There is a traditional Korean village in the middle of Jeonju called Hanok Village, and it is well-known as one of the most amazing attractions South Korea has to offer. We decided to visit for the first time this past weekend, and it felt like we were transported to another world.
The village, enclosed within tall white walls, was full of traditional Korean buildings housing different art, crafts and traditional cuisine. When we first arrived, we took a slow stroll down a pedestrian walkway filled with tables and merchants selling their homemade goods.
Aside from the goods on the tables, the cobblestone road was also home to many art galleries. I didn’t come prepared with money to spend, since we’re saving for Japan at the end of the month, but this is certainly a place I will revisit to find some unique, Korean-made trinkets to bring home with us.
The streets bustled with fellow tourists, but there were many small alleys that deviated from the main drag, giving you a glimpse at what the quiet lives of the Korean elite may have looked like hundreds of years ago. The homes and the streets were impeccable and silent, almost soothing, away from the cars, noise, and skyscrapers that make up much of the city.
After roaming for a bit, we went on the hunt for a place that served traditional Jeonju bibimbap, a rice dish made with vegetables, meat, egg and spicy bean paste. The region is known for its version of the dish, and we were eager to try it out in the Village, which has some of the best food in Jeonju.
After speaking with a local artist selling jewelry on the road, we headed in the direction of a restaurant that served tteok galbi, patties made with a combination of rice cakes and rib meat that you grill at the table. The restaurant also offered a smaller version of the meat dish that came with a small bowl of bibimbap. Two for the price of one!
The meat sizzled away with a pile of garlic (you won’t find one meal without garlic here — positively delicious) while we dug into our bibimbap and banchan, or side dishes.
The bibimbap, seen in the lower left corner, was delicious but not warm enough for my taste. The colors of the rice, red pepper paste, colorful vegetables and bright yellow egg make the dish aesthetically pleasing. It reminds me of the Japanese concept of goshiki, or creating dishes with five colors, carried out by mothers who create colorful and balanced obento boxes for their children (more on my bento box obsession later — suffice to say I spend hours a week scouring bento blogs for inspiration).
Back to the meal — I prefer dolsot bibimbap to regular, because this kind of mixed rice is served in a hot stone bowl, sizzling and crisping up at your table. Our meal also came with at least 10 different banchan, or side dishes, ranging from marinated mushrooms and scallion pancakes to potatoes and pickled spring onions.
After putting down as much food as possible (you can never finish with the constant refills of banchan) we waddled out of the restaurant and toward a lush green park.
The grassy area was filled with couples lazing in the grass, families slurping ice cream cones and people huddling in the shade under large trees to beat the heat. It also had a gorgeous walkway lined with bamboo taller than a one-story building.
The park sat next to an area sectioned off, where the traditional buildings were restored and preserved.
In another area of Hanok, tourists are offered the unique experience of living like the old days. The Korean Traditional Life Experience allows guests to stay in rustic rooms, eat the food of their ancestors and take in a traditional performance.
After wandering around all day, we were exhausted and headed home to regroup before class on Monday. I was glad that Tim’s visit ultimately forced us to finally visit Hanok, since it was something I wanted to do for awhile and just never got around to! I will certainly be back.