"What, where and when?" you ask? Well, let me fill you in...
This photograph was taken last February in a convenience store in Chuncheon, in the Gangwon province of South Korea. In the photo you can see me holding a little samgak kimbap triangle, this one contained Spam! As you can see, the shelf behind me is covered in the stuff. Samgak kimbap triangles are basically triangles on rice with a filling and covered in seaweed. They are tasty (depending on what filling you choose), cheap and convenient (although the art of successfully unwrapping one took a while to achieve). Briefly after this photograph was taken, we hopped into a taxi and headed to the city centre.
Chuncheon is a small city and known as the home of dak galbi, a delicious chicken dish. It even has a whole street dedicated to restaurants selling this spicy morsel of flavour.
After arriving in the city centre, we wandered the streets to take a look. The friend that I went with had previously lived in Chuncheon so I had a guide! We went passed the city hall and on to the main street. For me, it was one of very few occasions where I visited a smaller city, having lived in central Seoul, and it was nice to see the differences. One of them was a random Korean guy spotting my blonde hair and calling me beautiful! Apparently, it would have happened quite often had I lived somewhere smaller, ha ha.
After walking the main strip we entered Dak Galbi Street (see picture above) and took our time to choose our restaurant. We ended up in a cute little place and were served by, who we presumed was, the owners mother, a grandmother, who seemed to delight in serving us foreigners. It was possibly the BEST dak galbi I had ever had, and that alone made me happy to have visited Chuncheon.
What exactly is dak galbi? It is a dish consisting of marinated chicken (as with lots of Korean food, it contains the hot pepper paste called gochujang) which is stir fried with cabbage, rice cakes (tteok), potatoes and onions.
One of the things I love most about eating out in Korea is that lots of dishes are prepared either by you or in front of you. Dak galbi is no exception. When going to a dak galbi restaurant, many restaurants specialise in one or two dishes, you will be seated at a table with a hot plate in the middle. Once you have ordered, they will bring out the ingredients in order of when they need to be cooked, light the gas ring underneath and start cooking the food.
How much involvement you have in cooking dak galbi will depend on how Western you look! When going for food with Korean friends we were pretty much left to do it ourselves, when out with other Westerners we were regularly checked on by the staff (the waiters are there to take orders and cook your food). Now this is great, as it prevented us from getting food poisoning or ruining our dinner, but it got a little old after the twentieth time we had been out for it and were capable of doing it ourselves.
|As you might be able to see, we added udon noodles to our dak galbi!|
Depending on which restaurant you go to, there are chains and independent ones just for this dish alone, the service and layout will vary. Most will provide you with aprons, sometimes you need to ask, or bags to put your belongings in, to prevent everything from a) being splattered by red pepper paste and oil, and b) smelling of dak galbi! The recipe used by the restaurant will vary, and the dak galbi found in Chuncheon can vary again. There is also the option of adding rice, cheese, noodles and many other things to your dish. One of our favourite combos was rice and cheese added to the dish, or to get rice cooked in the dish once the dak galbi was eaten. The waiters would scrape out the burnt parts from the pan and put the rice in (with gochujang). My friends and I always tended to drink Hite or Cass (Korean beer, very weak to most but perfect for me) with our meal. This was truly my favourite food, and I am quite sad that, so far, I have not found it in UK!
As in all Korean restaurants, you will be served side dishes with dak galbi. In my experience these tended to vary very little. Normally, we were given a cold soup (often a kimchi type soup) and a side of thinly sliced cabbage with a sweet salad cream like dressing. We must have had sweet pickled radishes or kimchi as well, but I can't quite remember now. Water (mul) is always free and provided, either upon request or by water cooler, in restaurants.
And look at that, I have massively digressed! For a more formal description on dak galbi click here, and for a recipe that will allow you to try and cook it yourself (if you have a Korean/Asian supermarket near you) click here. Now, I am yet to try cooking it but it looks fantastic and easy enough. I am going to give it a go once I have moved back to Cambridge and have access to the Korean shop there (Seoul Plaza on Mill Road).
After stuffing our faces, we wandered some more and ended up in Baskin Robbins, for dessert. Yes, there is a theme developing here, I like food.
I love how many dessert places there are in Korea! Ice cream alone has a whole heap of establishments devoted to dozens of flavours of the chilled goodness, not to mention ice cream cakes. I'll have to do another post about this later or I'll be side tracked again.
Back to that day. After pudding, we hopped in a taxi and headed to one of the lakes that surround the city. Now, being February in Korea, the lake was a little frozen.
It was the strangest sensation. Living in the south of Blighty, I've never come across a frozen lake before. This all happened a year ago, but I can still remember the quiet creaking noises and the trepidation with which we took our first steps. We were soon put a little more at ease as we saw families out on the ice, with their little kids running around. However, when we decided to venture a little further out, towards the centre of the lake, a siren was sounded and a guy in some kind of snow trolley told us off. I was quite relieved to be honest as I wasn't feeling too good about it, and we were actually about to head back to solid ground anyway.
|Needless to say, we didn't get to pedal around in a swan boat.|
We strolled along beside the lake, taking photos of random things made pretty by the snow and crisp winter air, and then headed back to the other side. We found a random cafe/restaurant (I seem to remember it having a lot of African artefacts) and drank a nice warm hot chocolate to defrost.
|Cute spoons and free Danish butter cookies, score!|
My memory is failing me, I must be getting old, I know we took the bus to Chuncheon, but I can't recall whether we got it back or decided to cheat and get the subway back (a long journey). Either way, here is a photo of the deserted train carriage (we would have been on the subway at one point either way). Korea has an amazing transport system, very cheap, very efficient and super convenient.
It was a fabulous day, spent in great company. I hope you enjoyed reading about Korea and one of the fondest memories of a day trip that I have. If you did, let me know and I will endeavour to write some more Korea based entries. I really love the country and my time there was fantastic.