Hotels, Korea, Seoul, Street Eats

I Heart Bbopki & Free Korean Breakfast – Seoul

November 1, 2009 | 22 Comments
bopkki near the museum breakfast @ art nouveau city
bopkki near the museum @ art nouveau city

When we first drove into Seoul from Incheon Airport, I was shocked. Seoul wasn’t the charming city I remembered twelve years ago. It was buzzing with lights, the view of the mountains obliterated by monster skyscrapers, and the streets were wide and full of crazy cabbies. That night, as I went to sleep surrounded by cold marble in my 500 square foot hotel room designed to resemble a 20th century French chateau (I was staying in a hotel named Artnouveau City. Could it have gotten any cheesier?), I was crestfallen. Where was I, and how did Times Square follow me back to Korea?

breakfast @ art nouveau city

The next day, I woke up with plans to move to another hotel. There’s so much marble one can take outside of a bathroom. But then we went upstairs for our complimentary breakfast and things quickly picked up. I had expected the typical continental breakfast you get at most hotels, but instead, we got breakfast Korean-style! Everyday there was junbok jook (전복죽, abalone rice porrige), a huge stone vat of bubbling kimchi jigae (김치찌개, kimchi stew) with pork belly, kim (김, roasted seaweed), rice, and some sort of japchae (잡채, stir-fried noodles with meat and vegetables) or haemul japtang (해물잡탕, seafood and vegetables in a thick soy ginger garlic sauce) with lots of oyster mushrooms, which, by the way, was my favorite. The oyster mushrooms in Korea are amazing. There was also toast, yogurt (Korean and American-style), an omelet bar, sausages, and pancakes or French toast for those not wanting to have Korean food for breakfast. Of course, I’m not one of those people, so I started every day with jook, kimchi jigae, Korean yogurt (more of a thin yogurt drink), and coffee. One day, I took a break from Korean food to have toast and eggs, but the next morning, kimchi jigae was back on my plate. The only really bad items at the breakfast buffet were the pancakes and the French toast that were tough from sitting out all morning, and the salads that were never fresh. There were always some green gunk, and the mix of greens were never very interesting beyond cabbage and watercress. Trust me, kimchi jigae and anything with mushrooms was the way to go.

@ art nouveau city @ art nouveau city

By the way, as is most places in Korea, Artnouveau is fancy. Above are photos of the dining area we ate our free breakfast in every day. Most of the people there were dressed to a T. Artnouveau City is a long-term residence hotel, so there were many business people there in their professional attire. David and I, however, lowered the class of the joint a few notches every morning in our jeans, rumpled t-shirts, and flip-flops. Breakfast ends at 9:15am every morning, so at 9am, it was always a mad rush from our beds to the dining room. Thankfully, everyone was nice and no one seemed to mind. Just be prepared to feel like you stepped into a first date scene in a Korean drama.

joo hyun the tour guide

Joo Hyun making notes of the tourist attractions for me.

After breakfast, in better spirits, David and I met Joo Hyun, my friend Soo Hyun’s younger sister, who took on the challenge of being our tour guide while her sister was away on a business trip. She was a brave soul who took on many of David’s million questions. But seriously, she was so good, a guy on the subway even asked her if she was a tour guide. We couldn’t have asked for a more lovely person to show us around. Although, I did tell her she denied me the full local Korean experience by refusing to hold my hand in public. Next time, I want some hand-on-hand action!

We spent the first day at the National Museum of Korea getting our culture on until it was time to eat. Joo Hyun took us to eat ddukboki (떡볶이, spicy rice cakes in a red pepper sauce) nearby in Ichon (이촌), but my favorite find of the day was bbopki (뽑기, Korean sugar candy)!

bbopki in ichon

Bbopki is simply caramelized sugar mixed with baking soda so it gets puffy. It’s very similar to English honeycomb candy, but with half the air pockets. When I was little, I used to make bbopki on a metal spoon over the stove. Of course I could never wait long enough for it to cool and I would burn my mouth each time. It’s probably best to leave the bbopki-making to the professionals. In Seoul, at every busy cross section of town, you’ll find someone selling bbopki on the street (KR ₩600/US $0.50 – KR ₩1000/US $0.85). The vendor we ran into in Ichon wisely chose a spot near an elementary school. While I was waiting for my candy, several kids in school uniforms stopped by for their afternoon sugar fix.

bbopki in ichon bbopki in ichon

The bbopki man was pretty cool. He was really proud of his bbopki and made sure I got photos of the entire process. First, he melts down the sugar and baking powder, then he pours it out on a metal sheet, and then presses in a shape. When the bbopki cools down, the candy’s all yours.

bbopki in ichon

The shape is important, because if you can eat around the shape without breaking it, you win another bbopki for free. My mom said when she was little, her and her friends would hang out all day by the bbopki man trying to get the center out perfectly. The last few stages are critical, and you have to lick instead of bite. One wrong move, and your bbopki can come crashing down onto the sidewalk. Me, I didn’t bother, and I chomped up the whole thing. I love bbopki. It’s super sweet, slightly bitter, and light and airy from the baking powder.

It’s strange how food cures all. The first night I was missing Hong Kong, but by the end of the second, I was loving Korea. I guess while some are ruled by their hearts or their minds, I’m ruled by my stomach.

Artnouveau City (아르누보씨티)
701-1 Yeoksam-dong Gangnam-gu
Seoul, South Korea (across the street from the Renaissance Hotel; map)
(02) 560-9000

Street Bbopki
Various Locations in Seoul

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22 Comments

  • Robyn at 12:49 am on November 2, 2009

    OH GOD THAT BREAKFAST SOUNDS AWESOME! If I could eat Korean food for breakfast all the time, I would actually…um, eat breakfast.

    First time I had bbopki, I think half of it shattered onto the street. Oooops.

  • Nicholas at 1:55 am on November 2, 2009

    I could see a really clever kid bringing an exacto knife and completely owning that bbopki challenge.

  • someguy at 11:26 am on November 2, 2009

    What if a person doesn’t break the bbopki every time? Is that even possible?

  • Wonders at 12:43 pm on November 2, 2009

    You leave me at a constant state of jealousy! LOL -=D

  • bionicgrrrl at 10:43 pm on November 2, 2009

    @Robyn – I’d eat breakfast more often too if I could eat Korean food. Unfortunately, I don’t think my coworkers would like it. Oh, and you need more bbopki practice! Maybe you should hang out with my mom!

    @Nicholas – I don’t think the exacto knife would work unless it was super hot. Bbopki is really brittle.

    @someguy – It would be hard. Again, it’s really fragile.

    @Wonders – I’m doing my job then! ;)

  • Joohyun at 11:44 pm on November 2, 2009

    hey!!! it’s me! the tour guide @_@; it already seem so long ago.. come back soon for more snacking! miss you guys!

  • bionicgrrrl at 12:02 am on November 3, 2009

    @Joohyun – We’ll be back soon! Someone has more questions for you! Get the blazer ready! ;)

  • esther at 11:50 am on December 15, 2009

    Bboki totally reminds me of my childhood! I’m going to make some very soon! Thanks for posting!

  • bionicgrrrl at 6:27 pm on December 17, 2009

    @esther – Remember to make sure the spoon is cool before sticking it into your mouth!

  • Robyn at 11:03 pm on January 21, 2010

    Hi! I fell upon your website when I googled “best Korean breakfast in Seoul;” and I am so glad I did! You are the type of person that I would love to travel with. Allll about the food.

    I am also going back to Korea (it’s been 4 years for me) and I was wondering if you saw/know of any really good places to have a Korean breakfast. I am going with some friends of mine (also foodies) and I want them to really experience Korea as it was meant to be! Any suggestions would really help me out!

  • bionicgrrrl at 12:08 am on January 22, 2010

    @Robyn – OMG, you’re going to have so much fun, I love Korea! Technically, Korean breakfast is just the same as Korean lunch or dinner, except maybe lighter. American-style brunches in Korea is popular now, but personally, that doesn’t interest me. I think any of the places I went to in Seoul you can go for late breakfast/brunch. Tosokchon is good if you don’t want anything too spicy, and another option is a kalgooksu place like Myeongdong Gyoja. Good luck, and let me know how your trip goes.

  • Robyn at 1:19 pm on February 24, 2010

    Im leaving for Seoul tomorrow, I will definitely visit these places and let you know how they were for us! Thanks so much!

  • bionicgrrrl at 3:12 pm on February 24, 2010

    @Robyn – Again, so jealous! Have fun!

  • Robyn at 12:22 pm on April 14, 2010

    So I got back a couple weeks ago, and I am soooo happy I stumbled upon your blog because all of your suggestions where absolutely wonderful! I will leave posts on the other Korean posts on my experience. I did visit Myeongdong Gyoja, my friends and I ordered all three bowls on the menu. They loved it! They weren’t used to the Naeng Myun so that would be the one they least enjoyed (although we finished 3/4 of it still!)

  • bionicgrrrl at 12:04 am on April 15, 2010

    @Robyn – So glad you found my blog helpful! I’m dying to go back so I can do more helpful research. ;)

  • pushopusho at 5:23 am on May 1, 2010

    Thanks for writing about the Yeoksam Artnouveau!! I was debating on that one or the one in Gangnam, but I couldn’t find out the breakfast time. 9:15AM is early!!! But it sounds like a great breakfast. I opted out on the breakfast for a nicer room at the Gangnam Artnouveau; I’m too lazy to get up that early. lol. Thanks again! I’m really looking forward to going to Korea!! It’s my first time!

  • bionicgrrrl at 8:25 pm on May 2, 2010

    @pushopusho – Oh, how fun! Gangnam is newer so it might be nicer. Have a good trip and let me know how it goes!

  • S at 6:20 pm on August 16, 2010

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences!

    I’m going to try Tosokchon Samgyetang for breakfast today!

  • bionicgrrrl at 1:02 pm on August 17, 2010

    @S – My BF and I were talking about Tosokchon a few days ago! Wish we were in Seoul right now. Sigh.

  • Desperate mom at 9:16 pm on May 4, 2011

    I really need the exact measurements to make Bbpoki.
    My son would like to make it for his 6th grade project.
    His entire project is about South Korea. I would appreciate any help!! Thanks to you all!.

  • Desperate mom at 9:17 pm on May 4, 2011

    I meant Bbopki. Sorry.

  • bionicgrrrl at 9:54 pm on May 4, 2011

    @Desperate mom – Sorry, but I don’t have the exact measurements. I cook like most Korean moms; a little of this, a little of that, taste, and add more of something if necessary. But that won’t help you so try this: 5-6 pinches of baking soda for 1/4 cup of sugar.

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