Hands down, without a doubt, the best thing we did in Seoul (aside from teaching my class), was to sign up for the Seoul Hunter’s Korean Food Tour. If you ever go to Seoul, YOU MUST DO THIS TOUR. It’s a small startup business between two gentlemen. Our tour was with T, who speaks flawless English, and is an all around awesome person. He started us off by telling us a little background on his company, and then gave us some options for our food choices that evening. This in itself was a big green light for us. I’ve been on food tours in many cities, and it’s the same pre-packaged “tour” where they shuffle you into a few restaurants (that tend to not be of any quality), give you a sampling of the food, and shuffle you out. Seoul Hunters is 100%, authentic, genuine, and more than your money’s worth.
We were joined on our tour, by another American, Owen. We clicked right away, and unlike a lot of these other tours where you meet some people and get on well enough to hang out on the tour and then never see each other again, we ended up getting together again several times while we were in Korea. The four of us had the absolute best time on this tour! So much so, that on our last night in Seoul, Nate and I booked enough food tour with T. (Sadly, Owen had already departed, so we couldn’t completely get the whole gang back together again).
T first took us to a Cha Iyagi(B.B.Q) restaurant. Korean BBQ is all over, because most residents live in smaller apartments and do not have the facilities at home. This is a very inexpensive meal, designed for locals, and most of the sides are served in an unlimited capacity, while you grill up your meat.
They give you large lettuce leaves to create little wraps. So tasty!
Part of the tour, and what makes it so unique, is that T will serve and teach you Korean drinking games and cocktails. This one was Ko jin gam rae(Sweet after bitter) and is one of Korea’s saying meaning sweet after bitter. The drink is made with coke, soju, and beer. Because the coke comes at the end, bitter flavor of alcohol is lessoned in this concoction. It is one of the most famous mixed drink of Korea, and it is meant to drank at once. It’s a little like a car bomb, but with different mixtures. It was delicious!
This is the Korean drinking game called Titanic. You float an empty shot glass and we went around the table adding soju. Nate lost.
T gave us a lot of options for our other food stops. Korean Pizza/pancakes, chicken, fried mackeral…. For our second stop, we opted for Korean fried chicken and beer. Supposedly, most people get this as takeout, but we opted to stay and enjoy ourselves.
So, so good! It’s kind of double fried, and is very crispy and delicious. Bonchon lovers, will dig this so much. It’s even more delicious when it’s authentic. It doesn’t look particularly special or different from American fried chicken, but trust me, it is.
At each location, T would excuse himself to call ahead to the next stop we picked. Again, this is why we were so blown away by this excursion. Not one point of this was pre-packaged, not one bit was where he was getting a kick back from a restaurant for bringing us by. Just a genuine guy trying to give us a great food experience, which he absolutely did! We ended up requesting an additional stop, so that we could sample a particular dish. T accommodated us, and got us a seat at the local tea house.
In Insadong, all of the businesses are written in Korean. T told us that this Starbucks was special, because despite their very critical brand guidelines, this one is written in Korean. Another incredible thing about this tour, is that T gave us a walking tour of the area as we moved from restaurant to restaurant.
We ended up making the stop at a tea shop so that we could sample their “ice cream.”
Red bean and green tea. There were beans and all kinds of interesting things in the desserts. We poured condensed milk on top and it was wild. It reminded me of a snowball, but with an almost savory/sweet flavor. We really enjoyed!
After questing all over, T finally found what Owen and Nate had been desiring the most. The live octopus. Because of the scorching heat, most restaurants were not serving it, because it is a dish that can go bad very quickly in the heat. Even though none of the places T would typically have taken us to had it, he made a point to find us a place, so that we could sample it. How many tours will do that for you???
Shots were needed for this next dish.
So the live octopus dish… it’s such fresh, alive octopus, that when they slice it up, it will keep wriggling for 30-40 minutes. I was completely grossed out by this, but Nate and Owen were ecstatic.
I tried a small piece. Needless to say, it was not something I think that I’ll try again… and I LOVE octopus. Just not live. And squirming. And raw. eeeeeek.
T suggested we put some into shooters. I left this to Nate and Owen. Bombs away!
Nate LOVED it. It’s difficult to grab on chopsticks though. It was quite the ordeal for him to get a piece to try…
We ended up meeting up with Owen again on Monday night to try to viral Pizza Bomba (Pizza Bomb) at the Place in Seoul Station. (I’ll post about our other Korean food experiences including the pizza bomb soon)! Sadly, T’s daughter was ill and so he was not able to join us for that adventure.
For our last night in Seoul, after I had determined from my class that they didn’t have any dinner plans, Nate and I booked a private tour with T to soak up a little more Seoul culture and tasty dishes before we left.
One of the items that Nate really wanted to try was a seasonal dish called Samgye-tang, which is ginseng chicken soup. It’s served in the spring, and is supposed to have incredible boosts for your immune system. It’s also DELICIOUS.
T did a bunch of research and finally found us one of the few restaurants still serving it. It’s basically a whole chicken in broth. I ended up eating my entire bowl of broth, and half of Nate’s as well. He ate half my chicken. It took us an hour and a half to get from Gangnam (where we were staying for my class) to I believe it’s the Hapjeong neighborhood. Needless to stay, we were famished by the time we arrived.
Pulling the wishbone! Nate won.
T then took us to one of his favorite places in Hongdae. It was a really fun bar and restaurant that had a lot of Americana and reminded me of a military dive in Hawaii that you’d see in movies. The menu is on a monopoly board. How cute, right??
They start you off with a bowl of crispy puff cereal bites. They were basically froot loops puffs.
Octopus nachos. Whaaaaaaaaat. and also, YESSSSSS. This was grilled to perfection, and completely erased in my mind the memory of the raw octopus!
This was some kind of shaved ice and fruit dish… with tomatoes, cherries, and other fruit. It was really yummy, though I avoided the tomatoes.
See, Hawaiian military dive vibes…
As we went off to our next destination, we happened to walk by a bunch of arcade type areas that are very popular with adults. One had all penguins and Korean baseball jerseys. Obviously, I wanted to try to win one for Nate. T and Nate scoffed at me because these machines are so pesky and designed to steal your money and fail… but years growing up on the Jersey Shore has taught me how to conquer these claw contraptions. Needless to say, it took me a few tries, but I won a little Penguin for Nate.
Bahahaha, isn’t it too precious??
T next took us to Charlie Jumaks, which had a fun gastropub type vibe. They had an extensive alcohol menu.
When I looked on the drink list, I instantly knew that I wanted this watermelon slushie drink. It was completely worth it. Smooth, fruity, and so delicious. Definitely was feeling the alcohol, and didn’t even care because it was such a tasty drink. After all the chicken soup, and the octopus nachos we were feeling pretty full… so I asked for this giant drink in lieu of a food item. WORTH IT.
Korean pizza. This was delicious. We were both so stuffed, but couldn’t stop eating it!
T got us fans as a goodbye gift!
T had planned to take us to one more location as part of our private tour, but at this point it was nearing midnight, we’d been drinking for hours, and we decided to call it a night. If you are EVER in Seoul, please look up Seoul Hunters. We took a lot of tours, and saw a lot of sights, and ate a lot of food, but this was the best thing we did in Seoul. T and Seoul Hunters will give you a phenomenal, memorable experience, and I again, I cannot recommend them enough!