Eat like a local in Busan, South Korea
Busan, South Korea’s rising star, offers everything from top-flight barbecue restaurants to traditional street food stalls. Here, we explore South Korea's second city and discover its culinary offerings.
Modern South Korea is a delicious place, home to a bold cuisine that assaults the senses. In South Korea, almost every social gathering is centred around an array of dishes. From high-end beef barbecue joints to humble street stalls selling tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), South Korea is awash with comestible choices, making it a great destination for gourmands.
Any visit to Busan should start with a stop at Jagalchi Market, a fish and seafood market that’s been in business for over 600 years. Head straight for the Raw Fish Pavilion and savour sealife plucked from saltwater tanks and prepared on the spot, or feast on a cooked lunch at one of the market’s many restaurants grilling up fish, clams, shrimps and other marine wonders.
If you’re feeling adventurous, head deep into Jagalchi’s bustling concourse and sit down at one of the no-nonsense stalls specialising in gomjangeo (hagfish). This eel-like fish is chopped up and cooked right at your table with a mountain of onions and gochujang (red pepper paste) and is best washed down with a bottle or two of soju, Korea’s national firewater.
Despite being a seaside destination, Busan’s signature dish doesn’t come from the deep: Dwaeji gukbap is a pork and rice soup that’s found throughout the city, and, while the choices of eateries can be dizzying, your best bet is to head to Songjeong Samdae Gukbap in Seomyeon Market’s ‘Dwaeji Gukbap Alley’. Established during the Korean War, this neighbourhood eatery features fat chunks of succulent, slow-boiled pork floating in steaming bowls of bone broth, along with heaps of kimchi and kkakdugi (radish kimchi) that will knock your socks off.
Barbecue is also big in town, with the enticing aroma of sizzling meat wafting throughout the city’s pavements, alleys and backstreets. Splurge on some top-of-the-line beef ribs at Somunnan Amso Galbi, which has operated out of a traditional hanok house in Haeundae since 1964; try some galmaegisal (pork skirt meat) at Seorae, next to Gwangalli Beach; or satisfy your itch for thick slabs of samgyeopsal (pork belly) at Donenu in Choryang.
While Koreans probably weren’t the first people to pair fried chicken with cold beer, they’ve certainly perfected the art, resulting in a dining experience known as chimaek, a portmanteau of ‘chicken’ and ‘maekju’ (the Korean word for ‘beer’). While Busan has no shortage of spots to indulge in this treat, Mubanna may be the local favourite. Situated just behind Lotte Department Store, the Seomyeon branch of the storied Busan chain serves up some of the best chicken in town, along with plenty of icy beer.
A visit to the city wouldn’t be complete without sampling some nakji-bokkeum, a peppery dish featuring fresh octopus fried with garlic, green onions, carrots and plenty of gochujang (chilli paste). The always-hopping Guginae Nakji-bokkeum next to Suyeong Subway Station may just be your best bet in town, although be prepared to wait for a table. And before you leave, try some eomuk, Busan’s signature fish cake. Haeundae’s Goraesa Eomuk will satisfy all your fish cake needs. Grab a skewered eomuk to go and stroll down to the famous beach, where your heart will soar as you take down the local treat and watch the waves lap over the bright, wide sands.
Drink up: Busan’s top bars
Situated on the second floor of a remodelled house in the Kyungsung/Pukyong University neighbourhood, this hip bar oozes tropical vibes, at times feeling like a little piece of Thailand or Mexico in the heart of Busan. The welcoming husband-and-wife owners book DJs at the weekends, but the music is always downtempo and chill, and during the warm months the outdoor terrace just can’t be beaten when it comes to laid-back ambiance.
As the name suggests, this friendly boozer on the Gwangalli Beach strip is the epicentre of Busan’s expat community, although plenty of Koreans can also be found in the mix. HQ offers a wide choice of beers on tap and cocktails. They also serve up the heartiest pub grub in town and feature an unrivalled view of the iconic Gwangan Diamond Bridge.
If you’re into whisky, look no further than Mottie, a tiny watering hole situated in Nampo-dong. The English-speaking owner has curated what may be the best collection of single malts, ryes and bourbons in town, although he only takes in groups of fewer than four. In fact, you need to call ahead to reserve a spot, but the effort required to get past the bar’s nondescript red door is more than worth it.
Plan you trip
For more information on how to get to Busan and top tips on how to explore to city’s culinary offerings, visit visitbusan.net
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