Best Korean Restaurants in Saigon
With almost 100,000 Korean people living in South Vietnam, it’s not surprising that there are numerous Korean restaurants to choose from. At the time this article was written, Foody.vn referenced 655 of them in Ho Chi Minh City alone. Some of them offer high quality meals that come really close to what you would find in South Korea. In this article, we introduce five restaurants that we consider to offer some of the best Korean restaurants in Saigon.
Navigating the Korean Table in Saigon
The specificity of Korean food lies in the use of various seasonings and flavours, which result in original pairings as well as nutritional intakes.
Health is praised above all by Korean cooks. In fact, the nutritional value of the food is often even more important than flavour and the presentation of the dish is sometimes not even considered. The quantity though, is very important. The custom is to serve a generous amount of side-dishes on a Korean table. It won’t be held against you if you don’t finish it all, don’t worry! However, if you want more, keep in mind that all those side dishes can be refilled for free.
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For a true culinary voyage try each of the featured dishes in the following restaurants to truly experience the best Korean restaurants in Saigon.
BEST KOREAN RESTAURANTS IN SAIGON
Kyung Bok Gung
Address: 52 Hai Bà Trưng, Bến Nghé, District 1
Tel: 028 6682 7249
Opening Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Kyung Bok Gung is the name of a 600-year-old royal palace in Seoul. But, it is also a high-class Korean restaurant that you definitely should try. To find it, go up Hai Bà Trưng street from the river and before reaching the Opera House, on your right you’ll spot a traditional Korean entrance. This basically consists of a Korean text carved into the side wall and a pile of crockpots that are usually used to store fermented ingredients like kimchi. With 60 rooms over seven floors, this is one of the biggest Korean restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. The chef, Ms Kim Jungim, is a specialist of traditional cuisine and offers various authentic Korean dishes.
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Kyung Bok Gung restaurant is a great showcase of Korean traditional culture in general. Decorated with traditional objects and paintings, it also hosts a mini-exhibition about Yi Bangja (1901–1989), the last crown princess of Korea and spouse of Yi Un, the last crown prince of Korea. Last but not least, all dishes are served in traditional brasswares called bangjja, which have antibacterial and sterilising virtues. Kyung Bok Gung is recommended for those who want to enjoy haute Korean cuisine with family or friends.
Bulgogi Beef set lunch
Kyung Bok Gung’s set lunches are great because they come with 12 different side dishes. Bulgogi beef is usually very popular among Westerners and also is an emblematic Korean dish that dates back 2000 years. It consists of thin slices of beef and vegetables cooked in a mixture of soy sauce and fruit juice. Its sweet taste makes it very popular among kids as well.
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Bulgogi is served along with rice in a hot stone bowl. The first thing to do is to transfer the rice to an empty bowl. Once the stone bowl is emptied, put some water in and cover it. You will then get sungnyung, a savoury drink to be enjoyed at the end of the meal.
Bibimbap is perhaps the most popular Korean dish (Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicolas Cage and Paris Hilton are big fans of it) and is certainly one of the most well-known types of Korean food in available in Saigon.
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Healthy and tasty, it combines meat, various vegetables and rice. The meal is served hot in two layers: rice at the bottom, stir-fried meat and vegetables at the top. Once you have it served, put a spoon of spicy sauce and mix it all (the more you mix the tastier it will be). If you are not into spicy, you can also switch to soy sauce (or no sauce at all).
Choi Go Jip
Address: 161 Hàm Nghi, Nguyễn Thái Bình, District 1
Tel: 028 3914 2005
Opening Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
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You don’t know anything about Korean BBQ? Then Choi Go Jip is the best place to discover Korean BBQ in Ho Chi Minh City. First of all, because it is easily accessible. You’ll find it at the top of Hàm Nghi street (near Bến Thành market), and secondly because it’s one of the best BBQ places in town (all cuisines included). Choi Go Jip is one of the oldest Korean restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. It has a lot of space and private rooms over three floors. Each table is equipped with a grill and a ventilation system to evacuate the smoke, standard in Korean BBQ restaurants.
The strength of Korean BBQ is the healthy and delicious way Korean people enjoy it. One great thing at Choi Go Jip is the quality of its meat, which could be either beef or pork, served raw or seasoned with soy sauce and fruit juice. You are provided with meat to grill, a soybean-based paste that contains chili and garlic (it’s called ssamjang), lettuce leaves and of course free, refillable side dishes as mentioned above.
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Take a lettuce leaf, put in some rice, grilled garlic, ssamjang paste and grilled meat, wrap it up and enjoy it in one bite. The ssamjang is the ‘magic ingredient’ that makes Korean BBQ so great; don’t skip it!
If you feel like eating pork, Korean people love to serve it with huge chunk of fat, which is refined by the ssamjang sauce.
After the BBQ, Korean people typically order rice served with a soup called doenjang jjigae, a Korean soybean paste soup (less sweet but richer than Japanese miso). Jjigae means soup, doenjang is a soybean paste that needs to be fermented for at least six months, or even two or three years for a richer taste (and smell). Most restaurants prefer to use ‘young’ paste when they prepare their soup. The paste is boiled with vegetables and tofu. Doenjang is reputed to have cancer fighting and vascular properties.
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If you prefer noodles rather than rice, you can also go for a naengmyeon. Naeng stands for “cold”, myeon for “noodle”. Originally from North Korea, it is indeed a cold noodle dish that can be enjoyed in an ice broth or with spicy sauce. Buckwheat noodles are said to help fight against ageing diseases, indigestion and inflammation. Naengmyeon can also be ordered as a main dish along with dumplings. Portions would then be bigger.
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Choi Go Jip is an ideal place to sample some of the best Korean restaurant in Saigon because you can sample so many different flavours as well as cooking styles.
Jeon Sool Bab
Address: 39 Lê Duẩn, Bến Nghé, District 1
Tel: 028 3822 9405
Opening Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Jeon Sool Bab could translate as “pancakes, alcohol and rice”. The restaurant serves various Korean dishes but is praised for its light meal called bunsik. Bunsik can translate as “Korean snacks” and designates various flour-based foods. This kind of food became popular in the 1960s when Korea was facing a rice shortage and the government encouraged the use of wheat flour. Nowadays, these snacks are considered a cheap and light meal that’s easy to take away, which makes them very popular among students.
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There are several Jeon Sool Babs in town and all are ideal for sampling a variety of Korean food in Saigon:
District 1 (inside MPlaza building on Le Duan street), District 7 (inside Petroland Tower), District Tân Bình (inside Superbowl shopping mall, on the way to the airport) and District 2 (in Lexington building, An Phu ward).
Jeon and Maggeolli
Jeon are Korean pancakes in several forms: kimchi pancake, seafood pancake or vegetable pancake. If you want to try a few of them, order “modeum jeon”, a mixed set in small portions.
Pancakes are the first things that come to Korean minds when it’s raining because the sound of the rain resembles a pancake being fried. Pancake is a great translation given the shape of it and the way it’s cooked. However, if you consider the way it is eaten, it would also be appropriate to call it a “Korean pizza”. Jeon are usually served during special celebrations (e.g. birthday parties and weddings).
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If you order jeon, don’t forget to order makgeolli as well, the pairing is great! Makgeolli is a rice alcohol. You might have heard about soju, a transparent rice alcohol that is very popular in South Korea nowadays. But makgeolli is different in many ways. First, it’s the oldest alcoholic beverage in Korea (soju originally comes from Mongolia); second, makgeolli is ‘chalky’ with a white colour; and last but not least, contrary to soju, makgeolli is sparkling.
This beverage has 6% alcohol by volume and a sweet flavour. There is also fruit-flavored makgeolli (with banana or peach for example).
Makgeolli is served by the bottle. You can’t order just a glass of it. When it’s served, don’t open it right away. Pay attention to the bottom of the bottle, there is rice residue, which is very important for the taste and for its reputed cancer fighting effects. To make sure you enjoy it at its best, the bottle has to be slightly shaken (not brutally since it’s a sparkling beverage). It will then be beautifully white when you serve it. Makgeolli ages very fast, which explains why if traditionally made and unpasturised, it has to be consumed within one or two weeks. Nowadays, the makgeolli is pasturised before being commercialised, which extends its shelf life to a year and allows it to be exported.
Tteok-bokki, Kimbab and Tuikim
These three dishes are most representative of the bunsik culture (the Korean snacks already mentioned above).
Tteok-bokki are rice cakes cooked with fish cake (oden) and spicy sweet sauce (kochujang). There is always a tteok-bokki shop in front of Korean elementary schools, which is why so many Korean people are crazy about this iconic dish from their childhood. It’s very spicy though, and Jeon Sool Bab serves the best ones in town. If you are brave enough, you know the address!
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Kimbab is the best dish for a picnic, consisting of a rice and vegetable roll wrapped inside a seaweed leaf. It’s delicious and highly nutritional while not requiring much space and fits easily inside a lunch box. It might remind you of Japanese maki-sushi although those dishes are very different from each other.
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The rice in kimbab is prepared with sesame oil and salt while vinegar is used for Japanese maki-sushi. Besides, Korean kimbab can be considered as a small version of bibimbab as it contains mostly vegetables and ham. It is not difficult to make, although it takes time as it requires seven to eight ingredients to be previously cut and/or fried. Having kimbab in their lunch box on school trips remains a fond memory for Koreans.
Tuikim are deep-fried vegetables that are a great match with tteok-bokki as they help to neutralise the spicy taste. They can be eaten directly or dipped in the tteok-bokki sauce.
Jeon Sool Bap offers fun, nostalgic Korean food in Saigon and is a great place for a quick and tasty snack.
Lau Bude Chige
Address: 148, Hà Huy Tập, Phường Tân Phong, District 7
Tel: 028 3824 2352
Opening Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Lau Bude Chige is a restaurant that serves “bude chige”. This is a spicy soup cooked with kimchi, canned ham and sausages. It was invented after the Korean war (1950–1953) in Uijeongbu city. It was difficult to find meat at that time, so the presence of the US army influenced the use of canned ham and sausages as a substitute, turning a field ration into a delicious meal. It is still very popular nowadays and Uijeongbu keeps holding a bude chige festival. Canned ham itself is a popular and appreciated full-moon or new-year gift.
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The way it is cooked in Lau Bude Chige is not the original way, however. The restaurant manages to create a great and unique taste using beef brisket and green onion. Picture a soup served as a hot pot in a wok-shaped plate. The waiter will prepare it for you, just be patient: the longer it cooks, the better it tastes. Don’t hesitate to order extra ham, sausages and noodles (instant ramen) to make it even better (they only put in a small amount initially). Of course, you might need more soup after a long time of cooking; ask the waiters, they will refill it for free. Once you’re done, ask for “bokkeumbap”. The waiter will come back with steamed rice that he will fry in the residue of the wok-shaped plate, resulting in a sort of risotto/fried rice.
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Even if the idea of canned ham turns you off, you should give Bude Chige a try as it bears no resemblance to the Spam™ of many an American and European childhood. Once all the ingredients are combined it has a special flavour profile that makes for some delicious Korean food in Saigon.
Seol Hwa Bing Su
Address: 28/1 Phạm Văn Nghị, Sky Garden 1, Tân Phong, District 7
Tel: 028 5410 6994
Opening Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Fancy a nice dessert after all these heavy meals? Seol Hwa is a Korean dessert coffee place in the Sky Garden Residence buildings in District 7.
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Seol Hwa literally means “snow flower” which refers to its signature dish: the bingsu, a shaved-milk, ice-based dessert that Korean people traditionally enjoy during summer. Bingsu has been around since the 14th; century during the Joseon Dynasty. It was originally water ice served with fresh fruits. Red bean cream began to be added under the influence of Japan during the occupation period (1910–1945). The use of ice cream, cereal, syrup and whipped cream comes from Western countries after the Korean War.
Eating bingsu has becoming a real trend in Vietnam due to Korean café franchises such as Caffe Bene, Paris Baguette and Tous les Jours (Caffe Bene’s mango bingsu is one of the most popular flavours). Seol Hwa is recommended for those who are looking for a traditional flavour. For example, this is one of the only places where you can find the injeolmi bingsu described below (the mango bingsu is also very popular). The use of 100% Dalat milk makes it very tasty. You will love it, especially if you just had a spicy meal like tteok-bokki or bude chige.
Milkphat Bingsu and Injeolmi Bingsu
These are the most traditional bingsu. Milkphat bingsu is served along with boiled red beans, and injeolmi designates a glutinous rice cake covered with bean powder. Injeolmi bingsu consists of the injeolmi cake covered with bean powder and sliced almonds. Injeolmi has to be fresh (made on the same day it is served), which explains why only a few places can serve it in Vietnam. They may have run out if you come after 8 p.m.
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Korea doesn’t produce mango, but its mass importation has introduced it to various dishes including bingsu. Mango bingsu became very popular in South Korea and nowadays in Vietnam as well, since it’s easier to make it here. Seol Hwa’s mangoes are cultivated in the Mekong delta region.
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Now that you have an insider’s view into the best Korean food in Saigon, it’s time to delve into all the interesting aromas, flavours and healthy benefits of Korean cuisine.
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