What happens when seven hungry bellies, two cars, and a free weekend (it’s a miracle!) decide to get together? Playtime. No holds barred.
We left for the East Coast of Korea on a Saturday morning, at 7:30 AM, sharp, although a serious lack of planning meant we had to find and book an accommodation, research restaurants, and do some last-minute weather forecast checking somewhere along the way between Seoul and wherever it was we would end up on the East Coast. Thankfully for the rest of the group, there was a sensible one among us who took on this important task for the duration of our weekend trip; if you’re curious, it wasn’t me.
Gangwon Province is home to some of my favorite things in the world: picturesque mountains that form the Taebaek Mountain Range, sandy white beaches, an abundance of fresh seafood, potatoes, tofu made with seawater, and tender local beef. From Seoul, most of the major destinations along the coast are located within a four-hour drive, which makes a weekend trip totally doable. This is our second trip to the East Coast this month; three weeks ago, we spent three days in Donghae City, but after some discussion on the road, we decided to head to Yangyang County this time, famed for its pine mushrooms, fish, and its sunrises.
We were famished by the time we parked next to a rice paddy across from the restaurant which, as you can see, looks just like one of the many old-school Korean houses you can commonly see in the countryside. The big signboard and our trusted phone app ensured us that we were at the right place. This restaurant has been feeding hungry mouths for three generations. It specializes in Gangwon-style buckwheat noodles (메밀국수), buckwheat jelly (메밀묵), stuffed buckwheat pancakes (메밀전병), an intensely nutty house-made soft tofu (촌두부), potato pancakes (감자전) and boiled pork platter (편육).
We went with the pork platter, tofu, potato pancake and buckwheat noodles. And, not long after, our food started arriving. Plate after plate of banchan, the mains we ordered and a bottle of chilled corn makgeolli, a regional specialty.
When done right, like the one you see in the photo, pyeonyuk or sliced boiled meat is tender, juicy and flavorful. When your fellow eaters–three picky Frenchmen who have been in Korea long enough to have had (but not always enjoyed) some of the more representative Korean fare and a hard-to-please local foodie with a discerning palate–begin to nod in silent agreement all the while reaching out for more, that’s when you know you’ve come to the right place.
I love a good gamjajeon (potato pancakes) more than any other Korean pancake made with a wheat-based batter, including the much-loved pajeon and kimchijeon. All you need, really, are potatoes, salt and cooking oil. When I make gamjajeon at home, I serve it with a simple dipping sauce of soy sauce and vinegar with a sprinkling of chili flakes on top.
A confession: when I’m eating with other people, I try to be polite and consciously stop myself from diving for the crispier outer crust. When I’m at home, alone, I start around the edges and do the full circle before going for the middle.
The house-made soft tofu was an absolute star, fresh and nutty and tasting like the soybeans they were made from. The milky white tofu water in the earthen bowl was also gone by the time the meal was over. Someone drank it straight out of the bowl.
The last dish to arrive was memil guksu, a bowl of housemade buckwheat noodles, simply dressed with plenty of toasted laver flakes, a dollop of what appeared to be a chunky red sauce whose main ingredient was finely-chopped well-fermented red kimchi, and half a hard-boiled egg. The noodles were served with a bowl of ice-cold dongchimi, a mild water-based kimchi made with a radish called dongchimi mu (‘mu’ in Korean means radish), typically made in late fall, when radishes are in season, and eaten in the winter.
We were also given an additional side of some more of the red kimchi sauce and were instructed to add more to our liking, along with the vinegar, sugar, mustard, perilla seed oil that were already on the table. To the noodles, we also added a ladle or two of the cold dongchimi soup for moisture.
Memil guksu is and always will be a humble dish. It tastes like it looks and that is the beauty of it–a meal that tastes like it came from your mom’s kitchen. A thoroughly satisfying experience.
After the phenomenal meal on the road, which cost us a grand total of 50 bucks, we headed off to Naksan Beach for some sun, surf and sand.
Followed by this.
Hill Star Pension
Seo-myeon Naehyeon-li, 30-2, Yangyang-gun, Gangwon-do
강원 양양군 서면 내현리 30-2
Yeonggwangjeong Memil Guksu (영광정 메밀국수)
Ganghyeon-myeon Mulgap-li, 62, Yangyang-gun, Gangwon-do
강원 양양군 강현면 물갑리 62