South Korea’s hole in the wall restaurants

Quieted away, around the corner from one of South Korea’s grandest hotels is a great food secret: Gwanghwamun Jip. Its worn-out blue sign gives away the restaurant’s long history, and with one spicy spoonful of the signature kimchi stew, it’s clear why droves of locals queue up here at lunchtime.

South Korea’s cities are full of wonderful hole-in-the-wall restaurants secreted off down back streets. Too often, these are missed by visitors, though they represent some of the country’s best and most authentic eating. Many are run by families (very often, grannies) that lived through Korea’s tumultuous 20th century. They cater to local tastes, don’t make adjustments to their dishes and aren’t afraid to demand cash. Though service might feel a bit gruff, if you flash a smile and attempt at a few words in Korean, you’ll likely find yourself showered with sudden warmth.

Many of South Korea’s mom ‘n’ pop restaurants pride themselves on two or three star dishes and really perfect them. It helps to know what to order before you set foot inside: soups such as gamja-tang (pork back stew) and seolleongtang (ox-bone soup), and noodles like naengmyun (iced noodles) or kalguksu (knife noodles) are the most typical offerings.

Identifying these dive restaurants can be tricky, and a worn interior isn’t everything. The best usually have lines out the door at lunch, fading wallpaper and a few framed newspaper clippings of a political figure or celebrity eating there.

We’ve chosen our favourite South Korean hole-in-the-wall restaurants, where – behind an unassuming door – you can fill up on generous portions of traditional food served with a dash of no-nonsense Korean culture.