The best food in Korea

By Ben Preston, co-founder of ViaHero.com

Korean food has always been one of my favourite types of food, albeit one I barely understood. Then, a short while ago, I had the chance to travel to Seoul for a close friend’s wedding. During that trip, I was able to get a week-long crash course in Korean food from my friends (who also happen to be local foodies and overall great guys). Here are some of my favourites:

5 – Kimchi Dumplings

Namdaemun Market is a sprawling street market in Seoul selling second-hand goods, clothing, and most importantly, tasty food. While some of the sit-down options here seemed a bit too tourist focused (I would avoid a place called ‘Noodle Alley’ at all costs!), the gems of Namdaemun are on the street. Using my general rule of eat-where-lots-of-locals-eat, I stumbled across a small stand selling freshly steamed kimchi dumplings. Warm and inviting, this was the best street food that I ate and was perfect on a cold day.

kimchi-dumplings
Kimchi dumplings

4 – Banchan

Banchan are the nearly endless variety of tasty small plates of food that come with almost every meal. Kimchi was almost always present (yum!) which always added a spicy and complex complement to any meal. My favourite thing about banchan is that they are served right when you arrive to eat and refills are endless. I am pretty sure I could live in Korea for five years and still not sample every type of Banchan.

bonchon
Banchan

  

3 – Kimbap

I’ve always associated maki (rice and fillings, wrapped in seaweed and then sliced) to be a classic Japanese dish. Then I came to Korea, and found out about Kimbap: the Korean cousin of maki filled with uniquely local ingredients like kimchi, daikon radish, and pork. Kimbap is cheap, filling, available everywhere, and super tasty. Pork sushi?  Yes please.

  

kimbap
Kimbap

4 – ChiMac

Now we are getting to the big leagues. ChiMac, derived from the Korean words for Chicken and Beer, is a Seoul classic. One of the coolest parts of eating ChiMac in Korea was trying the different styles. The first place I tried was in the super trendy Gangam district and was filled with young business people out from work and what looked like lots of first dates. The chicken was perfectly crispy and crunchy, topped with herbs and sauce, and served with a crisp ice cold beer.

But my favourite of numerous ChiMacs was actually from an old-school ChiMac joint that I could best describe as a Korean pub. Definitely not a place known for the ambiance but loved for the chicken, the ChiMac came both plain and in a sweet-spicy sauce. The meat was tender, so juicy and flavourful, and the coating was crispy and unlike any fried chicken I have ever had. It was simply amazing. This was one of the dishes that I would travel back to Korea just to eat again.

chimak
ChiMac

1 – Korean BBQ

Choosing between ChiMac and Korean BBQ was nearly impossible – both were so different and amazing in their own way. However, the sheer diversity of Korean BBQ in Seoul put BBQ on top.

We started with some classic beef BBQ: self-cooked tasty morsels wrapped in lettuce and loaded with garlic, kimchi, and Ssamjang sauce, yum! 

Then we moved on to what is surely one of my favourite meals ever: Pork-centric Korean BBQ. Slabs of every kind and cut of pork cooked by a pro right at our table. The best was the sliver of pork belly, super tender and flavourful, wrapped up in a lettuce leaf. Another must-try food here was a variation on Kimchi I had never seen before: cooked below the pork on a slanted grill, pork juice flowed down and cooked the kimchi. This pork-juice-cooked-Kimchi was oddly reminiscent of Polish stuffed cabbage, and was one of the most unique I ate on the entire trip.

korean-pork-bbq-1
Korean Barbecue

But perhaps the meal that put Korean BBQ over the edge for me was a fusion of Korean + Mexican food that was unexpected and amazing. The chicken was marinated in a blend of Korean and Mexican spices, and then grilled at the table along with tortillas. Instead of classic lettuce wraps, we assembled little packets of grilled chicken, Korean Nacho cheese, mint leaves, and onions for perfect bitesized pieces of happiness.  The restaurant even served a boiling plate of cheese with tortillas chips inside – what I can only describe as Korean Nachos.   

The food in Korea was diverse and incredible. My only advice would be to try to find a local to take you around, or make friends quickly, to get the true Seoul experience.

Mexico City

The best food near the Angel of Independence, Mexico City

By Ben Preston

The Angel of Independence is the symbol of Mexico City, and the country as a whole. It’s a must visit while traveling in Mexico, and it’s likely you will end up near it, hungry and tired, at some point while traveling here. Luckily, there is some great, authentic Mexican food just a couple of blocks away, if you know where to look.

Tacos El Caminero

Less than a five-minute walk from the Angel lies Tacos El Caminero. This is a classic no frills Taqueria. Don’t expect attentive service, workers who speak English, or a charming ambience. Do expect a simple meal of flavorful, authentic tacos, spicy salsas, and thirst-quenching local cervezas.

El Caminero has a mix and match menu. Fill your taco with choices like chicken, pork and beef and top them with cheese, bacon, onions, or chorizo. My personal favorite here is the Mexico City classic Al Pastor taco with cheese. The Al Pastor meat is local pork spit roasted like shwarma, making it both succulent and crispy. The Taqueria is also known for its Rib Alambre, a fry up of steak, peppers, onions, and cheese which becomes the filling for make-your-own tacos. Alambre, a local specialty, inspired the spread of fajitas in the southwestern United States, and is a must try.

tacos-el-caminero
Tacos El Caminero

 

Salón Ríos

Salón Ríos is hard not to love. Excellent tacos, appetizers, Mexican craft beer, cocktails, attentive service, and a clean, hip atmosphere. Go here if you are looking for a slightly more upscale experience than a typical Taqueria. Start with a classic appetizer of guacamole, which is hand ground with a mortar and pestle and served with crunchy Chicharrón (Mexico’s version of Pork Scratchings) as well as fresh, warm blue corn tortillas. For your entrée, you can’t beat the Fried Fish (Pescado Frito) Taco, which is served on a warm blue corn tortilla with creamy chipotle sauce, guacamole, and crunch cabbage. I’ve heard the desserts are great too, but I’ve never saved enough room to try!

salon-rios
Salon Rios

 

Cafebrería El Péndulo

Cafebrería El Péndulo is a confusing as it is delightful. It’s a restaurant and a bookstore with a bar on the second floor. The clientele is a mix of business people, tourists, and freelancers using the area as a co-working space. Cafebrería El Péndulo has an outside patio perfect for a long, peaceful lunch away from the hustle of Mexico City. The menu is extensive and varies between cultures, but I recommend sticking with the Mexican fare.  It’s comforting, flavorful, and authentic. If you can’t decide what to get, the dish of “Typical Mexican Food” has quesadillas, tlacoyos (oval-shaped fried cakes made of a Mexican corn-meal known as masa), and tostadas (fried corn tortillas topped with meat, sour cream, avocado and cheese). Pair it with a Michelada (local beer with lime juice, and assorted sauces, spices, and peppers) and enjoy a perfect, leisurely afternoon.

cafebreria-el-pendulo
Cafebrería El Péndulo
michelada
Michelada

 

The Perfect Ending

The combination of sightseeing and eating big meals generally makes one pretty tired. Fight those post-meal Z’s with a cup of Mexican coffee and hot chocolate from Tierra & Garat. The combination of the bitterness of the Mexican coffee and the sweetness of the local chocolate will make it your new favorite drink.

Find Ben Preston, of ZenEuroTravel, at:

blog.zeneuro.com

zeneuro.com

Facebook.com/ZenEuroTravel

BenPreston.me