Eating out in Korea is as much about the experience as the flavour, whether you’re grilling your own dinner in a barbecue restaurant or slurping noodles at a bustling street food market.
As for what to order — you’re spoiled for choice, but one thing that’s non-negotiable is kimchi. This spicy fermented veg is served with practically every meal, and comes in more than 180 varieties, including Chinese cabbage.
Another well-known culinary export is bibimbap. The basic formula stays the same: rice topped with sauteed veg, but beyond that you might get eggs, meat, gochujang chilli sauce or almost anything else. The ultimate in Korean dining, however, is bulgogi. Translating as ‘fire meat’, it’s pieces of marinated beef or pork cooked, DIY-style, on a table-top grill. The hot morsels are wrapped in lettuce, and pepped up with kimchi or hot sauce.
Judy Joo, Chef patron of Jinjuu, London and Hong Kong:
Bulgogi at woosung Galbi
This place has some of the best barbecue in town, in no-frills surroundings. Try the pork galbi (ribs) and rinds. 372-40 Sindang 3-dong.
Fine dining at Gaon
With three michelin stars, Gaon takes Korean food to luxurious heights.
Anchovy kalguksu at Kalguksu Alley
The ajoomas (older women) here are all hawking the same thing: hand-cut noodles in anchovy broth.
Best of Busan
Joo Won, Head chef of Galvin at Windows, London:
Lobster at Haeundae Pojangmacha 23
The lobster set at this stall isn’t cheap, but it’s a feast, with steamed and sashimi lobster, whelk and more. 236, Haeundaehaebyeon-Ro.
Whole octopus at Chamsae Bangatgan
It comes with minty perilla leaves, chilli and mustard sauce. Delicious. 1015-10, Jung-dong.
Milmyeon at Gaya Milmyeon
A Busan essential: cold noodles, usually served with cucumber, slices of pork and boiled egg. 546 – 12, Gaya-daero.
Published in the South Korea guide, distributed with the November issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)