Cuisine-wise, South Korea is probably best known for traditional (and healthy) fare like spicy kimchi, bibimbap, and cooked-at-the-table barbecue. Yet over the past couple of years, trend-obsessed Seoul has seen some new dishes occupy the culinary spotlight. From fusion to pork-everything to a squirming adventurous eater delight, these six dishes are sure to excite.
Spicy Fried Chicken and Stuffed Peppers at Hanchu Fried Chicken
While Korean fare often involves heart-healthy dishes, Koreans also absolutely adore fried chicken, and the crispier the better. At Gangnam’s Hanchu Fried Chicken (Sinsa-dong, 549-9), they add a fiery twist, infusing the batter with green gochu peppers. If you’re a glutton for punishment, double down with spicy sauce, or, even better, an order of the meat-filled, fried gochu jeon, which can be diabolically hot.
Kimchi Carnitas Fries at Vatos Urban Tacos
When Mexican-Korean fusion joint Vatos Urban Tacos opened its first storefront in 2011, it drew three-hour lines (they now have several locations). While Vatos’ fusion tacos are outstanding, the Kimchi Carnitas Fries – seasoned shoestrings topped with tender braised pork, kimchi, melted cheese, chopped onions, cilantro, hot sauce, and sour cream – are a must.
Braised Pigs’ Feet
Those signs and displays all over Seoul bearing whimsical pig faces aren’t advertising bacon, they’re for restaurants specializing in pig’s trotters, aka jokbal. A meaty, fatty delight, jokbal is braised in a leek-garlic-ginger-rice wine broth until tender then it’s thinly sliced and served boneless with lettuce leaves and condiments. Jokbal restaurants are quite chic at the moment. The Gongdeok-dong district even boasts a "Jokbal Alley" in its public market.
Black Pork Barbecue
A special breed of swine raised on South Korea’s beautiful Jeju Island produce the incredibly delicious and highly coveted "black pork." While some restaurants offer black pork-infused dumplings and other dishes, a straightforward Korean barbecue presentation – plain or marinated – is the way to best savor the flavor, along with a bit of sizzling char and raw garlic clove. Black Pork restaurant Palsaek Samgyeopsal (18, Baekbeom-ro, Mapo-gu), sets itself apart by offering eight varieties of marinade, including ginseng, pine leaves, and miso.
Octopus doesn’t go down without a fight, even when it’s chopped up. Beyond sushi, this adventure eating experience entails a live or freshly chopped up octopus, eaten while it’s flailing, suckers grabbing at your mouth and tongue. While a few restaurants specialize in this delicacy, many prefer to pick their own specimen from tanks at Noryangjin Fish Market and bring it to one of its numerous in-house restaurants where, much like a corkage fee for BYOB, they will prepare and serve it with condiments. Don’t forget the soju!
Chewisty Donuts at Dunkin Donuts
This isn’t the Dunkin Donuts you know at home in North America. Seoul’s Dunkin Donuts carry "Chewisty"-style donuts, also known as Pon de Ring at equally tasty competitor, Mister Donut. Made with tapioca flour, they’re addictively chewy and come in flavors like green tea, cappuccino, and chocolate.
Photo credits: Dunkin Donuts Seoul courtesy of Flickr/ LWY; All others courtesy of Lawrence Ferber