Words and shots by Ggot-nim Lee (Translated by Jee-hye Cho and Sonia Hensley)
Anyone in Korea will tell you that the food in the agricultural provinces of Jeolla-do can’t be beaten. But the picks below are special because they’re secret: they’re so good, the locals try to keep them to themselves.
Beef and Octopus Tangtangi
Small ₩35,000, large ₩60,000
If you’ve never heard of this dish, you probably don’t live in Jeolla-do. Live-sliced octopus from Muan and marbled raw beef from Jangheung are julienned and served together. Garnished with fresh onions and sesame, this dish is both coolly savory and an enormous boost for stamina.
525 Juwol-dong, Nam-gu. Gwangju 062-671-8119
Jeonnam Sikdang, Gwangju
Another hard-to-find dish, woosamtang is a beef bone soup served with criadillas. Spiced with ginseng, garlic, jujube, chestnut and japssal sticky rice, the soup takes half a day to boil to a smooth and meaty finish. It’s said that if you drink the whole bowl, your body will be filled with power.
Around ₩20,000, but prices fluctuate depending on the day’s ingredients.
This moist, tender chicken is prepared using the method of traditional Jesa ceremonies honoring one’s ancestors during Chuseok. Each day, the cook serves the chicken with a set menu of whatever is in her refrigerator, whether it’s octopus, comb penshell, or something even rarer.
Hongeo, or skate, is a cartilaginous fish that spoils quickly after it’s caught. To store it, Jeolla cooks of the past came up with a unique fermentation method that leaves the fish with a very recognizable smell. Those who think they can’t take the aroma should try it one more time at Okja Samhap. Served in a three-dish combination plate, the briskly sour taste of hongeo plays well with mild bossam pork and spicy kimchi.
831-5 Duam-dong, Buk-gu. Gwangju. 062-264-7121
Bean Noodle Soup (Kongmul Guksu)
Samsam Kongmul Sikdang, Gwangju
₩6,000 – ₩7,000
A traditional millstone grinder and purely local ingredients are used in preparing this cold bean noodle soup, which is served with healthy rice noodles for a taste that’s both clean and authentic. Fun fact: Where in Gyeongsang they add a salt to taste, people in Jeolla add sugar to their soup instead.
Songjeong-1dong, next to Adria Motel. 062-943-3396
Jeolla Style Seafood Hanjeongsik
₩40,000 – ₩60,000
Enjoy every savory Jeolla-style side dish at once with this famous hanjeongsik course menu. The carefully prepared tastes of grilled fish, marinated veggies, spiced shellfish, hearty soups, cold sashimi and more make up a meal that you’ll never get tired of. Reservations recommended.
With its high collagen content and abundant vitamins, black goat is known as one of Korea’s healthiest meats. This mild, smoky dish is at its best when served boiled at Wolnam Village. Enjoy it garnished with mushrooms and marinated sesame leaves for a refreshingly wild, deep taste.
Bibimbap may be as common as dirt now, but in older times, the dish was served to royalty. Each root and vegetable was meticulously prepared and served in an exquisite presentation of color. Taste bibimbap the way it was meant to be tasted in the famous Hanok Village in Jeonju, a city known for its bibimbap expertise.
72-2 Gyo-dong, Wansan-gu.063-232-0074
Straw Fire Grilled Pork (짚불구이)
Doam Sikdang, Muan-gun
₩10,000 – ₩30,000
An authentic straw fire burns quickly, allowing meat grilled on it to retain all of its juiciness. This makes it perfect for the thinly-sliced pork of Doam Sikdang. Enjoy it with fresh onion kimchi cultivated in the nearby onion-growing town of Muan.
Your only choice at this famous barbecue is pork belly by the kilogram with three kinds of cuts: skin, meat, and galbi bone. Grill the skin first (make sure it doesn’t burn!), then move on to the meat, accented with ddeok wraps and mushrooms. Finally, grill the galbi bone rib meat for a strong, hearty finish.