Enough of the war mongering, it’s time to get back to the important stuff…food!!
As we did in Hong Kong last week, we were really interested in experiencing a food tour of South Korea’s capital city, Seoul. There are a couple of companies that you can go with, those being O’ngo and ZenKimchi. After reading their bio and reviewing the many positive responses on Trip Advisor, it was pretty clear that O’ngo were going to give us the tour that we were looking for.
O’ngo offer a number of different styles of food tour, with something to please everyone. Lunchtime tours, night tours (our selection), pub crawls, corporate events, personalized tours…you name it, they’ve got it!
We were scheduled to meet with our tour guide and fellow tour members at 5:45pm, but of course things didn’t quite go to plan. For whatever reason, we totally underestimated the time need to get across town on the subway and only ended up getting there after 6pm, very flushed and a little out of breath after trotting the last few hundred metres between the Anguk subway station and kitchen HQ! Thankfully everyone was very understanding, but I could still sense a certain impatience to get out there and start eating. Totally understandable!
The O’ngo kitchens are actually located in the Insa-dong neighbourhood of Seoul, and in hindsight I wish we had found some accommodation there instead of over in Gangnam. Our lovely tourguide (I’m so sorry if you’re reading this, but the ‘bitter after sweet’ soju shots have wiped your name from my already dubious memory!) took us through some of the dark, winding back streets of Insa-dong, to places that we as tourists would never have dreamed of exploring on our own.
First up was a fantastic BBQ restaurant where the locals were out in full force, celebrating the end of the working day in raucous style.
We chose pork as our main ingredient, and were shown how to prepare it the Korean way; dipping it in a soy sauce mix, then in either salt, sesame or bean powder, placing the pork on a bed of lettuce and perilla leaf, daubing the meat with chilli sauce, adding some kimchi and perhaps a mushroom or onion slice, and then wrapping it up in a tight little wad and consuming it in only one or two bites! An absolutely delicious combination.
Of course, no Korean meal is ever complete with the obligatory alcoholic beverages! In fact, someone told me that Korea is proud to proclaim itself as the heaviest drinking nation in the world. Surely not?! I would have guessed at one of the eastern bloc nations for sure. But no… this article provides some pretty damning statistics, with South Koreans drinking more than double that of the Russians!!
In a matter of moments our guide had whipped up a triple decker concoction that goes by the rather demure sounding name of ‘bitter after sweet’. A shot glass of soju (rice wine) inside a shot glass of coke inside a tall glass of beer. All down the hatch in one fell swoop! It was going to be a great night!
We soon finished our meals and it was time to move on. Taking a minor detour down one of Seoul’s only ‘gay’ alleyways, we walked the busy streets of Insa-dong, taking in the sights and smells with relish.
Our next stop was at a restaurant serving up the Korean rice dumpling dish known as tteokbokki, together with wheat noodles (just like spaghetti) and fresh seafood in a big hot pot.
(Bibs were provided for those with less than perfect chopstick wielding skills!)
A couple of beers later and we were on our way again, this time stepping out of a dark alley and into what can only be described as a large tent in someone’s back yard!! I would never in a million years have dreamed of poking my head in here, let alone try and order a meal off the non-existent menus!!
Chicken stew was their specialty, and it was really tasty, but first of all we were introduced to the amazing Korean alcoholic rice ‘beer’ called makgeolli. We had tried this once in Melbourne some time ago and quite enjoyed the strange experience, but this was the real deal!!
It looks thick and milky, but looks are very deceiving in this case. Light, fruity, slightly sweet and with a delightful fizz on the tongue, this stuff is now up there as one of my favourite alcoholic drinks of all time! It has roughly the same percentage alcohol as a beer, but doesn’t give you that bloated feeling, and isn’t overly sweet either…the perfect balance!!
At this point in the tour we were given the choice of either trying a Korean dessert, or a traditional mung bean pancake. As most of us were keen for the authentic experience, we decided to go with the mung bean pancake.
Getting to the restaurant was an experience all in itself! Walking through the long dark halls of the Jongno market we passed by street vendors, pop-up restaurants, piles of rubbish and all sorts of interesting individuals.
Arriving at the restaurant, after momentarily losing half our group, we were ushered up a couple of flights of stairs to the third floor where we were served up a large flat fried mung bean pancake together with a number of deep fried side dishes. While a little bit of a heavy finish to the evening, the flavours in the mung bean pancake were great.
It had been a wonderful evening, and we couldn’t have asked for anything more from the O’ngo team. At only $88 per person I consider this tour to be an absolute steal. The destinations it takes you to are both authentic and unique, and the quality of cooking is second to none. And if that wasn’t enough, our tour guide was actually a local who could give us some real insights into life as a South Korean, and the history behind the dishes and restaurants within the Insa-dong neighbourhood.
If you love your food, and you’re in Seoul, then this tour is a must!