March 24, 2024

Incheon Airport Dining: Top Picks by Airport Staff (Part 1: Terminal 1)


Incheon Airport, one of the world's busiest hubs, operates with an impressive workforce. With over 70,000 employees bustling in different roles, and at least 30,000 of them ensuring seamless operations 24/7 within the terminals, there's an interesting question that arises: where do they dine? While many have the convenience of internal cafeterias, statistics reveal that a significant number of employees dine in terminal restaurants at least twice a week.

A global survey ranking airports on their culinary prowess has crowned Incheon Airport as the top culinary airport in the world. Out of its approximate 270 restaurants, it's fascinating to see the diverse range of cuisines from Korean to Italian, American, and Mexican. Yet, what's more commendable is the quality and price bracket they've maintained across these eateries.

Among this vast number, there's a selection that seems to have caught the preference of airport staff. These are places you'll often find crowded, especially during lunch hours, with airport employees and even flight crews. Interestingly, these spots are all located landside (before security), both in Terminals 1 and 2.

For those unfamiliar, "landside" refers to the area of the airport that's accessible to the public, without the need to go through security checks. It's the portion of the airport where check-in desks, baggage claim, and most eateries and shops are found, as opposed to "airside," which is beyond security checkpoints, closer to the boarding gates.

So, why the bias towards landside? Well, the authenticity of a hot kitchen, where dishes are freshly prepared rather than reheated, plays a significant role. Though a majority of the airport's restaurants offer the hot kitchen setup, those on the landside have captured the essence of fresh-cooked authenticity.

Without further ado, let's explore these popular spots:

영빈루 (Youngbinloo)

Korean Chinese cuisine, known as 중화요리 (Junghwa Yori), is entirely distinct from the Chinese dishes found elsewhere. The Chinese delicacies most cherished by Koreans include 짜장면 (Jajangmyeon - black bean noodles), 짬뽕 (Jjamppong - spicy seafood noodles), 탕수육 (Tangsuyuk - sweet and sour pork), and 군만두 (Gun Mandu - fried dumplings). Typically, when dining in groups, each person selects one noodle dish, either 짜장면 (Jajangmyeon) or 짬뽕 (Jjamppong), and supplements it with side dishes like 탕수육 (Tangsuyuk) or 군만두 (Gun Mandu). For many Koreans, 짜장면 (Jajangmyeon) is as heartwarming and essential as 김치찌개 (Kimchi Stew).

On a personal note, I adore the 짜장면 (Jajangmyeon) and love pairing it with 탕수육 (Tangsuyuk) dipped in the 짜장 sauce. While the 탕수육 (Tangsuyuk) comes with its special sauce, immersing it in 짜장면 (Jajangmyeon) sauce offers a richer and deeper flavor profile.

Location: Terminal 1 Transportation Center, B1, East side.

가업식당 (Ga Eup Restaurant)

Functioning under four illustrious brands, 가업식당 (Ga Eup) presents a culinary spread ensuring there's something for everyone. With signature dishes such as 보쌈 쌈밥세트 (Bo Ssam Ssam Bap set), 돈가스세트 (Pork Cutlet set), 묵은지김치찜 (Stewed Pork with Aged Kimchi), and 낙지덮밥 (Spicy Stir-fried Octopus over Rice), it's a paradise for food aficionados. 

On a personal note, I like to enjoy 묵은지김치찜 (Stewed Pork with Aged Kimchi) before boarding a flight. And when I'm at the airport for a meeting, the 보쌈 쌈밥세트 (Bo Ssam Ssam Bap set meal) or 돈가스세트 (Pork Cutlet) are my go-to choices.

Location: Terminal 1, B1, West side.

포베이 (Pho Bay)

Korean people have an affinity for soupy dishes. In particular, Koreans have mastered the art of consuming piping hot soups with remarkable speed. While relishing these hot dishes, it's not uncommon to hear someone exclaim, "아, 시원해 (Ah, it’s refreshing)." 

On a personal note, the sensation of indulging in such soups feels as though the insides are being invigorated and relaxed. This comforting sensation is one of the reasons why many Koreans love indulging in spicy 짬뽕 (jjamppong) or 해물찜 (seafood stew). Yet, at times, the craving is for noodles submerged in a clear, meat-infused broth. Viewing it from this perspective, Pobay's 양지차돌밥 (Yangji Chadol Rice Noodles) meets the cravings of many airport workers.

Location: Terminal 1, B4, West side.

This covers some of the favored spots by the airport staff in Terminal 1. Incheon Airport's vastness ensures there's more culinary magic waiting to be explored in other parts of the airport. For insights into where the staff frequent in Terminal 2, continue to the next segment: Incheon Airport Dining: Top Picks by Airport Staff (Part 2: Terminal 2) | Insider's Guide

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