What follows is my attempt at sharing my experience with Korean food, not listed in any particular order, with some thoughts and tips:
Myeongdong street food
From shopping to eating street food, Myeongdong offers a diverse range of experiences for visitors to enjoy. If the best restaurants in your city were to scale down and instead serve their menu items from makeshift stalls and mini-food trucks? That’s what you get here. The offerings range from rice cakes to steaks.
However, it should be noted that since this is a place frequented by tourists, the prices might stretch your budget a bit.
Tip: Don’t buy the first thing you see. Walk for a few blocks and decide on what you want to taste, unless you have deep pockets.
Dakgalbi. In Cebu, dakgalbi (a Korean dish consisting of stir-fried spicy marinated chicken and vegetables) flies under the radar compared to the popular samgyupsal. Having had the chance to try the dish in Korea was a pleasant experience, and further confirmed my curiosity about how Koreans love their chicken, gochujang and vegetables.
Tip: In most restaurants where platters are sold, there is a minimum order for a group of diners (usually two orders). So most likely, a group of three won’t be able to walk into a restaurant and order one serving of dakgalbi for sharing.
Beef BBQ. One night, we found ourselves strolling around the hip Hongdae neighborhood and decided to drop by a popular beef BBQ place called Doma. It’s one of those places where diners have to deal with a long queue.
Now on to the food! Delicious as one might expect. For our beef, we ordered the Raw Prime Rib Meat (which is like the regular option) and the Australian Wagyu Sirloin (an option which belongs to the upper tier on the menu). The meats were served with plenty of sides featuring vegetables and soup. A couple of juicy pine mushrooms for the grill are a must-order.
Tip: While premium beef is definitely delectable, doubling (or tripling) down on the regular beef should just be as gratifying as the wagyu offerings.
Convenience marts picks. Perfect for early morning bites or midnight snacks, the food in Korea’s convenience marts are also worth checking out. There are the packed kimbaps and gimbaps. There is also a wide variety of ramyeon to choose from. Wash down the spice with some cold banana milk.
Tip: Check out the store hours ahead of time. Don’t presume these are open early in the morning or late at night!
Noodles and dumplings. A highlight of our trip was eating at Myeongdong Kyoja. Imagine a place that serves only four items on its menu since 1966: Kalguksu (soft noodles in chicken broth); Mandu (dumplings); Bibimguksu (mixed hot and sour cold noodle); and Kongguksu (bean noodle).
My wife had the Kalguksu, I ordered the Bibimguksu, and we had a serving of Mandu for sharing. This was the most satisfying meal I had from a cost and quality perspective. Oh, did I mention these guys were awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand?
Tip: We were apparently in another branch just a few meters away from the “popular” main outlet which had a long queue. So, go look for the branch in a small street near the cathedral.
Coffees and pastries. The cafe culture in Korea is amazing. I didn’t have the time to explore a lot but we had the chance to drop by places like Cafe de Lyon (Coex Starfield mall), A Twosome Place (Seoul Incheon Airport), and—pleasant outlier—America’s very own Randy’s Donuts (near Gyeongbokgung Palace). Experiences we had: Trying out coffee with Omega-3 milk, drinking an out-of-this-world solid caramel macchiato, and enjoying a couple of premium donuts, respectively.
Tip: Don’t overthink. These guys are pretty good with their cafe game.
Chicken and beer. Another highlight: Enjoying a plateful of crunchy Korean fried chicken and a cold glass of beer. It sounds so simple but if I were to bring back any of the meals I mentioned so far here in Cebu, this would be it. We ordered one plate of half fried and half flavored chicken at bb.q Chicken and Beer at Hongdae.
Tip: No ifs. Not buts. Try the Korean chicken and beer with family and friends.