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Posts Tagged ‘bibimbap’

Despite having delicious and nutritious lunches prepared for us daily at school, there are times when we need to get away from the workplace (or the fish head soup) and grab a bite to eat at our little neighborhood hole-in-the-wall.

Across the street from mega store E-Mart, there is a tiny Korean joint that serves up amazing food at even more amazing prices. It is our escape from the workday, our little food sanctuary where we can enjoy our company over plates of lovingly prepared food.

Every neighborhood has restaurants akin to this little place, where you can get single servings of food (as opposed to the other barbecue restaurants, where you won’t be served solo). We’ve been to different places, but this is by far our favorite. When we first started dining at this restaurant, I grabbed a take-out menu and spent 2-3 hours trying to translate it. Eventually, I had my Korean teachers help fill in some gaps :)

The menu has a large variety of popular Korean dishes, ranging from rice and noodles to dumplings and meat. Here are some of our favorites:

The kimbap (김밥) here is one of our go-to meals. It is fast, easy and cheap. Large sheets of toasted nori are filled with spinach, carrot, egg, pickled radish and ham, rolled up and sliced.

The tonkatsu (돈까스, fried pork cutlet) is another popular choice. The original and the cheese-filled option are slathered with sauce and served with a small heaping of rice. A hearty lunch for days you need something hot and comforting.

Another winning dish takes the best elements of kimbap and tonkatsu and rolls them up into a piping hot dish of deliciousness. The tonkatsu kimbap features a smaller pork cutlet topped with carrot, spinach, pickled radish and rolled up in rice and nori.

The dolsot bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥) is a top pick for me. The mixture of rice, vegetables, sesame powder, egg and red pepper paste served in a sizzling hot pot is the epitome of comfort food. After I’m finished with it, I want to curl up in the fetal position and nap. So good.

Although I’m not a huge fan of kimchi made with napa cabbage, I do quite like dishes that use the fermented favorite. Kimchi bokumbap, a simple plate of rice fried with spicy kimchi and topped with an egg and toasted nori.

I also love kimchi jjigae, a stew filled with tofu, bean sprouts, bits of beef and kimchi, served boiling in a hot pot with a bowl of rice on the side. It is hot and spicy, but has a refreshing, cleansing effect on my head. This is the ideal soup for when you feel congested!

All the dishes come with the standard sides of kimchi, pickled radish, julienne cut greens and (my favorite) daikon radish kimchi (kkakdugi 배추).

Nom. Is it lunch time yet?

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I am almost ashamed to say that it took me nearly six months of living in Jeonju to finally check out one of the city’s most famous establishments — Gogung — which serves up some of the best bibimbap in the region. Bibimbap — literally meaning mixed (bibim 비빔) rice (bap 밥) is the dish that puts Jeonju on the map. The city is known for serving “Jeonju bibimbap,” which could have up to twenty ingredients.

In every bowl, you will find a base of rice, a variety of vegetables, chili pepper paste, salted seaweed and an egg (traditionally raw). I prefer a dish called dolsot bibimbap 돌솥 비빔밥, which means that the mixture comes in a hot stone bowl. The rice and veggies are sizzling when it arrives at your table, and it forms a nice crust along the edges of the rice. Nom nom nom. Plus, I don’t have to worry about eating raw egg since the bowl cooks it thoroughly. Win-win!

The dish usually comes looking like a perfectly balanced rainbow — you almost don’t want to mash it all together and ruin the picture! However, by the time I received my meal at said restaurant, I was so hungry that I wasted no time digging in.

At the restaurant, three of us ordered servings of dolsot bibimbap, which came with beef, while Rachel opted for traditional vegetarian bibimbap. We also had a few bottles of soju at home beforehand, so we were feeling rather giddy during our delicious dinner!

The meal came equipped with a variety of banchan (side dishes — they come with every meal), including kimchi, eggplant cooked with egg, a sort of potato soup, green beans in hot pepper paste, a sort of blanched greens and sesame spinach (one of my personal favorites — we get this at school often).

The food was excellent. It was salty, spicy, fresh, and sizzling hot — everything I want in a dinner! The rice was on the pricey side — about 9,000 won — and I figure we were paying a price for the restaurant’s notoriety. I wouldn’t be surprised if I found a cheaper dish that was just as good at a local hole-in-the-wall, but for now this remains the best bibimbap I’ve had since I came to Korea.

Oh and if you hadn’t noticed, I have been practicing my hangul 한글, the letters to the Korean alphabet! The writing system was devised in the 15th century, and is considered the easiest to adopt of all Asian writing systems. There are 24 letters, and the characters are relatively simple once you get the hang of them. I struggle a bit with some vowel combinations, but I continue to study my trusty flashcards.

When I walk outside, I pause and try to phonetically sound out every sign I see. I imagine this is what a kid feels like when they’re learning to read — slowly going over each sound in your head, excited and proud to be able to spell it out, regardless of whether you know what it means or not. I’m learning guys! :)

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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.

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