South Korea might just have the most underrated cuisine in Asia, and there's no better place to experience it than Seoul. The food here can be characterized by its variety (each meal is served with several side dishes, called banchan) and its bold use of spice. Here are a few foods and activities you won't want to miss.
As Korean food gains popularity around the world, a few iconic items are becoming more familiar to travelers, namely Korean barbecue and a side of fermented, seasoned vegetables known as kimchi, which is served with nearly every meal. Barbecue beef, pork belly, short ribs and other meats are marinated and grilled over hot coals, often right at restaurant tables, to the delight of diners. To eat like a Korean, you can wrap a morsel of meat in a lettuce leaf with raw garlic, spicy pepper and a dollop of fermented bean paste—then eat it in a single bite.
In addition, rice plays an important role in the Korean kitchen, often eaten in the form of bibimbap—a hot stone bowl of rice, vegetables, minced meat and a fried egg—or kimbap, a dish similar in appearance to sushi but without the raw fish. And popular on rainy days, Korean-style savory pancakes are studded with seafood and green onions and often served with makgeolli, a local rice wine. Of course, soju, Korea's famous spirit, is at home on just about any table.
- Tour one of Seoul's many markets, especially the lively Noryangjin Fish Market, to put your finger on the pulse of the city’s vibrant food scene.
- Embark on a food walking tour, day or night, for an introduction to shops, street stalls and restaurants serving Korean barbecue, savory pancakes and the city’s favorite drinking food, spicy fried chicken.
- Take a cooking class in Seoul, whether it's a simple kimchi-making course or an intermediate-level class where you’ll prepare five Korean classics.