Food as medicine and geography
This is one of my pet peeves about Seoul, along with the bus drivers who career along the switchback curves on the road beneath Namsan as if they practicing for a NASCAR race. If the city’s chefs could learn to keep Korean and other food cultures separate Seoul could be a world class food town and diners would have to endure fewer plates of spaghetti that taste like strawberry ice cream.
However, the city has many gems. For Indian food, visit Sari, (02) 318-4249, in Jung-gu, near the Sungnyemun gate. The chef, a Korean trained in Japan, makes wonderful nan and delicious Chicken Tikka Masala.
My favorite Korean restaurant, the Full Moon in Hannam-dong, (02) 797-6443, has all the attributes that make dining Korean-style so enjoyable.
There’s strange wallpaper on the walls, a room for sitting on the floor and one with Western-style tables, a kitchen full of ajumma who do all the work and an ajossi at the cash-register who entertains customers with his bon mots, while pretending to be the one who does all the hard labor. True to form he is never far from a soju bottle.
For all this, the food is delectable and it’s impossible to miss. Go to the Hyatt, walk down the hill toward Haebancheong, and it’s restaurant with all the cabs outside, a sure sign that there will be excellent food within.
The OK Kitchen, (02) 797 6420, with branches in Gahoe-dong and Itaewon, serves some of the best French food in Asia. Captained by Susumu Yonaguni, this is the place for those hankering after perfect confit de canard served with pommes sarladaise. Yonaguni makes the confit himself and the potatoes are perfectly authentic.
Romantic evenings with the flavor of history can best be enjoyed at Ca’ Del Lupo, (02) 734-5233, in Bukchon, near the Gyeongbok Palace. This Italian restaurant has been set up inside a converted hanok. It’s food is the best I have eaten in Seoul and it also has a feeling of profound harmony, conveyed by the ancient rafters and courtyard that are a feast for the eye. Add to this all the tiny, random eateries in every neighborhood in the city and one has the perfect ingredients for gastronomic explorations.