep-fried seaweed is surprisingly good. Pumpkin is steamed and served with roasted sesame, but particularly delicious is the buckwheat pancake (bookgumi) stuffed with cinnamon-laced potato, and thick slices of fresh tofu.

Incredibly, we still find room for a few street snacks on the way back to our hotel. Some of Korea's best food can be found in the makeshift restaurants crammed onto pavements or squeezed down narrow alleys, serving dishes such as seolleongtang (ox bone soup) or chicken feet and roasted pig intestines. We content ourselves with tame sweet potato fries and roasted chestnuts.

We crank things up a few notches the following day at Woorega, which overlooks leafy Dosan Park in the city's smart Shinsadong district, where limos line the streets and art galleries are around every corner. 'I want to show you that South Korean cooking can be beautiful, too,' explains Joo.

Chef-owner An Jung Hyun approaches food with an artist's eye. 'The plate is like a canvas,' she tells us. In fact she used to be an artist and flower-arranger, before turning her talents to cooking and opening her restaurant five years ago.

The dishes are stunning, presented on statement tableware, garnished with sprigs of pine, orchid stems and rose petals. It's traditional Korean cooking with a twist and highlights include
so gogi chap sal gui (crispy beef with chives), and wheat pancakes (milssam), stuffed with a julienne of vegetables, mustard sauce and crushed pine nuts — and kimchi, of course. Always kimchi.

The kimchi festival opens the following day and we need to get to Gwangju, four hours drive southwest of Seoul in the Jeolla-do region. This is South Korea's food capital, surrounded by paddy fields, edged by towering bamboo forests, hillsides dotted with ginseng farms, and fields crowded with polytunnels, growing the nation's vegetables during the cold winter months. 

Posted by Fiona Sims

Tags

South-Korea, Seoul, Food-And-Drink, markets

NEED TO KNOW

EAT

SEOUL
Shin Jung
A famous noodle restaurant, which has recently had a chic (orange) makeover. +82 02 776 1464

Dalgaebi
Situated in the former Russian Embassy, this restaurant offers a contemporary take on Korea’s royal cuisine. Also known as The Conference House, it has six bedrooms. +82 02 765 2068, dalgaebi.com

Tteok Café & Laboratory of Korean Traditional Food
A food historian has gone to town with this pretty rice cake café, which has a museum above.
+82 02 741 5447, jilsr.com

Sanchon
Dine as Buddhist monks do (there’s even a bit of chanting) at this tranquil eatery in lively Insadong. +82 02 735 0312, sanchon.com

Woorega
Here, chef An Jung Hyun proves that Korean food can be as pretty as it is tasty. +82 02 3442 2288

Samwon Garden
Marinated meat is the name of the game at this legendary Korean BBQ restaurant. +82 02 548 3030, samwongarden.com

JEONJU
Hwasim Sundubu
You’ll fall in love with tofu here, as the cooking is first rate. Open from 5am to midnight. The staff are all dressed like extras from Thunderbirds.
+82 063 243 8268

DAMYANG
Deok In Gwan
Eat rice and beans steamed in sections of bamboo as the locals do. +82 061 381 7881

Jin Woo Lee
Perch on rustic riverside tables as you munch on the excellent house dish of boiled eggs and noodles. 211-34 Gaeksari, Damyang-eup

STAY

SEOUL
The Westin Chosun
An award-winning, impressively high-tech hotel in the centre of the business district. From £185 for a double room. +82 02 771 0500, starwoodhotels.com

W Seoul Walkerhill
Sleek and trendy, on the slope of Mount Acha, in a 180-acre park, this hotel overlooks the Han River. From £170 for a double room.
+82 02 465 2222, wseoul.com

Tea Tree & Co Hotel
A clean, simple new hotel right in the heart of happening Shinsadong. From £50 for a double. +82 02 542 9954

DAMYANG
Damyang Resort
Set in 33 acres of pretty countryside on the outskirts of town, it boasts a popular hot spring spa. From £75 for a double room. +82 061 380 5111,
damyangresort.com

JEONJU
Dong Rak Won
Simple accommodation where you get to sleep, traditional-style, on the floor. But there is plenty of atmosphere. From £30 for a double room. Cookery classes cost £5 per person (book ahead). +82 063 287 2040, jkhanok.co.kr

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