May 21, 2008

Seoul: Eating and drinking

Korean food is popular in the U.S. for its spicy and tangy flavors, along with its super-fresh ingredients. A colorful array of  small plates, called banchan (above center), arrive alongside your main dish. Sadly, the many banchan have made home cooking all but impossible for modern Koreans, but luckily, eating out is cheap: at most restaurants, lunch will run you W5,000 ($5) and dinner around W10,000. 

Seoul is one of the few places on Earth where McDonald's has fared poorly, because Koreans prefer the healthiness of their own cuisine. Along with the current wellness trend has come a rise in organic food, with the requisite organic cafes, often decorated in rustic style (above left). Korean barbecue came about as a way for restaurants to minimize kitchen size and staffing, and with all the heat, eating outside is popular.

Between meals, those who can afford it pay $10 for a French press coffee at chic cafes that range from a rustic French look to ultra-modern and streamlined. (Those who can't afford it skip meals to pay for coffee.) Tea drinkers shouldn't feel left out, as they can pay just as much to sip a variety of whole-leaf and even whole-blossom teas. For a bargain option, vending machines dispense instant tea and coffee for W300 ($0.30) on subway platforms and throughout the city.

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