If you are visiting Seoul for the first time, there is no doubt that one of the things you will want to do is visit the palaces. You will inevitably get hungry midday, and want to have lunch, which is how we discovered Sooni’s Store.
I did not do much research on places to eat for lunch unlike dinner where I plan most meals. I do not want to interrupt what I am doing midday to go to a place for lunch, especially if I am in a city for the first time, and do not know the logistics/layout yet.
Sooni’s Store was located near a metro station by one of the palaces we had just finished visiting. It is a small unassuming place. The pictures of the food on the banner outside looked appealing, and everyone inside eating appeared to be local, so we decided to stop for lunch.
It was here that I discovered something about Korea that is different from travelling in Europe. In Paris or Rome, because of the large abundance of tourists, there are tons of restaurants catered to them, and for the most part, they are horrible places to eat.
From what I experienced, Korea does not have this problem.
Look at the stats of annual visits:
South Korea 14.5 million (about half are from China)
France 90 million
Italy 60 million
Japan 31.2 million
Of the 14.5 million tourists who visit South Korea every year, half are from China. Therefore, it is fairly safe to conclude that of the remaining, those from Western countries are relatively few in number. This is what I loved about Korea. Their food scene has not been influence by the West or there is no large scale attempt to cater to Western palates. Therefore, if you are looking for a great, authentic, and “non touristy” place to eat in Korea, almost any place will meet your requirements.
This brings us back to Sooni’s Store. For the average Korean, this is probably an everyday spot, and for this, they are lucky because the food was delicious. We shared a bowl of bulgogi stew and a side of kimbap. Of course, being Korea, the meal came with a lot of delicious side dishes including picked radish and kimchi.
Kimbap is Korea’s version of sushi, but instead of raw fish, I found that it usually had random vegetables or cooked food inside. This one had hot dogs and pickled veggies. Which brings me to another thing I loved about Korea. Although the current restaurant scene is not heavily Westernized, a few dishes clearly have had outside influence, but in a good way like in Hawaii (where they take the best of everything from different cuisines and a lot of the food is “soul food”). This kimbap was clearly influence by the Japanese (sushi) and the west (hot dog). I learned from locals that some of the food was from the war time (hence the hot dog or some dishes which have spam) or due to times when the country was not as prosperous.
Anyway, I loved this simple meal here. I think in Korea, you can pretty much safely go into any restaurant and have a great authentic Korean meal. I hope it stays that way. Here was the sign for the restaurant.
In this place, you order and pay at the counter when you first walk in, and wait for them to call your number. As with many places in Korea, the side dishes and water are self serve. 8/10