Local ARMY Eats Her Way Through BTS Festa Pilgrimage
Highlights: Jungkook’s favorite Kekeke fried chicken and lunch in Jin and Suga’s old dorm room.
A bean counter by trade, May Hoshida is a habitual planner who enjoys organizing family and solo trips. In her free time, she likes to immerse herself in food, travel, a good movie, K-dramas and anything BTS.
What began as cheerful chatter with a friend who’s fellow BTS ARMY (”Should I go to Korea?” I joked. “You should!” she said) somehow manifested into my solo pilgrimage to celebrate BTS’ 10-year anniversary this month. It didn’t matter that the world’s most famous K-pop band is on hiatus as a group. As an official ARMY (bias: Jimin), I was one of hundreds of thousands who converged in South Korea for events commemorating Festa, as BTS’ anniversary is called.
If you are ARMY, you’ll understand. Without live concerts starring RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook, visiting BTS sites is the closest we can get to our Bangtan Boys. Everywhere I went, I was surrounded by ARMYs from Japan, the Philippines, Europe, South America and the U.S. Places I visited included the band’s old dorm, the headquarters of their talent company and houses where they filmed their reality series “In the Soop 2.” And of course, for as many meals and snacks as possible, iconic BTS food sites were on my “to eat” list.
My first stop is Magnate, Jimin’s dad’s café in South Korea’s second largest city of Busan. I feel sheer excitement at being there, especially when I see a table full of ARMY’s messages to Jimin and BTS. The café is elegantly designed, with lots of natural light and ample space to dine and lounge. It’s almost like a mini museum of Jimin.
If you arrive later, menu choices may be limited due to the café’s popularity with both locals and ARMY. So I get there early and opt for something sweet and something savory—a grape-blueberry lover’s pastry and a sandwich of ham, cheese and basil. Together with a peach ice tea, the bill is about $16. Everything is subtly tasty and lighter than expected, including the pillowy soft bread. I can feel myself chewing along to the beat of “Set Me Free Pt. 2.” This is the perfect way to start my Busan day!
135 Jinnam-ro, Nam-gu, Busan, @magnate_official_
After spending a couple of days in Jimin’s hometown, I make my way to Seoul. Here, I start my eating pilgrimage with a visit to Yoojung Sikdang, an establishment that BTS frequented during their early trainee days.
Once again I arrive early, just missing the crowds of ARMY and office workers. From the 10,000 won menu, I try the purple rice bibimbap with pork served in a hot stone pot. It is perfectly seasoned and mildly spicy with a good mix of vegetables and pork. An accompanying savory soup helps me wash down every luscious bite. Now I understand why BTS would dine here multiple times a day. For approximately $7.50, it is a bargain. As a bonus, I’m surrounded by photos and life-size cutouts of the Bangtan Boys. Everything, even the water dispenser, is covered with BTS pictures.
14 Dosan-daero 28-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, @yoojungsikdang
Hyuga Bakery & Cafe
I am looking for this eatery, on the site of one of BTS’ old dorms, when a friendly English-speaking security guard directs me down the street and around the corner, noting I should see Suga’s picture out front. He must see a lot of ARMYs astray in the neighborhood.
I arrive at lunchtime. The café is filled with fellow global ARMYs, so remaining menu offerings are slim, but I manage to secure a sausage roll, a chocolate chip cookie and a yuzu iced tea ($11.60). I proceed to the top floor, past walls of Post-It notes and a shrine dedicated to J-Hope, and find a table in Jin and Suga’s old room. The sausage roll’s casing is snappy, and the sausage is bursting with flavor, well beyond what I expect. The sweet cookie yields a balance of chewy and crunchy, and the yuzu iced tea is refreshing and comes with a spoon to scoop up pieces of sweet and tender zest at the bottom.
Nonhyeon-ro 119-gil, 16, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, @hyuga1531
Unfortunately, my visit to Jin’s brother’s shabu shabu restaurant is a fail, as I’m greeted with this sign: “Closed, Business closed April 1, 2023. Thank you very much for that. Otsu.”
Disappointed, I briefly wallow in my sorrows, then move on to my next BTS destination.
60 Gye Chicken
If you’ve seen Jungkook’s Weverse live from February 2023, where he ordered the Kekeke (ㅋㅋㅋ) fried chicken from 60 Gye Chicken, you’ll understand why this place is a must for any ARMY or fried chicken fanatic. It is a chain restaurant, so I use Naver Maps to locate the closest branch. With the restaurant full of customers, I order takeout for this evening’s dinner. I get the smallest portion of Kekeke chicken, perfect for a solo traveler at $11.50 for about 12 pieces (which I eat over two meals). After a 30-minute wait for my order and 15-minute taxi ride back to the hotel, I can tell you it was well worth the wait!
The fried chicken is mouthwateringly delectable and packed with an immense amount of flavor and crunch. However, the corn mayo and kekeke sauce take it to a whole ‘nother level. The corn mayo tastes of a popcorn cream, while the lighter, garlicky kekeke sauce cuts the fried unctuousness of the chicken. This is truly the most memorable meal of my trip. When Jungkook sings, “You are the cause of my euphoria,” I truly believe he is singing about the Kekeke chicken at 60 Gye Chicken.
60 Gye Chicken, @60chicken
Whether you love BTS or just love food, these places will satisfy your palate. And as ARMY, there is no better way to enjoy a trip to South Korea than by reveling in a meal while in the very same places where “seven normal boys from Korea,” as RM likes to say, lived, worked and ate.
A truly unique and rewarding experience.
Borahae, Bangtan Sonyeondan! 💜