Delving into the atmospheric eateries of Seoul, Tim Richards eats and drinks like a local.
It's when tour guide Christina starts filling shot glasses, then stacking them inside a larger glass, that I realise this may not be your average food walking tour. We're sitting in an alleyway, surrounded by Seoul office workers having a bite after work, and our guide is constructing a local aperitif known as "sweet after bitter". A shot glass of cola is topped by a shot glass of the Korean liquor soju, then the two are suspended within a glass of local beer. Then it's bottoms up for a triple hit - beer, soju, and finally the sweet soft drink hitting the tastebuds. Bracing - and now it's time for the food. The Korean Night Dining Tour is the most popular of the suite of tours run by O'ngo Food Communications, taking its members to tiny Seoul restaurants that would be near-impossible to find otherwise.
This first restaurant in the Jongno district is superbly atmospheric at sunset, in a narrow alley lined by eateries at which patrons sit around grills heated by hot coals.
The seven of us - American, Canadian, Australian - are introduced by Christina to galmegi, pork taken from the diaphragm and grilled with spices then wrapped in Vietnamese mint and lettuce. It's chewy but flavoursome, and a local favourite.
It's also filling, but this is only the first of four food stops. The second restaurant, reached after a walk through the historic streets of Insadong, serves topokki, a dish packed with noodles, seafood, rice cakes and chilli sauce. Prepared at the table on a gas stove, it's red, spicy and visually enticing.
We venture deeper into Insadong, past traditional Korean houses with their pointed tiled roofs. We sit in a tented enclosure with hanging rolls of toilet paper to use as napkins. It's not fancy, but its grilled mackerel and spicy chicken are tasty.
Finally, we reach the Gwangjang Market, by night a busy food hub. The final course is a mung bean pancake. Crunchy and hot, with the omnipresent kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage) on top, it's a satisfying end to the night.
Tim Richards travelled courtesy of the Korea Tourism Organisation.
Cathay Pacific flies to Seoul from $1150 economy return, ex-Melbourne.
Ibis Seoul Insadong, 31 Samil-daero 30-gil, Seoul.
Ramada Dongdaemun, 276-3 Euljiro 5-ga, Seoul.
Korean Night Dining Tour runs dailyn, $95, ongofood.com.