Korea: Feasting on Traditional Korean Hansik

Posted by on Sep 24, 2015 in Destinations, Featured, Food, Korea, Travel Photo Thursday | 33 comments

Welcome to week 247 of Travel Photo Thursday. One of the things that I want to explore, now that I have moved back to Seoul, is where to find the best traditional food in the city. Restaurants serving up traditional fare are often literally tiny hole-in-the-wall establishments frequented by those who can manage to navigate Seoul’s maze of back alleys, and narrow windy streets. I was excited to find the meetup group Hansik, and quickly RSVP’d to a meetup to savor some old-school Korean food in the heart of the city. In Korean, Hansik means Korean food, and the Kimchi Jjigae  (spicy Kimchi pork stew) ( (김치찌개) served up at Gwanghwamun Jip is purported to be the best in Seoul, and maybe all of Korea. 

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We were met at the Exit 7 of the Gwanghwamun subway station by our hosts, and found ourselves in front of our hole-in-the-wall dining establishment within minutes. (These shots were actually taken as we were leaving.)


Gwanghwamun Jip, Gwanghwaumn, Seoul

Gwanghwamun Jip, Gwanghwaumn, Seoul

When we had entered earlier in the evening, this small area was full of diners. We navigated our way through the tiny kitchen, and up a very narrow flight of stairs to our own private dining area.


Diners, Gwanghwamun Jip, Gwanghwaumn, Seoul

Diners, Gwanghwamun Jip, Gwanghwaumn, Seoul


Seating upstairs is traditional on the floor style, and our meal of Kimchi Jjigae, gaeran mari (rolled egg omelet), and a variety of banchan (side dishes) arrived much quicker than I had anticipated. The trick is that the jigae is partially prepped before arriving at the table, so a quick boil was all that was needed before we could ladle it into our bowls to enjoy.


Kimchi Jigae, Gwanghwamun Jip, Seoul

Kimchi Jjigae, Gwanghwamun Jip, Seoul


A traditional Korean meal always comes with a selection of banchan (side dishes). Most of the items are fermented, and a little (sometimes a lot) on the spicy side.

Banchan at Gwanghwamun Jip

Banchan at Gwanghwamun Jip


We’re all intent on filling our bowls, and experiencing that first taste of Kimchi inspired deliciousness. Most Korean style meals are communal, with everyone serving themselves from the same pot, or banchan dish.


Kimchi Jigae

Kimchi Jigae

According to the owner, the secret behind the sharp distinct flavors of their Kimchi jigae is definitely the Kimchi. The restaurant uses only super ripe Kimchi in their jigae. This means that it’s been fermenting for at least six months before finding its way into the pot, and is known as aka mugenji. This super ripe Kimchi along with chili flakes (gochugaru), Kimchi liquid, and fatty chunks of fresh pork are the key ingredients behind this distinctly flavored Korean meal-in-a-pot.

Was it good? I loved every slurp. Even though the flavors are sharp they do meld together perfectly, and I found the texture pleasing. Is it the best jigae in Korea, and all of Seoul? I’m not really a connoisseur of Kimchi Jjigae, but this was over-the-top delicious, and I’ll go out on a limb, and agree with the meet-up hosts to say…YES IT IS!

Here is an excerpt from the written description given to us before tucking the ladle into the pot…

“Kimchi Jjigae is a variety of jjigae, or stew-like Korean dish, made with Kimchi, and other ingredients, such as scallions, onions, diced tofu, pork, and seafood, although pork and seafood are not generally used in the same recipe. It is one of the most common jjigae in Korea. Kimchi is known to have been eaten as pickled vegetables, and only became the Kimchi known today in the mid-Joseon era (mid-1400s), when chili peppers were first introduced into the country. Kimchi jjigae is assumed to have developed around this time as well. Preparation and serving Kimchi jjigae is often cooked in Korean homes using older, more fermented and “ripe” Kimchi, creating a much stronger taste and containing higher amounts of “good” bacteria also found in yogurt. The stew is said to be more flavorful if prepared with older Kimchi, while fresh Kimchi may not bring out a full and rich flavor.”

While the Kimchi Jjigae may have been the star, the second dish on offer, gyeran mari (Korean rolled omelet),  was also prepared to perfection, and a perfect complement to the robust flavors of the jjigae. This is one of my favorite dishes, and often served as banchan in Korean traditional restaurants. The portions are usually smaller than the healthy sized portion you see here, filled with finally chopped veggies. Leeks are popular in this dish. This was one of the dishes that I loved making when I took Korean cooking class. The rolling technique is a little tricky, but fun to try. I’ll have to try cooking at home one of these days soon.


Gyeran Mari (Korean rolled omelet)

Gyeran Mari (Korean rolled omelet)


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Korean Traditional Hansik


Gwanghwanun Jip has been serving up this traditional Korean fare in downtown Seoul for the past 36 years. However, no one knows how much longer their doors will be open. Property development is rampant in this area of Seoul. The traditional alleys are being bull dozed and replaced with modern structures. If you’re in Seoul, or visiting soon, be sure to drop by for a taste of the real Korea.

Have you sampled Kimchi jjigae, gyeran mari, or any other Korean Hansik? Share your experience in the comments.

A big thank you to the hosts of the Hansik meetup, and I am looking forward to many more. You may also want to check out Jason’s wonderful Korean food blog, My Korean Eats 

Travelers Tip:

How to get there:

Gwanghwamun Jip (광화문집)

12 Saemunan-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울 종로구 새문안로5길 12)

Telephone: 02-739-7737

Hours: every day 9am ~ 10pm

Interactive map: http://me2.do/5MlXeyn5


Please welcome our co-hosts this week: Jan from Budget Travel Talk      Ruth from Tanama Tales       Rachel from Rachel’s Ruminations


You can browse the Travel Photo Thursday archives here.

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  1. I love exploring traditional foods when I travel, and as I haven’t been to Korea thank you for taking us right to the “taste”. The dishes look delicious. Happy travels.

    • Hi Jill. For me as well. I can’t imagine travel without experiencing the local food.

  2. I’ve not tasted them Nancie, but how lovely that you can explore more traditional dishes and eating places with the Hansik Meetup. I’ll look at Jason’s blog. I didn’t know that you lived in Seoul prior to Daejeon.

    • Hi Jan. Yes, I lived here for a while before heading to Daejeon. I’ve also lived in Sokcho, very close to North Korea, and Andong, which is one of the most traditional cities in Korea. I get around:)

  3. I love traditional Korean food too…

    • Hi Lily. (IMO) Korean traditional food is fantastic. I also love Japanese food, too.

  4. All looks delicious, like Korean comfort food!

    • Hi Jolene. It definitely is comfort food.

  5. Looks like a fantastic meal – I love going from the spicy and flavorful to the omelet as a palate cleanser.

    • Hi Jill. That is a good plan, and pretty much what I did.

  6. Nancie, You are certainly making me miss Korean food. Both of those look amazing!

    • Hi Corinne. Trust me, both of them were amazing! Drop over for lunch sometime 🙂

  7. The soup in your post reminds me of one of our Korean dishes. There is a restaurant located in the pier of the city we live that serves a pungent and spicy (really spicy!) fish soup (Korean style). Oh, it is terribly hot but full of flavor. Plus, they serve all the delicious side dishes, including an omelette in a hot bowl. I should go for some Korean food this weekend.

    • Hi Ruth. The steamed egg in the bowl is super delicious. I always get excited when I see that as a side dish. Very simple, but so delicious.

  8. Oh my goodness, I love Kimchee and that omelette has my mouth watering. What a feast and what culinary adventures await you in those winding little streets! Looking forward to more reports!

    • Hi Jackie. The omelette is amazing! Kimchee, I like, but strangely, don’t eat it all that often. Most of the people I go out to eat with prefer Western food, which is a shame. Thankfully, there are a lot of good western restaurants in Seoul. (although I still prefer to eat Korean in Korea!)

  9. You always seem to know right where to go for great food. The communal meals looks like fun and the Kimchi Jjigae looks quite delicious.

    • Hi Cathy. It was good! I always have my eye out for the next culinary adventure!

  10. My daughter (4 at the time) & I visited Seoul last year, it was awesome! We loved everything about our visit, the food of course was amazing.

    • Hi Hannah. I’m so glad that you enjoyed Seoul, and the food!

  11. These all look delicious! I wish we lived near more Korean restaurants beyond the BBQ ones. I feel like I need to eat at a Korean restaurant this week and be more adventurous with my food choices. Thanks for a great food inspiration.

    • Hi Mary. BBQ seems to be the most popular when Koreans set-up overseas. I see quite a few of them when I’m traveling is SEA. Enjoy your Korean dining adventure this week!

  12. I like the look of the Kimchi dish – delicious! Also I love side dishes. I think I would enjoy Korean food.

    • Hi Kathy. I think you would enjoy Korean food too! I can never get enough side dishes 🙂

  13. Your Kimchi Jjigae looks delicious! I agree smaller Korean family-owned restaurants often serve the best food, and I hope they can keep going strong, in spite of all the modern development in Seoul.

    • Hi Shelley. Definitely! Some of the best Korean meals I have had here are in the smaller family-run establishments. Hopefully, some of them will hang on.

  14. I’d love to take a Korean cooking class but I’d certainly “settle” for days of wandering the streets of Seoul looking for the perfect Kimchi. My mouth is watering looking at your photos and reading your descriptions. I see many happy weekends in the future for you and your taste buds!

    • Hi Anita. Korean cooking classes are always fun and delicious. I’ve taken a few over the years, and never hesitate to take another. You would enjoy Seoul looking for the perfect Kimchi!

  15. It all looks wonderful. There is nothing better than sharing good food with a great group of people. I’ve eaten none of these dishes, but your photos make me want to try them!

    • Hi Betsy. Drop into Seoul sometime, and we’ll enjoy some Kimchi jigae and banchan together!

  16. Yummy! I fondly remember visiting “the best Korean restaurant in Penang” with my Korean friends there. They asked me what dishes I liked, and I decided I needed to branch out from bibimbap and asked them to order for all of us family style. The food in your pictures reminds me of what we had with all those small side plates. Now, I’ll perhaps remember what things are called after reading this.

  17. I don’t now how you find these little hidden places but they seem always to be the home of fabulous food. I remember a previous post of yours that included photos of rolled omelettes. I wanted to try one then but it still eludes me. I really must remedy this!

  18. Love Korean food and definitely will eat some han-shik whenever I can. I think some of my favorite Korean meals have been those with rice, soup and a ton of side dishes.


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