I remember flipping through a Korean cookbook before moving to Korea. I am a big foodie, but the fermented side dishes, heaps of rice, and undistinguishable meat stews didn’t strike my fancy. Little did I know that I was about to begin a long-term love affair with Korean food. From street snacks to tables full of banchan (반찬), korean side dishes, and stews galore, I am a Korean-food convert. The sprawling city of Seoul has no shortage of restaurants and food options. You can easily find any type of food, from the dependable Italian cuisine to more obscure Tunisian food, and everything in between. Seoul’s access to such a wide variety of tastes and experiences is incredible. But nothing compares to the traditional Korean restaurants that I’ve stumbled upon or sought out during my time in this amazing country.
Two of my favorite Korean traditional restaurants in Seoul pair amazing food with an authentic setting. Even for the skeptical eater, these restaurants are sure to make you a Korean food convert, as well.
Tosokchon (토속촌) Samgyetang
Samgyetang is one of my all time favorite Korean comfort foods. Samgyetang is a delectable ginseng- chicken soup. The dish features an entire small chicken filled with garlic, rice, jujube, and ginseng. It easily rivals or surpasses any other chicken soup I’ve tasted in complexity of flavor and nutrition. The soup is healthy, light, and nutritious and doesn’t leave you feeling overly-stuffed. Historically, the dish was eaten in the summertime, but I think it’s warmth and flavors are ideal for a cold winter day as well.
Tosokchon Samgyetang has been open for more than 30 years and the restaurant is popular with tourists and locals alike. The wooden interior, complete with traditional Korean ondol (heated) floor seating, small divided rooms, and a lovely center courtyard, delightfully brings you back in time. For those not thrilled about sitting on the floor, there are tables and chairs as well (seen below.) Tosokchon’s atmosphere paired with the legendary dish, will provide you with a memorable dining experience.
Tosokchon is walking distance from Gyeongbokgung Palace, making it a perfect place to grab traditional food during a busy day of sightseeing. The superb location aids to its popularity among tourists. But don’t let that discourage you. I visited during COVID, and the restaurant was filled with locals as well. I believe that is a true testament to the quality of the food!
Hadongkwan (하동관) Gomtang
Gomtang is a traditional beef bone soup served with rice, raddish, scallions, and kimchi. While the broth alone is fairly bland, the slowly cooked Korean beef is especially tender and delicious. You can supplement the flavor by adding soy sauce, green onions, kimchi, and salt. The simple, yet, satisfying dish is a must-try while you are in Korea. For the more adventurous eater, you can get your Gomtang with intenses!
Nestled among the mega-touristy Myeongdong, the 80-year old restaurant offers a traditional culinary escape. When hunger strikes, step away from the plethora of skincare and cosmetics shops lining Myeongdong, and into Hadongkwan. Hadongkwan is featured on the Michelin Guide and the restaurant prides itself on serving local, Korean beef and vegetables. Additionally, Hadongkwan never reheats its soup. On their website, they proudly state, “we close doors after serving all prepared Gomtang.” Talk about fresh soup!