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From traditional to trendy, three of Seoul's top yukhoe spots

Truffle oil gives fusion finesse, while same-day slaughter brings capital its freshest yukhoe yet

By Ali Abbot

Published : Sept. 23, 2023 - 16:01

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Hyeongje Yukhoe's yukhoe dish (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald) Hyeongje Yukhoe's yukhoe dish (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald)

Eating raw meat may not be for everyone, and even for Koreans, it is a love-it-or-hate-it experience. But for those who love it, or who have a more adventurous palate, yukhoe, a Korean dish similar to beef tartare, is not to be missed.

Yukhoe, literally "raw beef" in Korean, consists of thin slivers of high quality beef, typically lean rump, in a nutty, umami-packed marinade. It is usually served with a raw egg yolk and julienned Korean pear, while the marinade ingredients tend to vary by region.

Long a favorite of older generations, it is becoming increasingly popular among younger Koreans, with various new interpretations of the dish popping up all over Korea.

The Korea Herald explored some of Seoul’s yukhoe eateries, ranging from the more traditional to those who have given the dish a modern twist.

Hyeongje Yukhoe

Hyeongje Yukhoe can be found in one of Korea’s oldest and largest traditional markets, the bustling Gwangjang Market in Seoul's Jongno-gu.

Hyeongje Yukhoe boasts a comprehensive selection of dishes including yukhoe, yukbimmyeon (raw beef and spicy cold noodles), yukhoe bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables), yuk sashimi (thinly sliced raw beef), yukjeon (beef pancake) and nakji tangtangi (live cut up octopus with yukhoe). The restaurant, which has been in business for over 16 years, was the first in Gwangjang Market to serve nakji tangtangi, and is the only one to serve yukbimmyeon, according to owner Jeon Song-gwang.

Hyeongje Yukhoe's yukbimmyeon (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald) Hyeongje Yukhoe's yukbimmyeon (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald)

The restaurant’s yukhoe is delicate and chewy, with the marinade striking a perfect balance between sweet and savory. The nuttiness of the sesame oil and pine nut powder, and the creaminess from the egg yolk give the dish depth, which pair nicely with the crispness of the pear. The restaurant’s salt and sesame oil dipping sauce really brings out the sweetness of the beef, and the raw garlic and doenjang accoutrements deliver a welcome kick of umami.

The restaurant’s yukbimmyeon is velvety, mildly spicy and moreish, making the most of the complex flavors of the yukhoe.

Hyeongje Yukhoe is closed on Wednesdays, but is open for the rest of the week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Yukmian

Located in Yeonnam-dong, northwestern Seoul, Yukmian offers a gentle fusion-style introduction to yukhoe.

The restaurant's truffle yukhoe is closer to a Western-style beef tartare. The oaky, savory flavor of the truffle oil is prominent, with a subtly sweet undertone coming through from the other marinade ingredients and the raw beef itself.

Yukmian uses grade 1++ hanwoo (premium Korean beef) chuck tender instead of rump, which lends a softer, less chewy texture.

The yukhoe gimbap, which is served with pickled cabbage, is more filling than typical iterations of yukhoe dishes thanks to the combination of rice, seaweed and egg, which gives the dish a pleasant earthy dimension.

The truffle yukhoe and yukhoe gimpap come as side dishes, complementary to the main barbecue menu items of bongalbi (marinated short ribs) and sogeum-gui dak-galbi (salt-grilled chicken), among others.

Yukmian's truffle yukhoe (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald) Yukmian's truffle yukhoe (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald)

Yukmian’s Yeonnam branch, which opened in April this year, has a clean and comfortable atmosphere. The eatery is quickly becoming a popular hot spot in the area, with a line stretching out the door on most days, according to owner Kim Hyung-chul, who is planning the restaurant’s expansion into the US in 2025.

Yukmian is open Sunday to Thursday from noon to 10 p.m. and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The restaurant has a break time from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and no break time on the weekend.

Yukmian's yukhoe gimbap (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald) Yukmian's yukhoe gimbap (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald)

Hampyeong Yukhoe

Hampyeong Yukhoe, situated near Jamsil Station in southeastern Seoul, is a restaurant for true raw meat enthusiasts.

Named after Hampyeong in South Jeolla Province, a region famous for hanwoo, Hampyeong Yukhoe serves only raw meat and live octopus.

What sets this restaurant apart is the freshness of its meat. According to co-owners and cousins Yoon Jin-sung and Jung Dong-min, who grew up in Hampyeong, all the restaurant's beef is butchered that morning and transported from South Jeolla Province to be served the same day.

After slaughter, beef is often frozen and sold the day after receiving its grade, according to Yoon, but Hampyeong Yukhoe’s beef is prepared and distributed straight away, allowing diners to experience the true taste of hanwoo in its freshest possible form.

“We do not serve any meat that has been frozen. … It is a rare delicacy you cannot get at just any restaurant or supermarket,” Yoon told The Korea Herald.

The freshness of Hampyeong Yukhoe’s meat is visible in its color, which is a far darker, deeper red than other yukhoe. The yukhoe’s marinade is simple and understated, bringing out the naturally sweet flavor of the beef. The yuk sashimi is chewy and fleshy, also boasting a very subtle sweetness. It is best eaten with the restaurant’s sesame and chile-based dipping sauce, which comes on the side.

Hampyeong Yukhoe is open Monday to Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight, and last order is at 11 p.m. The meat joint does not open on Sunday or on public holidays, as cattle are not slaughtered on those days.

Hampyeong Yukhoe's half-half yukhoe and yuk sashimi dish (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald) Hampyeong Yukhoe's half-half yukhoe and yuk sashimi dish (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald)