The department store basement food hall. I had been to these great places of multiple food stalls common in Europe and Japan. They are nothing like the food courts of most North American retail outlets which mainly sell processed or chain restaurant food. These are temples of gastronomy all conveniently located in one place. Koreans take it up a notch.
Korean department store food halls are paradise if you love food. The variety, cleanliness, quality, passion and experience are taken to a whole new level. These may be the most exciting food places I have ever visited. Below I will share with you some of the places we visited, and what we ate, in Seoul and Busan. It is just a tiny sample of what was available. There are tons of different food stalls. There was so much to eat I wish we had more time and stomach space.
Black Truffle Ice Cream
This was located in the basement of the Lotte in Myeongdong. It had just a hint of truffle taste and sweet/salty balance. Texture and temperature were perfect.
This was located in the basement of the Shinsegae in Myeongdong. Korean macarons differ from the French in that they add unique twists and flavors. They are like taking classical music and turning it into dance music. For example, see the Oreo macaron below.
Cream Filled Buns
Shinsegae Myeongdong. We got the regular one.
These were from the Starfield Coex Mall in Gangnam. Kimchi, prawn, and pork dumpling. All made fresh and delicious.
Cheese Ramyun and Kimbap
This was not from a food hall but from a restaurant in the food section of the Coex mall. It looks strange to put a Kraft single on noodles but it tasted really good. Koreans love putting cheese on various foods. This probably came from the war. In Korean food, I saw influences from the Americans and Japanese. It kind of reminded me of food you get in Hawaii (see the last pic in this section for a perfect example of this).
Barley? Ice Cream
I am not sure if this was barley flavored ice cream as there was no English and no one here spoke it. However, Koreans love barley everything and this tasted like it to me. In Korea, you can get barley teas and cold drinks. I had ice cream multiple times in Korea. Its my favorite. To me, its better than gelato or other famous places like Berthillon. The texture is more like a soft serve, but more crystallized, and the flavors are perfect. Never too sweet.
Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Nice bread, perfectly crispy chicken. Delicious.
Chinese Donut – Korean Style
These are going on my list of top 10 things I ate this year. I tried matcha and cheese (the later being my favorite). Your first bite, you will get soft fluffy texture, then a bit of fat from the frying oil. Next, you will get savory and sweet flavors from the cheese sprinkles (and sugar), and finally end with a crunch (probably again from sugar sprinkles). It is the perfect bite. Just amazing. These were from a stall in the basement food hall of the Shinsegae attached to the JW Marriott (as was everything below prior to the Busan section).
More Ice Cream
Notice the attention to detail. After the ice cream is portioned, it is placed in a cooling unit to achieve the perfect texture.
Korean Fried Chicken
I wrote an entire post on this here.
Pork Katsu Sando
I love sando. The soft texture of the bread (it HAS to be white) with the crunch of the pork and acidity and some sweetness from the sauce is just perfect.
These were from the Shinsegae in Busan (apparently, the Guinness Book of World Record’s largest department store in the world). They tasted like the dim sum version and were very good.
This was not technically in the basement food hall, but more of a food court. However, this is the quality and type of “fast food” available in a “food court”.
Butcher – Meat Section
Many of the basement food halls will also have grocery stores attached to them. Look at the quality of the meat. Nice marbling on the Hanwoo beef and even dry aging. It is apparent that Koreans take their food very seriously.
I wanted to try the sushi in Korea and see how it compared to other places. I would say the quality of the fish was high. We had some local fish and blue fin tuna (don’t remember where from). Some were a bit chewy. Rice was ok. Soy sauce was a bit different. Overall, I would say it was good, and above average, but not outstanding.
Animal Cake in a Cup
…and there you have it…food paradise…I want to go back asap and I would highly recommend you visit a Korean Department Store Basement food hall when in Korea if you love food!