A Chef’s Guide to Seoul, South Korea, with Woongchul Park
One half of the chef duo behind London fine-diner Sollip, Woongchul Park shares his tips on exploring Seoul’s exciting food scene
23 February, 2023
Woongchul Park might not have grown up in Seoul, but the city has always been a touchpoint for his, and his partner - and cooking compatriot - Bomee Ki's, culinary inspiration. Raised in Cheonan-si, 85km south of the capital, the chef then flitted between Boston, London, where he attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary school and met his partner, and the South Korean capital.
When the pair moved to London to open Bermondsey restaurant Sollip, they chose to blend the city's flavours with classical European cooking. Dishes on the tasting menu might include a daikon tarte tatin or squid served with stracciatella. "I love classic French beef tartare," says Woongchul, of his favourite plate on the menu. "Ours is made with gochujang, a chilli pepper paste-based sauce."
Sollip's beef tartare dish, left, and the restaurant dining room.
Fiery-hued, tongue-burningly spicy tteokbokki; silk-thin folds of scarlet beef sizzling over a metal grill; golden, fish-shaped waffles; throat-stripping soju: clichés come too easily when describing South Korea's diverse food offering. Eating in Seoul is a feast for the senses in a very literal sense - the spicing hits tectonic levels, while flavours spar with temperatures, swinging from the silky comfort of cool soya soups to the fierce fury of kimchi hotpots.
Read on to discover Woongchul's tips for exploring Seoul's food scene.
A food-focused tour of Seoul, South Korea
When's the best time to visit Seoul?
Late March to early June or September through to October.
Where should we stay?
I'd recommend a couple of places in Bukchon Village, which is a lovely old village in the north of Seoul. Either one of the properties in the Rakkojae collection, a series of hanoks spread all over the village, or AnGilSaGa, a former scholar's house. It's a beautiful and serene space to stay, with a small garden and a tea room.
How should we get around?
You have a few options. The tube and bus systems are well organised, but Tada, the Korean version of Uber, can be used in English and is another good way to get around.
Tell us something unexpected about Seoul.
There's lots of great hiking in and around the city - try the Bukhansan route and the Cheonggyesan mountain trail. It's a great way to explore a part of the city most people won't see.
Any neighbourhoods we should check out?
Namyoung-dong and Sinyongsan are both neighbourhoods that have been recently renovated and restyled, and they've got great casual restaurants, cafés, art galleries and shops, as well as BBQ spots that are open late.
If you're wanting to go shopping, try Seongsu-dong, which is full of young Korean startup brands.
A Seongsu-dong coffee shop, left, and a Seoul street. | Photo credit: Richard Ernestyap / Shutterstock.com
Where should we head for breakfast?
Head to the Euljiro district for jukhyang [porridge], or try the Myeongdong shopping area to pick up some gomtang [beef soup].
What about a low-key lunch?
Head to a Baekbanjip restaurant for a traditional Korean set menu of rice, pickles, fish and soup.
Any favourite restaurants in the city?
Onjium is a great example of refined Korean cuisine. Wooraeok [62-29 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jung-gu], an old-school place that's been open since 1946, serves cold noodles and beef bulgogi. Miro Sikdang [80 Wausan-ro 30-gil, Mapo-gu] is a more casual spot, serving up home-style Korean classics like spring onion pancake, grilled pork neck and bulgogi.
What about street-side dining?
The Sinchon neighbourhood, in the northern part of Seoul, has a handful of streets that are full of bars, late-night eateries and young people. If you hang out there for a night, just pick anywhere that looks good and busy.
Then, try the pojangmacha - literally meaning "tented wagon" - stalls at Jongno 3-ga. These street-food tents specialise in all different things, but mostly sell popular snacks like tteokbokki [spicy rice cakes] and mandu [dumplings]. You need to eat from a few when you're in town.
The Insa-dong neighbourhood is a great place to go for Hotteok, a Korean street-food snack made of dough that's usually filled with sugar, honey, nuts and cinnamon. Try Namdaemun Market for vegetable Hotteok, too.
Street food stalls in the Jung-gu district.
Where do you head for a late-night snack?
Anju Maeul [3 Jahamun-ro 1-gil, Jongno-gu] in Seochon is one of my favourite spots for fresh sashimi, mulhoe and grilled fish. For Korean fried chicken, try Hyodo Chicken. Want some bibimbap? Head to Saebyukjib [6 Dosan-daero 101-gil, Cheongdam-dong]. Also, Sanullim 1992 [60 Seogang-ro 9-gil, Cheongdam-dong] in Hongdae is a great hole-in-the-wall bar where you can eat bansang - rice with a few side dishes.
Any Seoul specialities to seek out?
Coffee is a big deal in Seoul. The scene is so good. You must try some of the shops when you're there. If you're looking for showcases of Korean cuisine and culture, try to get on a tour of the Gyeongdong and Noryangjin markets, too.
Tell us about somewhere doing something different in the city that has impressed you.
The Hyundai Department Store is an incredible place; there's so much to do with lots of restaurants, the Sounds Forest to explore, a food hall and great shops. It's a good example of the complex cultural spaces that Seoul does so well. Also, pay a visit to the Starfield Library in the COEX Mall. It's a super-futuristic space where you can go and sit, and read any books you want.
What should we bring back as a souvenir?
Some gamtae [seaweed], monkfish jerky, seasoned kim seaweed snacks and a couple of spicy sauces to try.