Actual days of travel: 13-14 Apr & 16-19 Apr in Seoul
While there are quite a lot of halal restaurants in Seoul, they are not evenly distributed around the city, with many concentrated in the Itaewon area. As I chose not so stay in the Itaewon area (as it is far from other attractions), before the trip I had to do quite a bit of research to find out where I could get vegetarian/halal-friendly food around the places I planned to stay at or visit. The research paid off and I rarely found myself hungry with no viable options nearby (people who’ve travelled with me before know how grumpy I can get when it’s lunchtime but we can’t find food or need to travel some more to get food). So here goes, my brief review of the places I had a chance to dine at back in April 2014. They include Oh Sae Gae Hyang, Gwangjang Market & Murree Restaurant Hope fellow Muslim travellers or vegetarians will find the post useful.
1- Oh Sae Gae Hyang
What: Vegan bimbimbap
How much: 8000/9000 won
Where: Oh Sae Gae Hyang (check out the website for the map and menu, though the bimbimbap I had is not listed there)
My chosen ‘homebase’ while in Seoul was the historic Bukcheon & Insadong area. It is well known for the well-preserved hanok houses, or traditional wooden houses, and the cultural district of Insadong. How wonderful then that there was a vegan restaurant nearby. It was the first restaurant I sought out on my first day of arrival from Jeju and returned there at least twice in the next few days. On my first visit, I tried the vegan bimbimbap, which consisted of rice topped with lots of crunchy vege, thoroughly mixed with sesame oil and bean paste (doenjang) and accompanied with banchan (including vegetarian kimchi). Other bimbimbap that I’ve had usually come with a dollop of chilli paste (gochujang) and an egg on top, so this version was something new. Being a vegan place, asking for egg is out of the question! It tasted pretty nice, but my tongue missed the sweetness and tanginess of gochujang. Nonetheless, the meal was good value for money. On another day, I came back with my friend who had joined me for the second part of the trip, and she had the vegetarian jajangmyeon (she said it was pretty tasty). Another time, we bought the hot vegetable soup with vegetables and mushroom, which turned out disappointing… but at least it came with rice and
(Take note that the restaurant streams videos of their founder, Supreme Master Ching Hai, expounding on her philosophy. As I wasn’t interested to listen, I learnt to tune it out. After all, I was there for the food only!)
Here are some directions to the place, located at Insadong 12-gil, a side-alley off the main Insadong street (nearest subway station is Anguk). Look out for the unique mall Ssamziegil; the alley runs just beside it.
A short distance along the alley, you will see this sign.The red sign is for Oh Sae Gae Hyang.
Walk past the other restaurants, all the way to the end of the narrow alley and you’ll see Oh Sae Gae Hyang.
2- Gwanjang Market
What: Raw seafood platter, pumpkin soup & mayak kimbap
How much: 15,000 won (seafood platter), 2000/3000 won (pumpkin soup), 2500 won (mayak kimbap)
Where: Gwangjang market food section; stop at Jongno 5-ga and look for North Gate 2 btwn exits 9 & 10 OR stop at Euljiro-4-ga, get out from exit 4, cross Chonggyecheon stream and enter by South Gate 1
There’re lots and lots of food in the main food section of Gwangjang market. Having a meal surrounded by Seoulites having their lunch at one of the food stalls lining the alleys in the market certainly makes this an authentic experience. There’re plenty of non-halal food (several stalls display mounds of pig trotters and whole pig heads), but it is possible to find halal-friendly stalls, and looking for them is half the fun. I did wish the binddaeteok (mung bean pancakes, often mixed with meat) and jeon (korean version of tempura) were halal, cos they looked yummy!
Quite a few of the mayak kimbap stalls only sell these vegetarian rice rolls and nothing else, so that was one of the first items I tried. By the way, mayak kimbap can be literally translated as “drug” rice rolls; they gained that name because of their addictive quality! Never knew simple rice rolls with vegetable filling could taste so good. It’s probably because they are small and bite-sized, so easy to pop in the mouth, and are brushed with yummy sesame oil.
Half-full and raring to try more stuff, I walked to a nearby stall selling only red bean and pumpkin soup. It was hard to choose one over the other, but as I didn’t have much space left in my tummy, pumpkin soup it was. Can’t remember exactly if it was 2000 or 3000 won, but it got me a big bowl of gooey golden goodness.
On another day I returned and had a platter of fresh raw seafood (facing the binddaeteok stalls where 2 of the main food alleys meet, turn left for the seafood section). It was a nice reminder of the yummy seafood in Jeju. The platter comes as a set with assorted seafood including slices of fish, abolone and octopus. I asked how much for one set, the auntie at the stall quoted 15,000 won for it, then got busy assembling the platter without many questions after I agreed to the price. Later, she looked on delightedly as I stuffed one lettuce-wrapped seafood parcel after the other into my mouth.
3- Murree Restaurant
What: Kimchee pancake and bulgogi soup at Murree
How much: Can’t recall exactly; probably around 15,000 won
Many Muslim travellers probably know that Murree restaurant is the only restaurant in Seoul selling halal Korean food rather than cuisine from Muslim counrties (like Indian, Turkish, etc.). Couldn’t resist trying, so my friend and I headed to Itaewon to seek it out.
Food turned out to be not so great… the kimchi pancake was dry and a bit burnt, and the bulgogi soup was bland. But oh well… if you are craving for meat and want to try halal Korean food featuring meat, it’s worth a visit I guess. Who knows, you might have better luck with the other menu items. For me, I almost wished I had chosen to eat at one of the halal Indian or Malaysian restaurants in the area instead. Halal Korean food at Seoul Garden Hotpot in Singapore is much nicer!
Where: Itaewon; get out at exit 3 of Itaewon station, turn left and walk a short distance along the street, then turn right at the first big road you see. This will take you uphill. Walk some distance and turn left onto the 3rd street, towards the row of restaurants. You will see Murree restaurant on your right (with the mosque being a short distance away).