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In Seoul, you’ll find there’s more to Korean food than just your standard bibimbap or bulgogi. Take your taste buds on an adventure with these food experiences:
1. Eat live octopus. The Noryangjin Fish Market is the largest of its kind in Seoul, featuring an assortment of fresh seafood on sale 24-hours a day. You can get the freshest catch and have it prepared for you at a restaurant in the back of the market. Try the sannakji, live octopus that will continue to suction to the inside of your throat as you eat it. Another tasty option is hwae, or raw sliced fish, which you eat with side dishes and then finish off with maeuntang, a spicy soup made from the leftover pieces of the fish you just ate. For night owls, get to the market around 2 a.m. to watch the wholesale auction.
2. Try street food. Walking the streets of Seoul in the evening or after a late night of drinking, you’ll find food carts and pojangmachas, restaurants in tents that sell an assortment of Korean goodies. These include ddukbokki (rice cakes in hot pepper paste), odeng (fish cakes) and soondae (stuffed intestines). You can satisfy your sweet tooth with hodduk (sweet pancakes with filling). If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try the steamed and seasoned beondegi (silkworms).
3. Dabble in dumplings. There are a slew of places to get dumplings, but Koong — located in a narrow alleyway in Insadong — is a dumpling shop best known for its large, plump dumplings. The dumplings are a point of pride for the North Korean city of Kaesong, which was once home to the mother and daughter that started the restaurant. English menus are available upon request.
4. Test out different anjus. In Seoul, drinking a bottle of soju (rice liquor), a bowl of makgeolli (rice wine), or a glass of beer is often accompanied by food, called anju. Often, fried chicken gets washed down with beer; soju is paired with samgyupsal or pork belly; and makgeolli goes well with Korean pancakes, like nokdu bindaedduk, mung bean pancakes, or pajun, green onion pancakes. Other anju for the adventurous include jokbal, or boiled pig’s feet, and golbaengi muchim, sea snail and veggies in spicy sauce.
5. Get a taste for Korean soups. The staples in every Korean meal include rice, kimchi and some kind of soup or stew. You may not be able to try them all, but start with classics like dwenjang jigae, soybean paste soup, and yukgaejang, spicy beef soup, then branch out by sampling samgyetang, ginseng and spring chicken soup, gobchang jeongol, soup that features tripe, or budae jigae, also known as “army base soup” that includes SPAM, cut up hot dogs, ramen noodles, tofu and veggies. Koreans also believe you can cure hangovers with haejang guk, a soup containing ox blood, as well as gamjatang, a spicy soup made by stewing pork bones and potatoes.