With great sightseeing comes great hunger … to twist a phrase. And after a couple of hours spent tramping through the scenic side-streets and touristy thoroughfares of Jeonju Hanok Village, filling one’s stomach will start to rise in priority over filling one’s Instagram page. (Not that they’re mutually exclusive.) Let’s pop into a local establishment and see what they can whip up for us.
Welcome to Gyodong TteokGalbi (교동떡갈비).
Long-time readers are probably well aware of something by now: I love food but I’m not a foodie. Professional reviews and Michelin stars mean nothing to me; if anything, they might actually discourage a visit for fear of long queues and tiny portions and temperamental chefs. When hunger strikes, I’ll zero in on the most convenient (usually the closest) option, be it a restaurant or a convenience store.
So it was that after arriving in the city of Jeonju (전주), the provincial capital of Jeollabuk-do in southwestern Korea…
…and having spent some time in the scenic district known as Jeonju Hanok Village (전주한옥마을, Jeonju Hanok Maeul)…
…I decided that a bit of lunch was in order.
Now to be quite clear, I’m not above poring through blog posts or magazine articles or guidebooks for suggestions. Indeed, I fully intend to do so before I return to Jeonju someday for a longer, more thorough exploration of the city. After all, this scenic corner of Jeolla – and more specifically the leisure-orientated (one might even say touristy) Hanok Village area – has more restaurants and food stalls than one could shake a stick at, with a range of both traditional and contemporary local specialities well worth trying out.
But today, on a short side trip from Suncheon (which was the focus of this particular Korea holiday), I was happy with a quick peek at the city’s charms … and a quick bite of its gastronomic offering.
Thus, after a quick visit to a local mini-museum, with lunch on my mind and in no mood to put in an effort, I simply walked into a restaurant I’d passed on the same street.
It wasn’t quite noon yet, but the ground floor was already packed, so I was ushered into the mostly vacant upper level and given a window-side table.
I’m not entirely sure how much if any English ability was present amongst the staff, as I didn’t really give them a chance to demonstrate. (I’m an unsociable chap who keeps conversation with strangers to the barest minimum). Nonetheless, they were clearly well-prepared for foreigners – Jeonju being a popular tourist draw, after all – with a multilingual menu bearing descriptions in English, Japanese, and Chinese.
As is often the case however, I found that the local-language version had more items on offer. Here I flexed what little Korean-language ability I could muster and dared to make a selection from the standard menu: a tteokgalbi and mini-Jeonju bibimbap set (18,500 won).
Order placed, I leaned back and observed whilst a staff member began service in the usual fashion: covering much of the table with banchan.
Goodness. This massive spread of side dishes alone nearly killed me. The fact that they promptly refilled my plate of japchae after I’d emptied it only exacerbated the excess.
Yes, indeed – a Korean meal is best enjoyed in the company of others, if only to ensure that there are enough mouths on hand to clear out the table!
I was shortly presented with the main dish: Gyodong tteokgalbi roasted to sizzling on a dish right in front of me. These short-rib patties originally arrived as two or so larger pieces, but were quickly cut into smaller chunks by the server.
The other core element of the meal set, a “mini” Jeonju bibimbap, was also placed on the table. A colourful work of art it was…
…but my spoon and some furious mashing soon transformed the bronze bowl’s contents into a scene of utter chaos.
A great meal all of this made … but there was just so much food. Too much. I made a determined effort but some leftovers remained – a very rare occurrence for someone with my appetite.
I’m proposing Jeonju as a destination for a future family visit and I’ll make sure to have more people close by to, shall we say, tip the balance in the diners’ favour.
In any event, it’s time to settle the bill.
Thanks for the feast. If I swing by again, I’ll make sure to come prepared – perhaps by skipping breakfast that morning and dinner the evening before!