When I went to Taiwan for the first time, my conception of food and taste changed forever. At Taipei’s night markets, I was mercilessly assaulted by flavor over and over again. Once in my bloodstream, these spices and oils entered my brain and stretched it in totally new directions.
Years later and here I am living in Seoul, a dynamic and international metropolis. Being the world city that it is, Seoul has all of Taiwan’s top chains, three of which I will look at in this post: Gongcha, Hot-Star Chicken, and Din Tai Fung.
Most Westerners don’t know that Bubble tea was created in Taiwan. Back in 2015 I made a pilgrimage to the original Gongcha restaurant where the first ever bubble milk-tea was concocted. The flagship restaurant is a decidedly sit-down-affair, with elegant Chinese decorations and the bubble milk tea being presented in a glass.
Gongcha has marketed itself quite differently abroad than at home, with simple, brightly colored shops being the norm in Seoul. Their flavors have now expanded past the traditional milk-tea.
Moving on, Hot-Star Chicken began as a humble stand in the Shilin Night Market in Taipei and has since gone on to fame and fortune, having locations in the United States, Canada, Australia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and China.
The Gangnam shop is small and as usual you can either choose original or crispy chicken. I got the original. For 4600₩ you get a HUMONGOUS filet of chicken straight out of the fryer. There is something innately satisfying about holding such a big chunk of chicken for so little of your hard-earned money.
I was amused to see that at the Korea location there is a big sign that states “NO CUTTING.” Koreans are known for cutting their meat up with scissors before they eat, usually having scissors at their table. The company line is that it is important to “keep the juiciness and crispness of the chicken.”
For me, one of the biggest joys of my Hot Star Chicken visit was the sauce. Having little to no self-control when it comes to sauces, I bought all of them, and quadruple-dipped between Wasabi Mayonnaise, the super hot sauce, the sweet chili sauce, and the garlic sauce.
Lastly, do not make the rookie mistake of thinking this is a boneless chicken. The bones are at the bottom, so please be careful.
Din Tai Fung:
When I visited the flagship Din Tai Fung restaurant in Taipei, I was blown away. The Xiao long bao was handmade, twisted to perfection, each carrying the most perfect little spoonful of soup I had ever tasted. This isn’t just my opinion either, the Hong Kong location has gotten a Michelin star for five consecutive years, the New York Times listed it as one of the “top ten meals in Asia,” and the Daily Meal listed it as #1 of the top “101 restaurants in Asia.” At its best locations, Din Tai Fung is as close to objectively tasty as food can get.
Therefore, I was hopeful that Seoul’s Myeongdong location would live up to my ridiculously high standards that had been set in Taiwan.
Unfortunately, the Myeongdong location lacked the “wow” factor that I experienced in Taipei. Despite this, if you are in Seoul and have no plans to go to Taiwan or Hong Kong soon, I recommend you come to the Korean location because sub-par Din Tai Fung is still pretty damn good.
Din Tai Fung: 13, Myeongdong 7-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 중구 명동7길 13 (명동1가)
Hot Star Chicken: Yeok sam 1 dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
( It is right behind the Gangnam CGV).
Gong Cha: Literally everywhere! Go take a walk anywhere in Seoul and you will find one within two or three blocks!