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The ultimate guide to a high-end Korean cuisine

Nadja Beschetnikova
April 11, 2018

For the Korean people, growing, harvesting, preparing, and eating food historically had been a social event. They even celebrate a traditional Feast of Harvest every year in August, which is a big event for the locals. 

Korean food is one of the healthiest on earth, with an emphasis on vegetables, meats cooked simply and without much oil, fermented vegetables, which can be something of an acquired taste for non-Koreans. Traditional Korean food is full of flavor.

"Kimchi" is the best known Korean food. It is a vegetable dish, highly seasoned with pepper, garlic, etc. It is served with every kind of Korean meals and it stimulates the appetite like pickles. Large quantities of "kimchi" are usually made in late fall or early winter. The making at this time is called "kimchang".

Korean dish is shaped by history and weather. Prior to the 20th century, Korea was a rural society with plenty of wild and farm food. Korean cuisine has evolved through centuries of social and political change from home-style cooking to modern trends and Michelin starred restaurants.

It's no news by now that the Korean kitchen rose to popularity in the Western society alongside with the Korean cosmetics and pop music.

South Korea is famous for its incredible street food culture. You can buy it everywhere: at markets, at stands on the streets, and also inside tents on the street that are portable restaurants. It plays a significant role in Seoul's lifestyle and is popular among students after school, professionals after the workday ends, and partygoers in the night.

But Korean cuisine is not only about bungeo-ppang (a fish-shaped pastry) or stir-fried rice cakes you used to buy around the corner. Some of the unique Korean dishes are still unknown to many outside Korea.

Coming to Seoul you will find not only democratic street food but also you can taste the finest high-end dishes, both traditional and modern, in the luxurious restaurants.

For years, the only high-end restaurants in Seoul were European, or sometimes Japanese. Previously, Korean food was considered everyday food, but today, there’re nine Michelin starred Korean restaurant in Seoul.

Jungsik, crowned with two stars, is ranked the 10th best restaurant in Asia. This groundbreaking, iconic Korean restaurant offers“new Korean” cuisine, blending Korean ingredients with Western culinary techniques and presentation. Head chef Yim Jung-sik graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and uses traditional Korean ingredients in a reinvented way. 

The lunch menu covers several options like 4 and 5 course sets, or you can go for the full experience and order the testing menu with 8 dishes. Tastes differ, as they say, but here each will be satisfied: there are 5 sections: appetizer, land, sea, rice and sweet, each with 3-4 dishes you can choose from.  

The presentation is a remarkable thing. To mention just a few, you’ll get crispy potato served on a stick and smoky octopus served with the seaweed chips. And make sure, you’ll save yourself for a dessert. This is indeed a piece of art – green tea mousse and peanut ganache smothered in black sesame butter and served with black sesame sponge cake and milk sherbet.

The Jungsik building is divided into three stories – the lower floor with a bar concept, and the other two consist of the main restaurant and VIP rooms.

Diner set costs around 100-200 US dollar for one person.

"Touted as a pioneer of modern Korean fine dining, Chef Yim Jung-sik - with his Seoul and New York - restaurants is credited for introducing Korean cuisine to the world with an innovative flair that is entirely his own. What Yim does best is drawing inspiration from the familiar - kimbap, bibimbap, gujeolpan and bossam - and creating something unexpected yet surprisingly evocative and authentic. Whimsical desserts, a good wine list and attentive service by the staff – Jungsik has it all," Michelin Guide inspectors duly appreciated the renowned restaurant, located in the trendy Gangnam district.

Gaon, one of only two three-starred Korean restaurants in Seoul, is a traditional restaurant committed to promoting a better understanding of Korean food and food culture globally. Each dish is made with fresh seasonal ingredients and served in custom-designed ceramic vessels, manufactured by Gwang Ju Yo Group, a famous maker of fine Korean ceramics, who operates the restaurant.

Gaon, which means the "center" in Korean, doesn’t have your typical tables with an open environment. It has five private dining rooms with sophisticated decor, so it can be a perfect location to have dinner with your business partner.

The menu changes regularly, with prices for dinner ranging between 200-300 US dollar.

Kim Byeong-jin, the chef at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant, studied traditional Korean cuisine at Hallym Polytechnic University in Chuncheon in Gangwon Province, and the food in Gaon reflects this background, featuring many Gangwon region’s dishes and traditional ingredients on the menu. If you enjoy crab and abalone, you have to visit Gaon. These are Kim’s favorite ingredients and, no doubt, they’re cooked perfectly.

According to many reviews, Tosokchon is the best place to taste the traditional Korean Ginseng chicken soup in Seoul. This prestigious restaurant opened over three decades ago – and its reputation is reflected in the long queues, especially during summer. The restaurant is said to be frequented by Korean’s late President Roh Moo-hyun.

Ginseng is the signature Korean dish, served with a whole chicken stuffed with glutinous rice. The chicken sits in a bowl of milky broth that is also filled with garlic, dates and ginseng shreds. The chicken meat is so tender that it falls off the bone with just a tug.

An additional attraction to the tourists: the restaurant is located in the traditional hanok house, and interiors offer to experience your dinner in the traditional seating style on wooden floors and eating on old-school wooden tables.