I didn’t grow up eating Korean food. I grew up eating Cantonese food from Hong Kong and Western food (in the form of steaks from Peter Luger and Italian and French food).
I barely knew anything about Korea before living with my cousin and his Korean-American wife. I stayed with them one summer and she introduced me to the magic of Korean food, in the form of Gim (roasted seawed) and Rice (the magic instant snack), kimchi and beef kalbi.
From that moment on, I was hooked.
I finally made it to Korea this November after years and years of plotting my trip through the streets of Seoul, scarfing down everything in sight. November was perfect. The weather was fantastic as I love cold weather. I got to wear my leather jackets and wool coats that had been hiding in my closet since I left for home after living in the U.S. for three years.
The only drawback was, I couldn’t buy anything clothes-wise, but I was there primarily for the food.
One of my best friends from the C.I.A. JYK picked me up at the airport and introduced me to the very best that Seoul had to offer. I couldn’t have asked for a better tour guide and ambassador of Korea.
Two experiences stood out the most.
VATOS TACOS and JUNGSIK.
Vatos Urban Tacos is this modern Korean food joint in the neighborhood of Itaewon. I was surprised when I got there because the vibe was so different. I didn’t feel like I was in Seoul. I felt like somebody had transported me back to the Lower East Village.
The place was packed so thankfully, my friend made a reservation and we waited outside for a bit and checked out the menu. This place kind of reminded me of Belly Shack in Chicago.
It was when I got inside the restaurant that I was taken back to Seoul. The receptionist, though Caucasian, spoke to us in Korean. I was so shocked, I was floored. I’m used to Caucasians speaking Mandarin from living in Beijing, but I had never heard a Caucasian speaking Korean before. VERY IMPRESSIVE!
We got to our seats and immediately, I was drawn to their special margaritas. They had several margaritas with beer! What a novelty! Never had those before so I chose the Gold Digger which was an apple margarita with apple cider. It was so good, I wanted two! I wouldn’t have minded not eating and just getting trashed with three of those.
This is my friend’s Margarita which was the classic Margarita with a Corona. I finished mine before I remembered to take a photo of it.
Then we had kimchi fries and pork tacos. Honestly, I was truly enjoying my cocktail so the food took a backseat at this experience.
The next day, my friend took me to Jungsik for lunch. This was also a non-traditional Korean joint, but was in fact, a modernized version. One of her friends from CIA also worked there so we definitely got hooked up. The owner of this restaurant received a Michelin-star for his restaurant in Korea and is the first Korean born and raised chef to receive a Michelin star. Impressive right?
There were a lot of cancellations for lunch that day because it was quite cold so it was just my friend and I and another table for lunch.
The menu felt like Eleven Madison Park’s. I appreciated this because my friend chose items that I did not choose so we got to try a lot.
What follows is a bunch of amazing dishes I didn’t get to list down because I was too busy savoring the flavors.
What I remember is that these dishes, though modernized in flavor and presentation, still retained a lot of Korean flavors. I can still remember the spices, especially in the Beef Tartare. The pork belly was amazing, really crispy on the outside and tender and melt-in-your-mouth on the inside.
Highly recommend visiting these two restaurants next time you’re in Seoul.
Check them out!
A) VATOS URBAN TACOS
Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-dong 181-8 2nd Floor, Seoul Korea
서울시 용산구 이태원동 181-8 2층
+82 2 517 4654
On a final note, the one non-food thing I really enjoyed was:
A) THE MOST DELICIOUS GREEN TEA LATTE! A far cry from the Starbucks Green latte! HAHA!