Tag Archives: jeonju

The Chois Eat Their Way Through Jeonju + Gunsan (Part 2)

I really don’t know where this year has gone. The food in this blog was eaten in May. It is now November. There have been a few times like this in the past when I haven’t blogged in months, have accumulated an overwhelming backlog of food photos, and thoughts like “Should I just not bother? Is it finally time to hang up my amateur food blogger hat?” start to enter my mind. But I’m always too stubborn to quit. I’ve pushed through a six-month lag before and I can do it again. I just gotta sit my butt down and remind myself how much I enjoy writing these, that it’s worth opening my laptop and pumping out some words even thought it would be much easier to turn on the TV and binge-watch K-dramas.

So where were we? It’s Spring. I’m in Jeonju. With my parents. Trying very hard to preserve my sanity.

On the morning of our second day in Jeonju, we asked our hanok stay host to recommend a restaurant for another signature Jeonju dish: soybean sprout souprice (콩나물 국밥/kong-namul gukbap).

I LOVE having soup and rice for breakfast. My parents were so well assimilated to Aussie-culture that I grew up with the standard cereal, toast, and eggs for brekkie so having Korean style gukbap in the morning is still a novelty for me and I love it. I don’t care if I have garlic and kimchi breath all day – gimme that breakfast gukbap!

Our sent us out of the hanok village to the Nambu Shijang, an old-school market where the goods on sale look like haven’t changed much since the 1960s.

IMG_9286

IMG_9297

The market is like a maze without a map and the restaurant was pretty hard to find – I was expecting to see a massive line since it seemed like you needed to stand in line to eat anything decent in Jeonju. But it turned out to be a tiny, dingy looking place with a few shabby chairs and tables and only a couple of people inside. It made me think, “Did our host just send us to his aunty’s restaurant?” We were too hungry to care at this point, so we just sat down. This kind of food is best made by an aunty anyway.

IMG_9293

In the kitchen there’s a huge vat of broth, a big bowl of rinsed soybean sprouts, and an impressive array of spices and sauces. Soybean sprout souprice seems like a very simple dish, but I guess there really is an art to it.

I actually hated this kind of soup growing up – it was one of the few Korean dishes that just made me groan when I saw it on the dinner table. There’s no meat involved – the broth is made with dried anchovies which gives it an unpleasant bitter flavour. And the soybean sprouts were just… I mean, who ever gets excited about soybean sprouts? It was just a sad, boring, bland loser of a soup.

Coming to Korea, however, I discovered that Jeonju-style soybean sprout souprice was a much-beloved hangover cure soup that people were willing to travel for. I gave it a try in Seoul and I don’t know what it is – maybe some special broth recipe, maybe MSG, maybe the salted shrimp sauce and spices that they add on top – but I LOVED it. It’s still a very simple soup based around an incredibly unexciting vegetable but there’s something about it that’s very comforting and addictive.

IMG_9289

This one came out with the rice already in the soup because you need the rice bowl for the thing that makes Jeonju-style souprice truly special: the lightly poached egg-sauce. First-timers might be confused about what to do with this little bowl of egg, but don’t the mistake of putting the eggs in the soup. What you’re actually meant to do is put the soup in the eggs.

IMG_9291

It’s egg as sauce!! My favourite thing!! You’re meant take your soybean sprouts and dip them in the runny egg yolk. You can also take spoonfuls of souprice and mix it all into the egg bowl too. This just proves the egg makes everything – even boring old soybean sprout soup – more awesome.

The soup is wholesome and satisfying, but also has a very clean taste thanks to its simple ingredients, with just enough kick from the garnish of chopped fresh chillies, chilli powder, salted shrimp, crushed garlic and sesame seeds. It’s strangely refreshing, and the heat will get you sweating, which I guess is what makes it the perfect hangover cure.

It wasn’t really much different or more special compared to the soybean sprout souprice I’ve had in Seoul, but I’m glad I got to try at a dinky little no-name restaurant, with zero tourists and just one ahjumma in the kitchen working up a sweat in her floral apron. Much much better than standing in line for an hour to eat it at a place so famous it’s got two branches in Seoul, which completely defeats the purpose of going all the way to Jeonju to try it.

After breakfast, we headed back to the Hanok Village to have morning tea at one of its many cute cafes.

IMG_9306

It’s a place called 1723 and it has a particularly special dessert that came up in several of the blog posts I’d come across while researching this trip.

IMG_9313

Injeolmi icecream: vanilla soft serve with chopped up pieces of red bean-stuffed sticky rice cake, extra bits of mochi, topped with injeolmi bean powder. So good! This is maybe the best modernized Korean traditional dessert I’ve had. And Koreans are very very good at modernizing their traditional desserts. Incredibly simple but so delicious… got me singing

GD2

Injeolmi-themed desserts are quite common since Koreans lurrrve their bean powder, with injeolmi bingsu being one of the bestselling items at Sulbing (one of the most popular dessert cafes in Korea). But the texture of the bean powder works SO MUCH BETTER with ice cream than it does with shaved ice. And the red bean mochi which is a sickly sweet to eat by itself is much better served in little pieces as a topping.

Do you miss my mum? I do, too. Here she is modelling our dessert and wearing sunglasses indoors like she’s Kanye.

IMG_9315

And we couldn’t leave Jeonju without one last tumbler of slushie beer.

IMG_9321

Cheers!

So that was the end of our time in Jeonju, but because people told us there wasn’t enough  to do in Jeonju to last us three days and two nights (they were wrong… there was plenty of stuff left to eat do) we also booked a night in Gunsan, a little-known town that’s most famous for the Japanese style houses and buildings that have been preserved since the occupation. Not sure why Koreans would want to preserve Japanese architecture from such a dark time in its history . . .  but this is a food blog so let’s not go into that.

Gunsan is definitely not the food-mecca that Jeonju is . . . in fact, there was so little to see that my mum couldn’t help but mention to every local she met, “There’s not much to do here, is there? Honestly, it’s a bit disappointing.” I called her out for being a rude, obnoxious tourist and she called me out for being a mean, overreacting daughter . . . but this is a food blog so let’s not go into that.

I managed to find a couple of matjibs that looked pretty decent, one specializing in soy-marinated crabs (간장게장/Ganjang Gejang), which is my mum’s all-time fave but for some reason, I had never tried it.

IMG_9332

We took a cab to the restaurant which was in the middle of nowhere. We were told we had to wait 45 minutes for a table and possibly even longer for our food, so clearly everyone else in Gunsan also realized that this was the only decent restaurant around. Annoyed and hungry, we still waited because we had no where elseto go and no way to get there. I really really hoped that the food would be worth the wait, because three grumpy, hungry, annoyed, disappointed Chois is NOT a fun time.

We finally got a table and ordered the jungsik which was 23,000 won per person (very decent price for this kind of meal) and came with the marinated crab, soup, rice, and a bunch of sides.

IMG_9334

Apparently, soy-marinated crab is all about the roe. There are certain seasons when the roe is more abundant, and the better gejang restaurants only serve super-fertile crabs that are overflowing with that gooey bright orange roe.

Roe is something I’ve been developing a palate for since I moved to Korea. I’ve always loved salmon roe because of the way it pops in your mouth, but HATED cooked roe (still do) because of its grainy, rubbery texture. Other types of raw or marinated roe I didn’t really enjoy because I found the bitter taste off-putting. But thanks to the gradual Koreanification of my taste buds, I’m finding that I like it more and more. So while a raw, roe-based dish like ganjang gejang wouldn’t have interested me at all before, I was pretty excited to try it.

IMG_9380

Gejang is prepared with a soy-based marinade that is boiled, cooled, and then poured over fresh, salted crabs. According to mum, our resident gejang expert, the cheaper places serve the crabs after they’ve been sitting in the marinade for a while because the crabs can stay preserved for up to a few weeks. But as a result, they become extremely salty, tasting more like a pickle. The better restaurants with fresher crabs don’t let the crabs sit in the marinade for too long – so it just tastes like crab sashimi with the delicious soy marinade poured over it.

This place was one of the good ones – the crab was so fresh and the marinade was perfectly balanced – sweet, salty, infused with the flavor of the crab with hints of ginger, garlic and chilli. Gejang’s nickname is “rice thief crab” (밥도둑) because something magical happens when the sauce and roe touch those fluffy grains of white rice. The marinated crab tastes great by itself but it’s what happens when the dish is mixed up with rice that makes ganjang gejang ganjang gejang. Even the carb-conscious will stare at their reflection in the empty steel rice bowl and not think twice about ordering another one.

More than the fleshy crab legs and roe though, my favorite part of this dish was taking the shell with all its yellow-green guts and salty-sweet sauce and mixing up all my rice in there. I don’t have a photo because I was too busy eating it.

The next day we visited Lee Sung Dang, the oldest bakery in Korea. It’s been around since 1945 and is famous for its red bean bun and vegetable bun which apparently haven’t changed much since its opening. There was actually a separate line for those two signature items, and it stretched all the way out the store to the street corner. They had run out of vegetable buns (boo) and even though none of us really like red bean buns, we forced dad to stay in the line because we couldn’t come to the oldest bakery in Korea in a random place like Gunsan and NOT get their most famous bun. Mum and I went inside to check out what else they had on offer.

IMG_9352

This is what most Korean bakeries looked like twenty years ago. Much simpler than the stuff you see these days at Paris Baguette and other bakeries that are trying to be more Western and are moving away from these traditional Korean sweet breads. These kinds of bakeries are actually not that easy to find now.

IMG_9353

This is my old fave – sesame sticky rice bread (깨찰빵) – the bread batter is mixed with sticky rice powder which gives this slightly sweet hollow bun a crusty/chewy texture – so good but quite hard to find these days. Regret not buying the whole tray.

IMG_9357

Here are my parents and their bread haul. Both wearing sunglasses indoors like they’re Beyonce and Jay-Z. LOL at the fact that everyone else captured in this photo looks like they’re staring at us thinking, “Who are those freaks and why are they taking a photo inside a bakery with their sunglasses on?”

People were leaving the bakery with massive boxes packed with the red bean buns, but we were quite self-controlled and only bought five. I’m kind of a red bean bun hater but these were so fresh out of the oven that I actually really enjoyed them.

And here ends the Choi family’s eating adventures around Jeonju and Gunsan. I’ll sign off with a photo of mum looking ever-so-chic drinking a tri-coloured slushie.

IMG_9375

“See you next time, fatties.”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Chois Eat Their Way Through Jeonju (Part 1)

My mum hates my food blog. Well, she hates that I write a food blog because she blames it for making me fat. I’m pretty sure she’s never read it because scrolling down through photo after photo after photo of all the fatty foombah carb-a-liciousness would just make her sick at all the food her daughter is ingesting and converting into fat cells. I would get an angry phone call after every post I publish.

We’ve had a lot of conversations that go along these lines:

“Heather, I’m worried because your cousin told me that all the photos on your Instagram are of really high-calorie and high-fat foods.”

“Mum, it’s because those kinds of photos get the most likes.”

“But why can’t you just eat more salads?”

“WHY CAN’T YOU JUST LET ME LIVE MY LIFE?!”

But since we live in a different countries and only communicate via messaging and phone, the frequency of her nagging had really died down, leading me to think, oh-so-naively, that maybe she had accepted that I had grown up into my own person and could make my own adult decisions about my body and the food I put in it.

When my parents told me they were visiting in the Spring, I thought it would be nice if we went on a short trip together. Conveniently, I planned a trip down to Jeonju which also happens to be one of the top foodie hot spot in Korea. I’d been wanting to go since I first heard about it. This trip seemed like an amazing idea: I could spend some quality time with my parents, pig out on amazing food, and get some great material for the blog. Little did I know that I was actually signing up for three-day fat camp.

As soon as my mum saw me, she unleashed a tirade of fat-shaming that did not end until I waved goodbye to her as she rode away on the Airport Limousine to catch her flight back to Sydney. Padded with affectionate squeezes of my butt and belly, and assurances of “I’m only saying this because I love you!” her incredible ability to never run out of things to say about my weight gain gave my self-esteem a good ol’ fashioned beat down.

“What happened to you? What did you eat to gain so much weight? Heather . . . are you depressed? If you’re not depressed then why are you eating so much?! Stop ordering delivery! Why are you so lazy? Just make yourself something healthy for dinner! I thought you would actually lose weight because of how skinny girls are here in Korea… don’t you feel bad when you see how thing and pretty all these girls are? How much do you exercise? I thought so. You need to exercise!! Just go for a walk after dinner. Matt’s lost so much weight, so why can’t you? You disgust me.

(Okay, she didn’t say the last thing, but it was strongly implied.)

Suddenly, a trip where eating would be the main activity didn’t seem like such a good idea. But with accommodation and bus tickets booked, and my will not yet broken by my mum’s incessant harassment, I just went ahead with it. What followed was one of the greatest tests of my emotional and mental fortitude of my life thus far.

IMG_9280

Me and my mum.

Jokes, that bear is way skinnier than me.

So mistake #1 was planning a foodie road trip with my fatphobic mum. Mistake #2 was planning a trip to Jeonju on a long weekend.

IMG_9282

This is meant to be a quaint “hanok” village made up of traditional Korean houses and cute little shops but because of it’s increasing popularity as a local tourist destination, on weekends and public holidays it is literally swarming with people. Hungry people. Standing in lines. Lots and lots of really really really long lines.

IMG_9283 IMG_9303 IMG_9304 IMG_9284

Mandoo lines. Kalguksu lines. Bibimbap lines. Sandwich lines. Gukbap lines.

I’m not one to be afraid of a long line if I know that the food pay-off at the end will be worth it, but I did not want to spend the entire weekend waiting in line with my 60-ish parents who would probably spend the whole time lecturing me about how only fat people wait in line for food. Fortunately, thanks to the fierce competition here and Korean people’s willingness to shamelessly rip of a popular shop’s food and concept, there are plenty of copycat shops that offer pretty much the same food as the more famous places, but without the long wait.

Our first stop was flame-grilled octopus on a stick (문어꼬치)

IMG_9216 IMG_9219

Big fat chunks of octopus, skewered and grilled, then served with worcestershire-ish sauce and bonito flakes.

IMG_9220

Kind of like a naked takoyaki. I’ve never really been a fan of octopus, so this is not something I would usually be attracted to, but Koreans LOVE it. It’s delicious – chewy on the inside and charred on the outside.

We shared one of these between the three of us because, you know … calories.

IMG_9221

Then we went right next door for some jumbo cheese chicken skewers (치즈 점보 닭꼬지).

IMG_9222

About double the size of a regular chicken gochi, this sexy beast is covered in sauce (you choose how spicy you want it) and a helluva lot of melted cheese.

IMG_9223

Here is mum taking a huge bite out of this high-fat high-calorie treat.

“Give it to me, you shouldn’t eat too much of things like this.”

“Yes, mum.” *cries on the inside*

Although the hanok village mainly consists of little permanent shopfronts, everything here is very street-food. Most things are served on long wooden skewers (gochi) – they have their own special rubbish bin.

IMG_9224

Because we wouldn’t want these things poking holes in the rubbish bags… or in people. Given the volume of people squished into this place when its busy, there’s gotta be a few gochi related injuries per day here.

There’s a shop here that’s really famous for its hand made mandoo (dumplings) but it had the longest line of ALL the restaurants. Actually it had two lines, and both looked at least 40 minutes long. I love my mandoo, but even I have my limits.

IMG_9226

So we went to the place next door that we hoped did a pretty good imitation of the original.

IMG_9228

Whole-prawn steamed dumplings. There was five between the three of us, but I only ate one. I didn’t want to get my hand slapped in front of all these people.

These tasted just okay – made me feel a bit sad about missing out on the real thing. But I plan to come back for them someday soon – when it’s less crazy busy and without my fat camp coaches.

IMG_9225

Mum got these water cakes (물방울떡) for dessert – there’s a bit of a craze happening around these lately, but I’m not a fan. They taste like nothing. They’re just big blobs of colorless, flavorless jelly.

And that was our lunch. I didn’t get to try as much as I wanted, half because of the lines, half because my mum’s hawk-eyes were watching me, with her claws ready to pounce if I dared get near “over-eating” territory.

We took a short nap in our tiny hanok stay and then headed out to dinner. Before the hanok village food street took over, Jeonju was mainly known for its bibimbap. We asked for a recommendation from the ahjusshi was ran our accommodation and headed over to restaurant called “Hangook jib” (literally: Korean house).

IMG_9242

Outside the boundary of the main touristy area, this place was pretty quiet but our guy assured us it was authentic and delicious and kind of famous because a former president had dined there once.

Bibimbap is normally a humble dish, but in Jeonju it gets quite fancy. The Jeonju version is based on a dish that was served in the royal court of the Joseon dynasty. It is presented in a gold metal bowl and includes some very special ingredients that you won’t find in your standard bibimbap: raw beef, yellow mung bean jelly, pine nuts and gingko nuts.

Here is how it looks pre-bibim:

IMG_9251

And post-bibim:

bibim

My mum used to tell me off all the time for the “unladylike” way I would mix my bibimbap. Rice and gochujang would go everywhere and I’d end up with more outside the bowl than inside. But I’ve discovered a new technique to elegant bibim – use your chopsticks instead of your fork. It mixes things more evenly more quickly and is much less messy. See – only a few stray rice grains on the side of the bowl!

Unlike the usual bibimbap, all the ingredients of Jeonju bibimbap are cold to preserve the special flavor of the raw beef. The rice is still warm, but not steaming hot. So the resulting taste and mouthfeel is quite different – it’s fresh and the unique flavour and texture of each component is kept distinct. It’s interesting and tastes great, but given the choice, I think I would still choose the standard dolsot (hot stone) bibimbap over fancy Jeonju bibimbap. Dolsot bibimbap is my death row dish.

I’ve clearly inherited my tastes buds from my mum because despite being in Jeonju, she couldn’t resist the hot sizzling call of the dolsot. It came with the exact same ingredients except that the beef on top is already cooked.

IMG_9248

The ONE thing I was a bit disappointed with was the absence of a glossy raw egg yolk, which is the golden crown that sits atop the dish in all the photos I’ve seen. According to my dad, historically accurate Jeonju bibimbap doesn’t include the raw egg, which is a more modern addition. I still felt gypped. If I had to choose between authenticity and egg, I choose egg.

Even without the egg, its about as high-class as bibimbap gets. I loved it – but I made sure to leave at least a spoonful of rice in my bowl to create the illusion of self-controlled eating. But it didn’t really matter anyway – my parents were too busy lecturing me about my foolish reluctance to resume my legal career to even notice how much I was eating.

After dinner, we walked back to the Hanok village to grab some slushie beer which we had been coveting all day. Everyone we walked by seemed to have one in hand, but we had to wait until after dinner to get ourselves one to avoid being red-faced and drowsy in the daylight (all Chois have a very severe case of Asian Flush.)

IMG_9258

The concept of a beer slushie is pure genius. It combines the most loved beverage of our childhood (slushies) with the most loved beverage of our adulthood (beer) into the perfect summer refreshment. I don’t understand why it isn’t EVERYWHERE. It’s amazing!

IMG_9259

They mix cold beer on tap with the syrup of your choice (we got grapefruit) then top it off the cloudy white beer slush.

IMG_9260

Mrs Choi approves.

A few sips of slushie beer got my mum in a good mood, so I convinced her that we also needed to try some deep-fried whole squid on a stick (통오징어튀김).

IMG_9265

Mrs Kang smiles tipsily and has no idea how many grams of fat she will soon be consuming.

IMG_9268

Of all the [blank]-on-a-stick things I’ve eaten in Korea, this one WINS. It’s a whole squid lightly battered and deep-fried, and then seasoned with whatever flavor your heart desires. It comes to you hot, fresh, salty, crispy and chewy and is even better when washed down with a sip of slushie beer. It was so good that mum completely forgot to give me her favorite smackdown about the perils of eating fried foods late in the evening.

It was an emotionally taxing day, but I managed to get through it without bursting into tears, causing a scene, or stabbing someone with a wooden skewer. And I still got to eat some yummy food… just conditioned on the promise that I would exercise regularly and eat more salads back in Seoul. A promise I had no intention of keeping, but in wartime, you just gotta do whatever it takes to survive.

To be continued . . .

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: