Saturday, August 26, 2017

[Gangwon-do, Korea] The Must-Go Place in Chuncheon

There are many scenic places in Gangwon-do (aka Gangwon Province) such as Nami Island, Seoraksan (Mount Seorak), ski resorts.  Besides the play and fun, there is a famous place in Gangwon to visit for it's specialty food - Chuncheon Dakgalbi!  Dakgalbi is pretty common in Korea but Chuncheon is THE place where the famous dakgalbi restaurants congregate.

Getting to Chuncheon Station (in Gangwon Province) from Seoul is easy with ITX connecting Yongsan / Cheongnyangni stations to the Gyeongchun Line.  Chuncheon station is the last station on the Gyeongchun line and it takes about an hour to travel by ITX.  Fret now that the journey is long and boring, you can enjoy the scenic scenery while travelling or if you prefer to get connected, Olleh wifi is available on the ITX.

The local specialty in the Chuncheon region is that Chuncheong Dakgalbi, a stir-fried marinated chicken dish in chilli pepper paste with vegetables (cabbage, sweet potato, onion, scallion etc) and rice cakes.  For years, the chuncheon region has been famous for its abundance in poultry produce.  This dish started off as a side dish to go with drinks in the early days in the 1960s, it gradually grown to become so popular, so much so that a street has been dedicated to this dish.   There is even an annual festival held in Chuncheon to commemorate this dish.  The festival is known as the Chuncheon Dakgalbi and Makguksu (spicy buckwheat noodles) Festival.  The 2017's festival is happening now from 26 August to 3 September and is held in front of the Chuncheon Station.

Exiting from the station entrance, the most convenient mode of transport would be to take a taxi to the Chuncheon Dakgalbi Street.  When I was there, loads of taxis were lining along the side of the road.  The exact location is Myeongdong.  So, you can simply inform the taxi drive to go to Myeongdong Dakgalbi Golmok (명동닭날비골목).  Golmok means alley or street.  The journey is should not take more than 5 mins.  Alternatively, you can walk to the Dakgalbi street if you have a map on hand and know the way.  It takes about 20 mins by foot.

The taxi should let you alight at this entrance signage.  Follow the directional sign and walk into the alley.  There are approximately 20 dakgalbi restaurants in the alley. 

The dakgalbi restaurants are all rather traditional and require guests to sit on the wooden floor.  Once seated and order has been placed, they would start cooking almost immediately, right on the dining table.  The round flat pan is filled with freshly cut vegetables, topped with richly marinated de-boned chicken chunks that were also cut into bit sizes.  No oil is added in the process.  The moisture from the vegetables and the fats from the meat is sufficient for the cooking.  Generally, this is a rather healthy dish since white meat is generally healthier than red meat.

The cooking takes about 10 to 15 minutes.  When done, the chicken is tender and juicy.  The portion is usually generous so my advice is not to eat any heavy meals before having a dakgalbi meal.  At some restaurants, they may even add rice to the remaining dakgalbi and turn it into dakgalbi fried rice!

Dakgalbi is a very flavourful dish that is sweet, salty and spicy at the same time.  That is also one reason why it is popular amongst the general population.  It was said that sweet potato and rice cakes were not part of the original recipe.  Sweet potato, not only added to the sweetness of the dish, it was used as a gauge as to whether the meat is cooked.  When the sweet potato turns soft and edible, it means that the meat is already cooked too.  How interesting!

Getting there: Point A refers to the position of Chuncheon Station and Point B is the Dakgalbi street. 

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