I’ve been continually impressed with both the quality and quantity of food available here in Seoul. For starters, it helps that there’s a vast number of restaurants to choose from. Food is almost always much fresher, with vegetables and fruits grown by someone who likely a short distance away. Meat is more expensive, so you’ll find a lot more vegetables and rice that Asian food is characterized by.
While it’s hard to distinguish between types / styles of restaurants, one outstanding choice is the kalbi (CAL-bee) – Korean BBQ. You’ll recognize these restaurants without having to know any Korean – just look for the metal pipes coming from the ceiling (exhaust pipes). When you walk in and sit down, a bowl of hot coals is placed in a pit in the center of your table. A metal grill is placed on top, and you’ll grill your meats, veggies, and everything else around you on the circular table. Korean food is served all at once (as opposed to courses like in the USA), although refills may be brought to the table by a server.
What you’re seeing around the grill is the number of side dishes (as a group, they’re called banchan) offered automatically when you buy the meal. Rice is obvious, as is some onions and cabbage, some lettuce leaves (you cook the meat, put it in a lettuce leaf, then dip it in some zesty sauce). There’s also kimchi (a generic term for fermented and seasoned vegetables – sometimes spicy), and a number of others I didn’t get a name for. You eat until you’re full – you’re not necessarily expected to finish EVERYTHING at the table. Since everything is portioned for multiple people, it’s not encouraged to go by yourself – take a friend and tackle some good food together.Another excellent choice was something that translated to something like ‘hawaiian chicken roll’. Take some ham, pineapple, and sauce; roll it up in a sweet dough; fry it and bread it. Next, cut it into slices as you might cut a loaf of bread. The result? A hawaiian chicken roll. Found at 6Pence in Sinchon (picture below):
If you’re not familiar with Korean (as I’m still not, and it may take some time!), some restaurants offer picture menus (point to the picture and smile) or an English translation (as it was in Itaewon a week ago). If neither pictures nor English are present, you have a couple options – ask for someone that speaks English, point to something in your Korean phrasebook to see if they have it, or point to something in your price range. Always ask for mool (plain water) if it’s not brought out to your table, or look around for what looks like a water cooler with cups nearby. It’s free for the taking or asking.