As a traveler strangely obsessed with food, I am drawn to the vibrant culinary scene in Seoul. It comes as no surprise that within 10 steps into Seoul’s raucous streets, I am instantly hooked. BBQ red meat glow under the bright neon lights, while live seafood wriggle with vigor before being dished up onto platters. Street-side food stalls are splashed in a kaleidoscope of colors – from various shades of red to green, yellow and brown. Eating is evidently treated as a serious affair in Korea – some say it’s the number two national sport, after football.
Street Food in Namdaemun
Almost every district in Seoul has a street food stall tucked within a corner. Whether you are shopping in Hong-dae, sightseeing at Gyeongbok or hang out in Myeongdong, there’ll be rows upon dizzying rows of food stalls to curb your craving. Even when staying in top boutique hotels, the minute you step out onto the street, everything morphs into an underworld of Bohemia, brightly colored streets laced with a plethora of food stalls. As one of the biggest cities in the world, Seoul somehow has found a balance of celebrating internationalism, while staying true to the unique culture that is very much its own. One particular place best for streetside seafood is Namedaemun Market.
At Namdaemun, there are endless choices of octopus fried with glass noodles and raw oysters. I was particularly addicted to the giant oyster drenched in a sweet piquant bean sauce. I could barely stop at 2, but I knew I had to reserve some stomach space for other delish dishes.
These white springy intestine-lookalikes pictured above are known as odeng, actually boiled fish cake, juicy and savory, excellent for winter bites. Another popular street-side dish is the tteokbokki, rice cakes dipped in a rich sweet spicy sauce.
Local friends including fellow travel blogger RunawayJuno bring me on a food hunt. In the dark alleys of Hong-dae area, a popular university student’s haunt, we stumble across several seafood stalls. Here you see an delectable dish of glass noodles fried with octopus, and the picture below that shows fresh scallops drenched in a crisp soya sauce-based gravy.
An alley across my hostel in Hongik University area springs a surprise on me as I observe this street hawker at work in his tiny van. The cheese buns he is roasting up is soft, tender and extremely flavorful – reminiscent of European crepes but characteristically Korean.
For lunch, I share a table with local office workers. They watch in awe as I order one item after another, and gobble them all up in a satisfying slurp.
After a round of soju drinks, we finish the night off with a nibble at this street food stall in Hong-dae. The crispy deep-fried rice rolls and prawns are thrown into the rich, sassy spicy sauce and then cut up into little chunks, perfect for a pre-hangover cure.
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