I never realized what a true foodie I was until I decided to study abroad in a foreign country, and let me tell you– South Korea has a diverse variety of cuisine that has enabled me to meet this other piece of myself. I have thoroughly enjoyed it, too. I am a small-town girl, and although we have the usual chains that you typically see in every state back in the United States, along with some restaurants and cafes unique to my town, we do not really have a lot of hole-in-the-wall places like I have seen here. In fact, we only have one genuine Korean restaurant. The most adventurous I had ever gotten with Korean cuisine back home was 불고기 (bulgogi), 킴치 (kimchi), and Korean style ramen. Imagine my surprise when I learned about (and happily ate) all the diverse dishes just within minutes of my Korea University dorm.
It can be challenging as a college student to constantly make meals in the dorm. This is even more so the case at Korea University, where you can only have a five-liter container in the refrigerator, and, depending on the dorm you are residing in, a locker for additional packaged snacks. Before COVID, KU students were not even allowed to eat in their dorms due to the potential of causing bug issues; however, this has been lifted enough that we could snack in our rooms, as long as food trash was disposed of in the kitchen.
Basically, what I am saying is, there really is not enough storage for everything needed to cook two to three meals a day. I, and many others in the program, have found it easier to either buy snacks every week while also going out for a meal or two. Plus, dining is ridiculously cheap over here. I would give the price range of anywhere from 4,000 to 12,000 on the low end, and 15,000 to 30,000 on the high end (which is mostly for more expensive meats).
So, allow me to introduce to you my top 10 dishes and sweets from the Anam district in Seoul (Note: This is specifically oriented towards Korea University students living in the international dorms; but, if you reside in Anam or visit Seoul, these are still some great choices within the area!).
Additional Notes: Most dishes are made to share, so be cautious when you go out to eat alone because you may end up with a portion size that is enough for four people (at least you will have leftovers). It is also common to not split the bill; however, places will split it if you ask. If you have food delivered and are using an international card, I highly recommend using Yogiyo on your computer. You can pay when they bring your food!
#5- Chicken and Potato Burrito Plus Side Winder Fries
Located at the bottom of the hill that leads up to CJ International House and Anam International House, 밀플랜비 (Meal Plan B) is a burrito and hot dog fast food joint that is a must-try, especially if you like Mexican cuisine with a little twist. These burritos have some typical ingredients—meat, sauce, and the option of rice or potato—but what makes them different is their Korean edge. My go-to meal is the chicken and potato burrito (add mozzarella sticks) and side winder fries.
The burrito is filled to the brim with chicken, fries (which are the potatoes), cabbage, spicy sauce, and, if you choose to add something out of place like mozzarella sticks, they put two entire sticks in there. For the side of fries, they include a cup of sweet chili sauce. This place is a quick and easy lunch/dinner option for dine in or take out, and it can also be delivered!
Price for my meal: ₩12,500 (~$10.57)
Address: 서울특별시 성북구 안암동5가 15-82
#4- 닭볶음탕정식 (Spicy Chicken Stew)
Admittedly, it has taken some time to get used to chicken in South Korea. A lot of the places I have tried tend to use the entire chicken— every single part, plus all the bones. Learning how to eat that kind of chicken was… an experience, to say the least. Nevertheless, chicken is really good here. It is just the icing on top when it is mixed in with a stew as delicious as what I tried at 옥두헌손두부.
The only dish that truly has my heart at this restaurant is the spicy chicken stew (닭볶음탕정식 in Korean). If you did not know already, pretty much every dish you order in Korea comes with a variety of sides. This specific dish is served with kimchi, radish, and rice. As for the spicy chicken stew itself, it is a thick, spicy, and savory broth mixed with chicken and potatoes. If you need an exact description of how it tastes, the best way I can describe it is as a sweet and spicy chili. I also recommend their 감자찐만두 (steamed meat dumplings). This is definitely the perfect dish for a chilly day, and one that you do not have to share.
Price for my meal: ₩7,000 for just the stew (~$5.92) ₩5,000 for dumplings (~$4.23)
Address: 서울 성복구 개운사길 18
#3- 부대 찌개 (Budae Jjigae; Army Base Stew)
This was one of those dishes I was a little skeptical of when I first tried it. Actually, the restaurant I went to, BIYA, literally sat the hot pot in the middle of the table as soon as I sat down. It was only my third day in Seoul, so I was a little shell-shocked since I had not even had the opportunity to look at the menu or try to order something—which, the menu for this restaurant was on the wall, and not a physical menu. So, I just decided to go with the flow and try something new. After all, I am in a foreign country with a very different cuisine from what I am used to back home, so I am down for just about anything.
Plus, there is some neat history behind this dish, hence the nickname the “army base stew”. It became popular after the Korean War when the US and allies left stockpiles of supplies at their army bases in Korea, which included tons of cans of spam, American cheese, sausage, and other food items. Soldiers mixed it all together and created this stew that is still quite popular in Korea today!
BIYA’s 부대 찌개 is a mix of spam, sausage, glass noodles, rice cakes, and, if you want to add it, ramen. They also serve a side of kimchi and tater tots, which the tater tots really spoke to my American heart. Trust me, these ones are ten times better than the soggy ones they used to serve us in public school lunches. This dish is also meant to share, so bring a friend or two with you! I will be honest—I do not like spam or sausage, but this dish is one of my favorites so far that I have had in South Korea. It will not disappoint!
Price for my meal: If one check, ₩12,000 (~$10.15) If split, ₩7,500 ($6.34)
Address: 서울 성북구 개운사길 42-4
#2- 육개장 +숮불고기 + 고기만두 (Spicy Beef Stew and Dumplings)
This combination from 육쌈냉면 was my number one for a long time, solely because of the dumplings. What was unique about this restaurant was that its menu consisted of summer and winter season dishes, which is the first time I have seen something like that. This was also the first actual meal I had out of quarantine, and needless to say, it did not disappoint one bit.
The spicy beef stew (육개장) was something interesting and different. I have never had anything remotely close to it (much like pretty much everything I have had in Korea). The broth had a soup consistency and was orange in color, and the stew itself consisted of roast beef, vegetables, and glass noodles. It also had side dishes, including kimchi, onions, rice, and a platter of charcoal meat (숮불고기). Speaking of that meat, it was to-die-for– sweet tasting, soft, and, when combined with the stew, practically melted in my mouth. Between the meat and the dumplings, I felt like I was in heaven for days.
So, let me tell you about those beautiful dumplings (고기만두). As you can see from the picture, they are aesthetically pleasing. My favorite kind of dumplings are kimchi dumplings, and although these ones were meat dumplings, they easily became my favorite when combined with the sweet teriyaki sauce given to dip them in. I could eat the whole plate of them without hesitation. In fact, I talked about them every day for two weeks straight– that is just how incredible they are. This first meal out really made the difficult quarantine worthwhile.
Price for my meal: If one check, ₩12,000 (~$10.15) If split, ₩6,000 (~$5.07)
Address: 서울 성북구 고려대로24길 2층
#1- 치즈찜닭 (Cheese Jjimdak)
Trust me when I say that it had to take a phenomenal dish to top the dumplings that I raved about in the last paragraph. I did not think I would find anything better than those in South Korea, until I happened to stumble upon 내가찜한닭 고려대점. After an intense craving for something cheesy, I utilized Naver Maps to examine every single restaurant within walking distance in the Anam area. When I clicked on this specific restaurant, I saw the most heavenly looking dish I had ever seen: 치즈찜닭 (cheese jjimdak).
Just look at it. Doesn’t it look amazing? It tastes as good as it looks. This delectable dish is a combination of braised chicken, a variety of vegetables, glass noodles, rice cakes, dumplings, thick, sweet sauce, and, of course, a cheese topping. Although the only sides that come with this dish are a cabbage salad plus some onions and cucumbers in what I assume is vinegar, there is also the option to add a side of rice. I add rice just to combine it with the chicken, vegetables, and sauce, but this dish is filling whether you order sides or not. It is also another food choice that is meant to share! If you are not a big cheese fan, I also recommend the 매콤순살고추장찜닭, which is essentially the same thing, just a little bit spicier and does not have cheese.
Price for my meal: If one check, about ₩24,000 (~$20.29) If split, about ₩12,500 (~$10.57)
Address: 서울 성북구 고려대로24길 32
#5- Oreo Shake
Reading the name of number five might give you… serious American vibes. Your vibe check would be correct; however, it is included on this list because it is at the lovely café named 베브베브릿지 고려대점 (BE:BRDIGE, Korea University branch), which creates and serves desserts from all around the globe—that is the appeal. Plus, the theme of the café is a worldly one. And, contrary to what you may believe, even the Oreo shake had its distinct Korean twist.
I do not think there is any need to describe an Oreo shake because it is self-explainable. What makes it Korean is the ice pieces they add to it. I have found that a lot Korean desserts—specifically drinks and ice cream dishes—have either ice chunks or shaved ice. Either way, it was delicious, and a familiar taste of home!
Price for my dessert: ₩6,000 (~$5.07)
Address: 서울 성북구 고려대로27길 19
#4- Strawberry Juice with Bubbles
I did not get the hype over bubble tea before I came to Korea. Even though I still do not (only because I am unable to drink tea in general), they are visually pretty drinks and widely popular here. Luckily for me, Amasvin had other drinks available where I could still get half of the bubble tea experience.
When I tried ordering, my intended drink was a strawberry smoothie; I do not speak good Korean though, so I ended up with the strawberry juice. I was not mad about it, either. This drink had a powerful punch of strawberry, and that was what made me love it. Although the bubbles in the bottom was a strange experience at first, I did end up enjoying them. The best way I can describe the bubbles—chewy. I do not even know if they have a taste, but they were good in the drink. The café itself is a good place for studying, and this drink would be a fabulous addition to your study adventures.
Price for my dessert: ₩4,500 (~$3.81)
Address: 서울 성북구 개운사길 22-3
#3- Strawberry Yogurt Smoothie
I am not sure what kind of magic they put into this drink, but it is like a literal piece of heaven. I had strawberry smoothies back home, but I do not think anything could ever top a strawberry yogurt smoothie from Café Gate. It. Is. Just. Made. Different. And it was exceedingly difficult for me to not put this drink at number one.
A little thicker than your typical smoothie, this is another strawberry drink that packs a full punch. It has the sweet taste of strawberry and the delightfulness of smooth yogurt. I purchase this drink at least once a week. I also recommend their strawberry snow shake, but nothing compares to the strawberry yogurt smoothie.
Price for my dessert: ₩3,800 (~$3.21)
Address: 서울 성북구 고려대로24길 17
#2- Strawberry Nutella Waffle
You are starting to see a trend, aren’t you? All these strawberry desserts… well, you have officially learned one of my favorite foods. Anyway, I would technically count 와플대학 (Waffle University) as a food place as well, but since I had five deserving restaurants that needed to go in the “dish” category, I decided to count the waffles from here as a dessert; however, this little hub is a common breakfast stop for my friends and I.
I have had a few different kinds of waffles from Waffle University, but my absolute favorite is the strawberry Nutella waffle. It is a beautiful, savory waffle sandwich filled with nutella, strawberries, and fresh cream. I also always order a strawberry yogurt smoothie (which used to be my favorite before I had Café Gate’s smoothie). Aside from the strawberry Nutella waffle, I also recommend banana Nutella, honey bread, and Oreo Nutella.
Price for my dessert: ₩7,300 (~$6.17, including smoothie. Prices vary depending on the kind of waffle)
Address: 서울 성북구 고려대로 102 1층 (안암동5가)
#1- 딸기 빙수 (Strawberry Bingsu)
I like to believe that I truly saved the best for last with this dessert. It was the first treat I had out of quarantine, and even one month in, it remains my absolute favorite—and so is the café that serves it. 정만빙수 is a cute little corner café at the bottom of the hill from KU’s dorms. If you are currently here, or planning to study abroad at Korea University, this is a must-stop that you need to try.
For these desserts, you can order a small (for one person) or a large (for sharing). The man who owns the shop truly takes his time to serve you the best 빙수 (bingsu) you will probably ever have in your life. I swear, he is like an angel, and he is so kind too. I am almost convinced he might know my name and order by the end of the semester. I talk about this just as much as I talk about the dumplings from 육쌈냉면. My strawberry bingsu contained a bottom layer of shaved ice, flavorful vanilla ice cream, and a load of strawberry preserves. This is one of those things I will seriously miss when I return home at the end of the semester.
Price for my dessert: ₩4,500 (~$3.81) for a small
Address: 서울 성북구 개운사길 56 1층
Well, that is the end of my recommendations. I hope you find some new places to visit during your current stay in Seoul, and if you are coming in the future, I hope you will add these to your list of must-visits! You will not be disappointed—and neither will your foodie “Seoul” (inserts winky face).
Honorable Mentions (Other worthwhile places):
Dishes: Ostal Curry, Mcdonald’s, Burger King, Go Pizza, 무아국수, Fromaqi, Paris Baguette, Tous Les Jours, 인생설렁탕, She’s Bagel
Desserts: Baskin Robbins, Less Is More, Coffee Bean, Paris Baguette, Dear Bread