24 Hours To Dine: Basira Yeusuff's Pork-Free Guide To Eating In Seoul
The enterprising chef behind pop-up project kitchen Root Cellar KL and co-creator of AA+ (formerly Agak Agak), an organisation focusing on talent development programs within the F&B industry, Basira Yeusuff visited Seoul to challenge herself. Her mission: to embark on a solo trip and to experience authentic Korean cuisine.
"When I travel, I like to focus on one area and I didn't want to see just the tourist things. I wanted to see life as it is over there," says Basira. "During my time in Seoul, I went to four different markets, ate where the locals ate and went off the beaten path, all because I wanted to see how the locals lived," she adds.
If you've got 24 hours to dine in Seoul and you're a muslim, you've come to the right place. "Follow where the locals go to eat and if there's something you can eat, just go with it. Bring a phrasebook and tell them you're muslim, they're friendly enough to understand and accommodate," she says.
Lunch – Noryangjin Fish Market
What she recommends: live baby octopus (for novelty) or buy a packet of fish broth, go to a restaurant in the market and get them to make fish stew.
One of Korea's largest seafood markets, Noryangjin fish market should be a must-visit on anyone's agenda, preferably for lunch.
"What stood out was the produce. I was lucky, as I was there during winter, all the freshest produce were on sale. I got to try and see so many things in my life that I've never tried before. Have you ever tried a sea pineapple?" she says.
Throughout her time at the market, the adventurous chef also notices that South Koreans eat more molluscs (think clams, abalone, oysters, snails) than fish. When it comes to fish however, Basira notes that swordfish and Korean mackeral are the most popular options.
Lunch – Gilsangsa Temple
What she recommends: Buddhist meal service
A fancy restaurant turned Buddhist temple, Gilsangsa temple is worth a trip to witness religious Korean architecture and to try the vegan foods eaten by monks.
"The food was healthy, almost spiritually healthy, because you get to taste the pure flavours of the ingredients. However, it's free of charge and I recommend it for the experience," says Basira.
Tea Time – Suyeonsanbang
What she recommends: pumpkin soup with a side of rice cakes
A traditional Korean tea house, Suyeonsanbang was once the home of a famous poet and writer. It is now famous for savoury tea and vegetarian snacks, making for a great spot where Basira notes features a great mix between culture, history and cuisine.
"They had around 16 types of teas that I could choose from and during the time I was there pumpkin was in season. The tea house hardly used much sugar and not much salt in their food, which made the dishes we tried extremely fresh," says Basira.
Tea Time – Cafe Onion
What she recommends: coffee and panettone
An old industrial area turned hipster cafe, Cafe Onion is another great place to have your coffee with a side of sweet treats, according to Basira.
"It's set in an old warehouse. You order your coffee and food at one end of the warehouse and then you're free to walk to the other parts to sit and relax," she says. "I had the panettone there and it was so buttery and crumbly I was gobsmacked".
Early Dinner – Dongdaemun Grilled Fish Street
What she recommends: grilled seafood with rice
Another popular hotspot for seafood that won't bust a hole in your wallet, Dongdaemun grilled fish street is great pork-free spot. Dedicated to seafood, hungry diners will find rows after rows of seafood stalls flipping and grilling all kinds of fish.
"You'll find warong-like stalls selling grilled fish on one side and barbecued meats on the other. Definitely do that," says Basira. "When it comes to street food, you have to try dried fish and squid, which can easily be found all over town".
Dinner – The Halal Guys
What she recommends: the kebab platter
Over in Itaewon, a district known for its bustling nightlife and food scene, Basira mentions that the area is also home to the Seoul Central Mosque. Around the surrounding area near the mosque, a large gathering of halal certified restaurants have set up to cater to muslim tourists.
"You'll fine Malaysian and Indonesian restaurants over there, making me feel like I was back home in Jalan Ampang or something. I didn't want to that, so I went to The Halal Guys," she says.
For those unfamiliar, The Halal Guys is a New York chain of successful halal eateries serving kebabs and meat platters drizzled with their famous white and hot sauce.
"They only have 3 outlets in Asia and it's an institution!".
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