Saturday, April 27, 2013

Eating out in South Korea, a gastronomic summary of Seoul, Busan, Incheon, and Miryang

Recently back from between eight and eleven days in South Korea (depending on how you count travel days!). In the land of kimchi, I had an interesting variety of meals. Some were less exotic than others (hello Starbucks!), but overall, quite good. Here's a rundown.

Starbucks (Breakfast and snacks, Seoul and Busan)
Yes, of course I had to visit Starbucks. There was one practically in my hotel for the first leg of the trip and provided a good base for carbs and coffee in the morning. Many of the usual things and some twists (only 2% and whole milk; very tasty and more "English" than "American" scones; interesting take on the almond danish that was quite good

2013.03.24-IMG_0273 Starbucks #4, near Yongdusan Park Starbucks #5, TimesSquare, Seoul Korean Starbucks #2, Busan

Soban (Lunch, Seoul, 23 March 2013)
Found this very nice kimchi and noodle/rice place in the "food court" (aka basement) of my hotel (Ramada Inn). The helpful proprietor showed us how to dish selections from the various kimchi options and whipped up a pretty tasty raman (ramyeon in Korean) along with rice. A good start to the culinary trip.

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Red Square (Dinner, Seoul, 23 March 2013)
After a long day, having dinner in the hotel restaurant seemed a good idea. Also, the ads for Red Square (24F) made it look fabulous (though the abalone gruel on the breakfast menu was a bit, ummm, different -- though later I learned it is quite common in South Korea). Up to the 24th floor and told the buffet was not available (not a problem). The restaurant was a series of rooms turned into a dinning area, so hard to tell how big it was. What was clear was that we were the only people there (later a group of three arrived, ate, and quickly left). The menu was a bit pricey (and limited) plus, it was late and I was tired, so I opted for the chicken caeser); another in the group had the seasonal salad with chicken. We really couldn't tell which was which, so I'm not sure even now as to which I had. Service was great and I bet the buffet was much better.

Eastern Social Welfare Society (Lunch, Seoul, 24 March 2013)
A fabulous Korean feast was given to us at the Eastern when we visited to see the facilities. Kimchi (of course), chicken, fish, tofu, a variety of side dishes. A great overview of Korean food.

Kraze Burger (Dinner, Seoul, 24 March 2013)
Kraze Burger is a South Korean take on the burger. A chain, this one was a full sit-down restaurant with excellent service. A wide variety of bugers (Australian beef). I opted for the bulgogi burger which took the traditional Korean beef dish and turned it into a (sloppy) burger. One problem with Kraze Burger was lack of sides. Would have been nice to have a salad! In an interesting twist, in looking up Kraze Burger on the web, turns out that they've just recently opened their first US location, right up the road (sort of) in Bethesda, Maryland (Kraze Burger US).

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Full Table (Lunch, Busan, 26 March 2013)
During a day trip to Incheon, our group hit on our best meal of the trip. On a little side street, we were attracted to the corner restaurant by the floor sitting. After some discussion with a fellow outside (who turned out to be the owner's husband) we went in and were greeted by (it turned out) the owner's English speaking daughter).

Treated like royalty, we were brought dish after dish of fish and vegetable treats. Crispy whole fish, tofu, various greens and kimchi; the little spicy crispy fish (not my favorite), an amazing omelette like item, and a fabulous eggplant (oh, I forgot the soup). Our hostess (Jia) told us what we were eating and as an added treat, offered to be our guide in Incheon after we were done). A very lucky find indeed!

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2013.03.26-IMG_0657 Phorian (Dinner, Seoul, 26 March 2013)
Across from the hotel was a nice looking Vietnamese pho restaurant so we thought we'd give it a try. I went with the beef pho which was good, but lacking some of the side bits (fresh cilantro and Thai basil) that I've become accustomed to in pho in the States. Had a small bottle of soju (a Korean take on Sake) that was pretty tasty.

National Palace Museum (Lunch, Seoul, 27 March 2013)
After a visit to the Gyeongbokgung Palace, we stopped in at the restaurant in the National Palace Museum (on the grounds of the palace). In addition to a carry out counter, there was a beautiful sit-down restaurant with a wonderful menu. I chose a rice bowl with vegetables and a chrysanthemum tea. A fabulous museum restaurant!

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Petite Hanoi (Dinner, Seoul, 27 March 2013)
Back in the food court of the Ramada Inn on a weekday saw a world of change. All the restaurants were open and quite bustling. This night, we chose Petite Hanoi, a busy Vietnamese spot. I went with a yellow seafood curry that was very good. Others in the group had the pad thai, which was very interesting, more of an egg omelette with vegetables.

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2013.03.28-IMG_0864Tower Hill Hotel (Lunch, Busan, 28 March 2013)
After taking the high-speed KTX train to Busan, we checked into our hotel and wanted a quick bite to eat. Nearby was the Tower Hill Hotel that had a nice cafe. Though it had a limited menu (sandwiches and salads), it also had fruit smoothies! We had both sandwiches and salads. The sandwiches were little grill pockets with a bit of everything inside (fish, sausage, etc.) and the salad had chicken.

Hinomura Yakatoria (Dinner, Busan, 28 March 2013)
Hinomura is a Japanese restaurant in Busan. Located in a shopping district just up from the fish market, it looked like just the right spot. Never having been to a "yakatoria" before, I don't know if this was typical, but  it was basically a tapas/small plate kinda place with a wide variety of dishes ... very wide indeed since some of the options (options note taken) included squid beak, adductor muscle (?), and gizzard shad. We stuck with the basics (fish, chicken, vegetables) and a simply amazing tofu dish.

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2013.03.29-IMG_1080Lotteria (Lunch, Miryang, 29 March 2013)
The Lotteria was a snazzy fast food kinda place ... bit like McDonalds or a Burger King, with a Korean twist. An interesting change of pace! Or, as their tagline had it, a place to "in joy"

Korean Restaurant in the Aqua Mall  (Dinner, Busan, 29 March 2013)
Located in the Aqua Mall, we'd walked a bit around the fish market for a while and then decided on a more formal sit down restaurant. In the Aqua Mall, there was a whole floor of restaurant options and it was hard to choose among them.

Hanilkwan (Dinner, Seoul, 30 March 2013)
Hanilkwan, a famed restaurant in Seoul founded in 1939, now has additional locations in the trendy shopping areas of Seoul. We stopped in at the Times Square Mall location for an excellent Korean meal.

Dunkin Donuts (Breakfast, 31 March-1 April 2013)
The DD was the only place that opened before 9 am at the Times Square Mall. It was much like any DD, except for the interesting donut choices (glutinous rice sticks and the green tea chewstoy). Also, it had an enclosed smoking room!


2013.03.31-IMG_1380National Museum of Korea (Lunch, Seoul, 31 March 2013)
After a visit to the amazing National Museum of Korea, we were getting hungry and had to choose between about four different eating options in the museum. We went with the food court which was simply amazing. The food court had a central order spot where you could choose from about six different themes (foreign, noodles, bakery, etc.). I went with the "foreign" and had an Indian vegetable curry. After paying, you received a beeper and took a seat. When you buzzed, you went to the station to pick up your food. The Indian curry was very good (and served with a side of kimchi and Korean soup!). The other diners' selections (noodles, vegetables, spicy soup) all received rave reviews.

Outback Steakhouse (Dinner, Seoul, 31 March 2013)
Never having been to an Outback Steakhouse, what better place to experience the adventure than in Seoul. I was disappointed there was no "bloomin' onion" on the menu and the steaks were quite pricey (imported Australian beef), so we all went with salads. My steak salad was interesting (I"m sure it was different than what would be in the States!).

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