Best enjoyed by night between draughts of fizzy rice wine, the wide world of Seoul bindaetteok can include anything from delicate, palm-sized kimchi fritters to pan-fried monsters bursting open with chopped squid and green onion.
You can refer to them as buchimgae, jijimgae or jeon — the last being most common — but chances are you’ll just call them “damn good.”
If there was ever a perfect antidote to a soggy Seoul day, it would be the crunch of the city’s best haemul pajeon, or green onion and seafood pancake.
But “pancake” is a bit of a misnomer for the thick, giant slabs of crispy-fried, squid-stuffed goodness served up to the crowd at Nakseo Pajeon. This is no place to be dainty.
True to its namesake — “nakseo” means “scribble” in Korean — the walls are scrawled with just about anything, including the occasional doodle of genitalia.
Tucked at the end of the famous “pajeon alley” in northern Seoul, this is the most out-of-the-way eatery listed here, but worth the trek for those far away.
319-40 Huigyeong-dong, Dongdaemun-gu (동대문구 회기동 319-40); +82 2 968 6019
Daily, 2 p.m.-2 a.m. (often open outside regular hours); ₩7,000 for haemul pajeon
It’s clearly 5 o’clock somewhere to the older ajeosshi gents who order these grilled-to-order mung bean pancakes with some of that aforementioned rice wine at any hour of the day. But the Seoul institution Jongno Bindaetteok really starts hopping once downtown office workers leave work.
The original branch is located in Jongno 3-ga, but the foodie favorite is in Gwanghwamun, on the south side of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts.
Local gourmand and chef Kim Jin Young recommends the haemul bindaetteok, the seafood option.
“The bindaetteok here are denser and more savory than they are at other places,” she says.
Gwanghwamun branch: Dangju-dong, Jongno-gu (종로구 당주동); +82 2 737 1857
Main branch: 57 Unni-dong, Jongno-gu (종로구 운니동 57); +82 2 742 9494
Daily, noon-1:30 a.m. or 2 a.m. (depending on business); bindaetteok from ₩8,000
Take to the streets for this popular wintertime snack. The street vendors crowding the old-fashioned Seoul neighborhoods of Insadong and Namdaemun seem to churn out the best flour-based hotcakes filled with sweet gooey flavor.
Our favorite is the cavity-inducing kkul hotteok, especially when the honey filling includes a generous helping of crunchy brown sugar.
Those without an overactive sweet tooth may prefer the vegetable-stuffed or non-greasy puffed “bubble” varieties.
Insadong: Anguk Station, exit 6 or Jongno 3-ga, exit 5
Namdaemun: Hoehyeon Station, exit 5, 6 or 7
Hotteok from ₩500
It’s South Korea’s first market, so you can get just about anything from hiking gear to bedding in Gwangjang Market‘s well-worn hallways. This also means its bustling tangle of traditional food stalls is one of the best places to get a good sampling of old-fashioned jeon.
Most stands offer three varieties: green leek-latticed buchujeon, vibrant red-orange kimchijeon and nokdujeon, which is made of mung beans ground more coarsely than those in bindaetteok.
Ask around and you can find some yellow hobakjeon made of grated pumpkin or rectangular haemul jeon laced with chewy squid tentacles. Most of the vendors have set up shop here for decades, including one lady who says she’s served up about 100 pancakes per day for the past 30 years.
6-1 Yeji-dong, Jongno-gu (종로구 예지동 6-1); +82 2 2267 0291
7 a.m.-7 p.m. (Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday); ₩4,000 for jeon
View & Kitchen
All of the places listed above are gritty, urban haunts, but if fine dining is more your style, check out the stunning mountaintop views and elegant presentation at this Namsan restaurant.
At View & Kitchen, Chef Lee Jae-won seasons his gorgeous jeon with herbs he grows on the roof. The menu rotates on a seasonal basis. The current spring options include a tender, organic kimchijeon, crispy, sunshine-yellow hobakjeon and glistening jade-green maesaengijeon crafted from pan-fried seaweed, garnished with a fresh oyster.
Another standout is the flavorful yukjeon, packed with shredded hanwoo beef.
260-184 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu (용산구 이태원동 260-184) tel. +82 2 797 3553
Noon-9:30 p.m. (Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday); full course menus from ₩40,000
If a charming atmosphere and local flavor are important to you, Damotori Heeut makgeolli bar is worth a visit.
A step up from the holes in the wall at the top of this list, this bar’s main attraction is its many varieties of milky rice wine. The best accompaniment comes in the form of gamjajeon, or potato pancakes.
Hot and crisp on the outside and deliciously mealy on the inside, they taste like Korea’s take on French fries.
44-18 Yongsan-dong 2-ga, Yongsan-gu (용산구 용산동 2가 44-18); +82 070 8950 8362
Daily, 6 p.m.-late (usually 3 or 4 a.m.); Gamjajeon from ₩9,000 ; carafes of makgeolli from ₩5,000