The best way to eat great food in a new city is first to pick the right city. Rome springs to mind. I rambled around those streets for a week and never had a bad meal.
But dining well in Seoul, South Korea? That takes a bit of purpose. This I discovered when I joined my husband Brian on a business trip to Seoul. A facial plastic surgeon, Brian is invited to speak at international conferences two or three times annually. And if I parse out my company vacation time just right, I can join him.
Our dinner dining was first-class affairs requiring business attire; but by day it was all street food and sneakers. Over my three days there, I learned to explore unmarked back alleys and enlist a few locals as guides in pursuit of gourmet delights.
While each was different, these five spots shared the spirit of innovation that defines modern Seoul’s diverse urban dining scene.
1. Bukchon Village Brunch
On our first day in Seoul we woke at 8 a.m. It was Friday, our only time to sightsee before Brian commenced with lectures. We made the most of a rare day together and took in a few tourist sites. First stop was Gyeongbokgung Palace. Originally built in 1395 and nearly destroyed during the Japanese occupation of the early 1900s, the South Korean government is well into a 40-year renovation project to return the decorative halls to the height of their Joseon splendor. Allow for two hours to explore the imposing pavilions.
A Korean friend explained that the trend is for young ladies to rent traditional Korean clothing called hanbok and pose for selfies in front of Gyeongbokgung’s colorful buildings. On the day we visited, girls were out en masse, enjoying the billowing, colorful skirts and attention from the tourists.
After taking in Gyeongbokgung’s changing of the guard, it was time for lunch, but where to go? Before smart phones, when my husband was in medical school, he traveled using Lonely Planet guides, getting lost in the most interesting neighborhoods around the globe. Wandering around is still a great way to find food, so after a few hours on the palace grounds, we headed east to Bukchon Hanok Village to roam the quiet streets of traditional Korean houses called hanok and find brunch.
An easy walk from Gyeongbokgung Palace, navigating the streets in Bukchon Village is less tractable. My advice: start with the historic neighborhood on the top of the hill then wander south down any pedestrian-friendly street. Turn off the GPS, ignore the street signs and…