The cuisine of Seoul is world famous for its delightful visual presentation and variety. The capital of South Korea for over 500 years, Seoul has a unique cooking style influenced by the Joseon dynasty. South Korean food is a feast for the taste buds as it explodes with a variety of flavours. The food is packed with goodness and offers many health benefits too. For instance, with the right South Korean diet you can lose weight and even prevent certain health conditions.
By and large, Seoul cuisine is lightly seasoned and is neither too salty nor spicy. Compared to other Korean regions, Seoul food is presented in a formal style which is a feast for your eyes.
Eating out is a treat for the senses in Seoul, with a huge variety of restaurants to choose from. In our Seoul Restaurant Guide below you will find recommendations of great places to find a meal whilst on your Seoul holiday, as well as what kind of things to order off the menu. With such a wide choice and variety of restaurants to choose from you will never go hungry after a day of sightseeing or shopping in Seoul. If you're after more information on the food and cuisine of South Korea take a look at our South Korea Restaurant Guide.
Recipes for dishes in this region are age-old, dating back to hundreds of years. Korean food has been influenced by China and Japan but has its own piquant flavour of chillies and liberal doses of garlic.
The base of a Korean meal is rice and soup. A variety of side dishes or bachan, ranging from bean sprouts, fishcakes and pickled cucumbers, accompany this meal.
If you are wealthy, then your range and quality of accompaniments will reflect that. By and large, a basic meal for South Koreans would include rice, rich soup with vegetables in beef or chicken stock, and spicy kimchi.
It is common practice to offer meals to ancestors as a sign of reverence before the family eats.
Typically, main courses like beef, stews and side dishes are placed in the centre of the table for everyone to share. However South Korean restaurants offer separate bowls and plates to diners.
South Koreans do not hold bowls or plates in their hands while eating. They prefer steel chopsticks to wooden ones and, of course, mastering the steel ones is quite a skill!
Despite a great emphasis on variety and presentation, food in South Korea is not very expensive. You can buy Korean comfort foods like soup, noodles, rice stir-fries or street snacks for very little.
Seoul's cuisine is based on rice as its mainstay. Vegetables, both fresh and pickled, are vital accompaniments too. For instance, boiled rice or bap is served along with cooked vegetables in a big bowl. This dish is called Bibimbap. Another feast for the senses is marinated meat grilled by your tableside on bulgogi.
If you like a festive atmosphere and milling with the crowds, try the Let's Eat Alley on one of the streets off Sinchon Street. Sinchon Street vendors sell delightful skewered fish cakes and rice rolls.
Through the ages, Ttok or rice cakes have been eaten when food was scarce. With prosperity and good production of rice, Ttok has lost its appeal, especially with young Koreans. However, it still retains faithful clientele.
Pudaejjige or spicy stew made with Spam, sausages and Ramen noodles is also fondly called the Johnson tang or stew. This has its roots in army bases, where the broth was concocted with leftover American military food tins.
Though leftovers are no longer used for this stew, the recipe remains pretty much the same - Western ingredients given a traditional hot and spicy Korean makeover that makes it taste uniquely Korean and delicious.
The eternal favourite, Kimchi is a pickled, fermented vegetable-based relish. Chinese cabbage, turnips, radishes, bean sprouts and cucumbers all go into it. It has so many variations that Seoul has its own museum where its history and recipes are carefully preserved.
Hwachae or honeyed juice mixed with fruit is also quite popular in South Korea along with hot teas made with oriental medicinal herbs. Siru Mugwort tea is very famous here and is made of dried mugwort gathered in spring time. Its unique aroma makes it very special. Siru flower tea is also a hot favourite made of fermented green tea flowers that blossom in autumn - mid October.