From time to time while teaching English in Korea, you'll most likely get cravings for non-Korean meals and snacks. Itaewon, an international neighborhood in Seoul, offers a selection of food from all over the world, including sweets that you're missing from home. Here is my list of the most suggested places for any foreigner to visit in Itaewon!
Standing Coffee is a coffee shop where you literally stand in a line in the streets to order your coffee whipped up by a group of handsome barista "Standing guys" dressed in a white dress shirt, black slacks, and topped with a tie. It is the cutest concept with a quick way to brew up your coffee from a small menu.
Coffee of course, is the number one choice from Standing Coffee, but they are also known for their blue lemonade. Made with fresh lemons and blue caracao, this spiked lemonade is the perfect drink for any hot summer day. Don't worry about getting a "buzz" from the drink because it is extremely sweet in taste and made from a low percentage of alcohol.
Everyone knows I have the craziest sweet tooth, especially for cupcakes. I have been on the search in Seoul for forever now to find the best cupcakes and constantly let down each time. Sugar Daddy is definitely the only one that comes close, almost the perfect cupcake. Sugar Daddy is an extremely small shop in Itaewon where the baker is in the store baking and decorating as she sells cupcakes from the same table. This extremely small and cozy spot is filled with all things delicious which are not only cupcakes!
Sugar Daddy offers cupcake sized pies, mini cheesecakes, fudge bars, cookies, and cupcakes of traditional flavors as well as all things crazy. Many of the ingredients used in the recipes are ordered from foreign markets and online stores which explains the quality of the baked goods. Furthermore, the owner (Yumi Jung) tries to incorporate all things crazy that American English teachers love into her baked goods which provides her with another bonus thumbs up.
I am absolutely in love with Sugar Daddy for the amazing service for starters. Yumi had two stools in front and offered seating for us to consume our root beer cupcake and key lime pie. She then proceeded to offer us a cup of tea, Australia's T2 tea which she allowed us to choose from a wide selection of flavors. Halfway into our baked goods, she then offered us a freshly baked cookie from her cooling rack.
In terms of her baked goods: the root beer cupcake is definitely a special kind of cupcake which is a fun eat. The root beer kick to the cupcake takes it to a whole new level. I'm personally not a fan of root beer, but this cupcake definitely changed my mind. Topped with a "scoop of ice cream" and a "straw" for consumption, this cute it is a blast of flavor with a fluffy cake base, whipped fondant-icing like cream, and a drizzle of deliciousness.
The mini key lime pie, made of a graham cracker base that is topped with a key lime filling is also on point. The tart key lime is not overpowering and it is the perfect blend with the crust, definitely a recommendation for anyone looking for something tangy but not too sour. The cookies are made of all things crazy as well, but like most Korean cookies, they are all hard and not soft-baked, but still delicious in taste!
For my cupcake hunt in Korea, I think I have found the best and closest thing. I definitely recommend Sugar Daddy to any teacher in Korea who is looking for that perfect cupcake. With so much to choose from, you may be spending a little more than anticipated. Cupcakes and baked goods average at $4.50 a pop, cookies priced at $1 and totally worth every penny of it!
Casablanca is probably hands down, the best joint in Seoul. This hidden treasure is the one recommendation to anyone for a special meal that is not only cheap, but delicious. What is there to know? You're paying $4-5 for a Moroccan sandwich that is made fresh from scratch, including the bread. Baked fresh everyday, the small restaurant opens at 5PM and closes when the bread sells out. Exactly that, the bread sells out as early as 8pm.
The two brothers bake up a fresh crispy and flaky bread on the exterior and soft and fluffy on the interior. The fresh bread helps to accentuate the taste of the sandwich that is made with maokooda (a special spiced fried potato patty with lettuce, tomato, onion, olive, and pickles). Although the restaurant is known for their chicken sandwich, the lamb chili is the one recommendation to be made. If possible, buying the bread should be an option, but too bad it's not.
It is totally worth it to make a travel up a hill just to grab a sandwich from the two brothers. Although the restaurant is extremely small in size, they try to serve up the goodies as fast as possible and take out is the way to go if there is no seats available. In addition to the amazing sandwiches, there is a small menu of cheap goodies which includes side salad and a small soup. This quick stop restaurant is the place to go to grab a bite and be on your way for drinks elsewhere in Itaewon.
Ben's Cookies is a new store that recently opened in Itaewon serving soft freshly baked cookies. Soft is emphasized because Koreans do not believe in soft cookies (even those at Subway are over baked compared to those back in America). All cookies are baked daily on the premises with traditional flavored cookies and new mixes. It is the one recommendation to be made for anyone looking for a hot cookie fresh from the oven with melted chocolate chips, yes it is that good. It is totally worth paying $3 a cookie because it is impossible to find soft baked cookies in Korea! Cookies are rather thick compared to those found in America which is why they are soft. It is the closest thing to an under baked cookie so settle for the thickness of it!
This small shop is baking up goodies right behind the cashier, attracting all guests with their open window display of cookies and red interior. Soft, fluffy, crispy on the outside, they are all worth a taste.
5. Middle Eastern
Petra is definitely stirring up some deliciousness in their pita bread and hummus mix. This cozy Arabic restaurant located in Itaewon can definitely measure up to the food that I have back at home. It does help to satisfy those cravings that I have.
The must order dishes is their pita bread along with their mixed plate of spreads (to the right). This includes the hummus (chickpea spread), the babganoush (ground eggplant with a mix of spices), and the yogurt sauce which is like a sour cream spread. All topped with olive oil and a garnish, the plate is practically licked clean.
I also suggest ordering their grilled chicken, strawberry yogurt drink and of course the falafel which the deep fried ball of deliciousness. Top it with their vegetable mix and hot sauce, you're mouth will bounce off of walls.
The restaurant has phenomenal service with many English teachers, foreigners, and locals who constantly visit for a good meal. The staff is extremely friendly and service is extremely quick. Another additional benefit of the restaurant is that they do not serve alcohol, they allow you to bring your own. It's definitely great for anyone who is looking for a great dinner with cheap drinks.
An elegant restaurant located in a back alley hidden corner of Itaewon, Korea is one of my favorites for Spanish food. I have been itching to try this restaurant for quite some time now and extremely glad that I was able to not too long ago. Although it is on the pricier end of Korean restaurants to visit, it is a recommended place to go to for a girl's night out as well as a date.
Because the menu differs from day to day, a few of the dishes that I have and absolutely will recommend is the Pork Soup, Eggplant Tapa, Seafood Paella, and the Rack of Lamb. I also recommend sharing a bottle between a small group of girls or even between two on a date. If you choose not to, there is always the option of grabbing it by the glass or the different cocktails as well.
As for the food, the Pork Soup is an appetizer to be shared between a minimum of two. It is a great way to start off the meal after the service of bread and spread that is offered. It is best to share between a group of four or more who will have a little over one cup of soup, but between two is reasonable as well. Just save your stomach for the other goodies that are on the way! There is a period of time that you wait before getting your actual foods so it will give your stomach to settle in some of the food and eat later.
After the serving of soup, appetizers follow. I ordered the eggplant tapa which is topped with other vegetables and a fresh thick tomato sauce. It is more like a dish of mixed vegetables rather than saucy eggplant tapa, but it is absolutely delicious. It is definitely enough to share between two, maybe a little too small because it is that good!
As for the main course, I was only able to sample the giant pan of Seafood Paella and the Rack of Lamb. The Rack of Lamb is cooked to your choice, topped with a few asparagus and a side of cranberry sauce that helps the aftertaste. My one recommendation that all guests must have is the Paella though. Served on a blazing hot pan that is fresh from the stove, the Seafood Paella is still steaming hot when it arrives on your table. I like to leave it sitting around for a while to let the rice burn a bit. That crispy texture just gives the dish an extra oomph. Mixed seafood of baby shrimp, clams, tomatoes, beans and other vegetables, it is topped off with three giant shrimps.
With so much to choose from in the menu, it definitely took me a while to decide. Overall, I am extremely pleased with the restaurant and will go back. The price may scare a few people away because it is on the upscale of Korean restaurants, but it does help to satisfy a few Spanish cravings without sacrificing class. Be sure to stop by Mi Casa off of the Itaewon train station.
7. Late Night Vietnamese
One of the only Vietnamese Banh Mi (bread) places that I have seen in Korea is this Banh Mi Bros food truck in Itaewon. Heck, it is even one of the only food trucks that I have seen in Korea. It was an automatic given to grab a sandwich when I laid eyes on the enormous "Banh Mi" sign.
Banh Mi is a Vietnamese bread served with vegetables, meat, and a Vietnamese paste. Every restaurant's bread varies with the types of ingredients used and one of the best breads is that in Chinatown, New York under the Brooklyn Bridge. Nonetheless, Banh Mi Bros was able to satisfy my temporary craving in Korea for the Vietnamese bread.
The bread is still warm when served, with sweet and sour vegetables as well as fresh vegetables. The meat is cooked fresh in the truck so you know you are getting the real deal. The best part about this sandwich is it being available at a late hour, perfect for those who are looking for a midnight snack, especially after a night of partying in Itaewon.
Because ingredients are a bit difficult to get in Korea, there were some alterations made to the traditional bread. For just $5, it is an extremely cheap eat that can fill you up and "bring you back home" for a moment of comfort food. Be sure to look out for one of the only food trucks in Korea and grab a sample of the Vietnamese traditional eat!
In a little hidden street alley of Itaewon, which is an area known as the foreigner's spot, has a tiny bakery and cafe called Tartine in Seoul, Korea. This very small and cozy spot has palm size pies and tarts that are absolutely delicious. In addition to the pies, there is also cookies, cheesecake, dessert squares and actually cakes.
I definitely recommend the cafe for a quick dessert bite. I do not recommend it for a place to hang out and chit chat because the location is so small, but a great place to grab something to go. Desserts vary from day to day so you may or may not be able to find the same items on the menu, but a definite recommendation is the dark hot chocolate, nanaimo bar, the key lime pie, and the banana cream pie which are usually available on the weekends.
For just $2.70 single cookies to $7.50 for a palm size pie, it helps to satisfy any dessert cravings. Tartine is known for their pies, cookies, cheesecakes (the Korean style which is half cheesecake texture, half fluffy cake texture), butter tarts, rhubarb pies, chocolate taste, nanaimo bars and other special orders. Next time you're in the area, be sure to stop by and pick up one of these goodies!
Graduating with a double major in Communications and Chinese from Rutgers University, it wasn’t long after working in the Big Apple that Cindy Ung decided to take a break from the cliché 9-5 lifestyle and move to Korea to teach English for CDI. Making the bold step to leave her comfortable, mapped out life in the States, she has fallen more in love with the Korean culture as each day passes. With weekly mountain hikes, weekend road trips, discovering great foods and beauty products, constantly meeting new people, her life in Korea has been everything but mapped out.
Check out Cindy’s blog to get a glimpse of what Korea has to offer!