I didn’t eat for 36 hours in Seoul, South Korea.
Yes, you heard that correctly. I was hangry Laura feeling lost, dazed, and confused without my normal food-finding resources nor navigation tools.
Do you typically use Google Maps to discover food nearby and find your way?
Umm… same. Breaking news for you… Google Maps doesn’t work in South Korea.
Do you use TripAdvisor or similar review sites to find top rated restaurants in a new city?
As you should. The problem is that almost no one uses review sites in South Korea especially TripAdvisor; & when they do, finding the well-reviewed establishment is the biggest challenge.
Do you know how to read Korean?
I didn’t think so. Everything is listed in the Korean language.
Now that I have given you some context, here is my story:
When we first arrived in Seoul at around 10pm, every single business around our airbnb was already closed (even though we were staying in central Seoul). We also arrived in the heart of winter which meant walking miles for food just wasn’t an option for us.
I say miles because Seoul is very similar to the layout of Los Angeles. Seoul has so many different neighborhoods that are hugely spread out, but instead of driving [in traffic] on the freeways like you do in LA, you walk and ride the subway everywhere in Seoul. Therefore, you have to plan where you are headed for the day and of course at the same time you want to plan where and what you want to eat… or maybe thats just me? … #foodmotivated #igetitfrommydog
Side note– Seoul’s subway system is actually really impressive and feels like it’s own little underground city. You can actually walk for miles underground in Seoul and there is amazing shopping.
The day after we arrived we were jet lagged and felt the sluggish winter blues until we realized we were starving. We couldn’t find any local restaurant listings on any apps but we did find a restaurant in sight near our airbnb that had the “open” sign hanging on the door. When we walked in ALL of the employees were sleeping a heavy slumber in the dining booths – feet dangling off the side- snoring- literally.
I realized we needed to leave our neighborhood to find food…
dun dun dun.
How do we get anywhere without Google Maps?! Navigation felt impossible. #helpmeimlost
Luckily there are two other navigation apps to help you find your way around Seoul, South Korea:
–> You can use Maps.Me which kinda works, but it’s a little janky and the user interface isn’t the best.
–> I highly recommend using City Mapper to lead you the right direction in Seoul. This app can not recommend food options but it can direct you to the right area once you find em’.
But for finding the validated yummy Korean grub? This is hard, sigh.
Reviewing restaurants just isn’t a big part of the culture in Seoul which makes it really hard to find highly rated or popular restaurants. As a tourist, the only review site that works 50% of the time is Four Square. However, often times the address doesn’t match up to the listing and there are a lot of “we don’t have enough information on this business” alerts.
Back to my story: After we left the sleeping diner employees we finally found a spot on FourSquare which required a 20 minute subway ride. To our dismay, we arrived to find it completely closed down and boarded up. I wanted to cry.
Luckily we stumbled upon a watering hole down the street called the White Rabbit and the owner served me a few bowls of pretzels and beer. You can easily find processed foods, sugar, and alcohol throughout Seoul but I don’t suggest consuming that all day. #buzzedallday
Right then and there we booked a food tour for the next day to properly dine with a local and beg him for advice.
We went through a lot of eating trials and made some errors, but by the end of the week I felt all those #Seoulfood feels. Here are my rules on “how to eat the right way in Seoul” so you don’t make our same mistake and accidentally fast for 36 hours:
Rule #1: Don’t eat or seek real-life-size “meals” here.
You should snack all day in little bites because this is how the Koreans eat. #feelingpeckish
Rule #2: Eat your daily snacks at the outdoor food markets.
I don’t normally eat “street food” but the street food in Seoul is next level delicious and totally safe to eat. You will find the freshest dumplings, Korean pancakes, breaded chicken bites, meat on a stick, sushi, and all that fried food goodness.
You can even drink rice beer on the street and it’s heavenly.
Rule #3: Join a food walking tour led by a local. I recommend using airbnb experiences.
I ate my body weight on this tour and swelled up like a balloon, but it was SO worth it. We learned how to eat like a true Korean and although quite peckish, I’m super impressed that South Korea doesn’t weigh a lot more in dumpling-consuming human body mass. This leads me to my next rule…
Rule #4: Visit an authentic family-run dumpling house
We ate at a family run dumpling house called Gaesung Mandu Koong in Insa-dong that actually shows up on Google Maps, hooray! This #dumplinghouse was our favorite meal in Seoul no doubt about it.
My goal was to take a picture of an entire plate of dumplings… but my hunger took over…
Rule #5: If you see a big sign that says “Fried chicken and Beer” – give it a go, duh.
Seriously though, what normal human being doesn’t like fried chicken and beer anywhere in the world?
Rule #6: Eat at a Korean BBQ spot but make sure they have the following five elements:
1) real-life humans eating inside 2) vents at each table to suck out the smoke 3) all the best bbq spots have a complimentary tea and coffee station 4) the chairs should open up like a container so you can store your jackets, purses, etc to SAVE your stuff from smelling like they have the #meatsweats 5) Beer and Soju… duh again.
Rule #7: Do NOT eat “American BBQ” in South Korea. No explanation needed.
Just … no.
Rule #8: Indulge in #hotteak anywhere and everywhere.
Hotteak is a Korean pancake with brown sugar syrup filling and its mind-blowing orgasmic.
Rule #9: Be brave!
Sometimes you just gotta stop thinking so hard about your “trying to be healthy and skinny” dietary needs and just EAT ALL THE THINGS.