Can't take another Big Mac? This guide serves up options

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Can't take another Big Mac? This guide serves up options

In a city as big as Seoul, keeping on top of the best places to wine and dine isn't easy.

Fortunately, a new restaurant guide has just hit bookstores. "The Seoul Food Finder," published in English and Korean by Cookand Publishing, critiques 140 of the best places to eat and drink in the capital The book costs 15,000 won, or about $12.

Andrew Salmon, a Brit, and his wife Jinny (Kang Ji Yong) recently sat down over lunch in the cramped Gwanghwamun Jip restaurant to talk about what they know best -- food.

"Koreans look at you a little weird when you're drinking at lunch time," said Mr. Salmon, a public relations consultant, as he sips a shot glass of soju. "Most Koreans drink a lot after work, but not during lunch."

Customers crowd the Kia-sized diner this noontime. According to the Salmons, the food here comes fast and you need to eat fast -- there's often a line forming outside.

"We like the food, though," Mr. Salmon says. "It's spicy." He pours a little soju in his kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew).

The stew, which bubbles away on a heated pot on the table, is crammed with kimchi, pork, potato, tofu, and, of course, red pepper. Typical Korean food fills the remaining space on the table: white rice, sprouts, squid and an omelet accompanied by soy sauce. To put out the fire, chilled basil tea is served.

According to the couple, cuisine in Seoul has changed immensely over the past 10 years, thus the reason for their book. Since the economic rebound, Seoul has seen a variety of ethnic restaurants enter the scene. Before 1993, McDonald's, Pizza Hut and Wendy's ?where Andrew and Jinny had their first date ?were the only foreign choices.

Then T.G.I. Friday's entered the scene, and after 1997, the floodgates to international cuisine opened, bringing in Italian, French and fusion foods.

"This book not only introduces Korean food to foreigners," Mr. Salmon said, "it brings foreign foods to Koreans."

by Carson K. Smith

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