The Best Grub

This week, for the Friday5, Pogo asks:

5 outstanding places to eat – where & why?

Well, now, this is slightly different from the last food-based F5 question, in that it asks where are the five best places to eat, period. I’m going to limit the answer to places I have eaten in the last year, and which are within normal travel distance for me in a given week…

These days, I have to say my favorite place to eat out is a little speciality place near Jeonbuk University. Often I meet Lime at the front gate of the University, and we walk the short distance up the street to The Dalk Doritang Place. It beats me what the place is actually called, but the broth is thick and spicy, the potato pieces are big, and the ladies there know us well enough to ask, “The usual?” when we walk in.

But of course, when we’re downtown, there’s a Little Japanese Place that can’t be beat. The food isn’t too expensive, and the chobap—especially the tofu chobap, which is a tofu shell stuffed with mildly flavoured rice—is to die for.

I also know a wonderful Beg Ban (side-dish) speciality shop downtown. Actually, I think their speciality is something else but when you order Beg Ban (which literally means “100 side-dishes”, meaning “many side dishes”) these ladies load the table with all kinds of wonderful stuff, including a wonderful soup and one whole fried fish for each person at the table. And they usually bring a different type of fish for each person, no less. That place is just great.

Another mainstay for me is the chain Shinpo Woori Mandu, which is kind of like Korean-style fast food, but not in the hamburger sense. It’s a Korean chain, and their speciality is dumplings, but you can get all kinds of stuff. I really like their kimchi dumplings, but I have to admit that my personal addiction is to their Be-Bim Mandu (“Dumpling-Mix” plate) which comes with this spicy noodle-salad mix and eight fried dumplings. You don’t really have to mix the dumplings but you do mix the salad with the red spicy sauce and jjolmyeon noodles. It’s a good side dish with soup if you’re not eating alone, or can serve as a snack for two, as well. (If you’re crazy, you can also eat one plate alone for a meal… but I get the feeling it’s unusual to so do.) Now, the dumplings aren’t prepared in exactly the same way in every shop; nor is the dipping sauce. The best one I know of in Jeonju is near the Jeonju Cinema, and not the one near Primus Cinema. An alright alternative is over near the DVD-rental place past Poongnyun Bakery, near the bus stop. And yes, this really is how we give directions in Jeonju.

Finally, and I have to say this with my deepest conviction, my home is a good place to eat. Ever since I’ve arrived in Korea, I’ve been cooking more and more at home… I mean, how else can I have what passes for Indian or Thai food? Jeonju only just recently got a Thai restaurant, and aside from the excessively overpriced (though still an occasional treat) Outback Steak House, most attempts at non-Korean Food have been limited to junk food like pizza and burgers, or dismal failures at replicating foreign cuisines which I myself can best. Some of my Korean cooking is getting really pretty good, too, though I need to work on it some more.

I have a couple of runners up for this category. During the school year, I often eat at the Professors’ Cafeteria on campus, where the food is 100% good about 75% of the time, and at least 50% good 100% of the time. (Except they always run out of the best stuff, and they never do anything good with squid.)

Another choice place to eat is at my friend John’s, should you be so lucky as to be invited to his place for dinner. He’s got an over now, over in Kyeongju, and he’s become a regular kitchen ajumma. He’s making all kinds of food, and everything I ate while staying with him was justr incredible.

Finally, just after the end of camp, Myoung Jae, John, and Patrick showed me a little German Beer and Sausage Place that apparently has a couple of locations in Jeonju; they have fresh and decent beer—I can’t recall if it’s locally brewed, or German, but it was very different and quite nice—and lightly broiled sausage. I can’t say the eating is amazing, but it was a pleasant change and quite out of the ordinary, and the beer was quite nice.

If you want to know what other Friday Fivers are eating, check out the list of participants in the right sidebar.

2 thoughts on “The Best Grub

  1. You may be the only non-Korean (and non-Asian) people who like kimchi stuff (as long as I know). Kimchi is the most overrated Korean product ever (by Koreans)! Many Koreans still think that foreigners like Kimchi; well, I’ve met quite a lot kimchi haters in America…

  2. Eh? Well, that’s funny.

    As for me, I find the opposite is true in many cases: Koreans tend to imagine non-Koreans cannot eat kimchi and hate it. They imagine, for some reason, that Korean food is the spiciest in the world, and that foreigners—or at least white foreigners—cannot eat spicy food. Don’t get me wrong, given the assumption I think it’s very nice of them… I just don’t understand exactly where the stereotype comes from. I mean, my girlfriend says it’s partly from TV: on TV shows, some poor foreigners are occasionally televised trying kimchi for the first time and making shocked faces. Well, my mom would do this too.

    Meanwhile, most of the foreigners who live in Korea, who walk into your average little 식당 and, in Korean, order one of the spicier dishes on the menu, are quite fine with the dish being prepared in the normal way. As for me, I take great delight in informing older folks that some specimens of cajun, Indian, and other cuisines are much spicier than Korean food. Those who believe me usually are a little surprised and then nod, understanding why Korean food isn’t such a challenge for me.

    For the record, most every foreigner I know in Korea (and several who no longer live here) eats kimchi regularly, and can tell good stuff from bad stuff. My favorite is the really fresh cabbage kimchi with the slightly nutty flavour that can be had out near Mireuk Temple, followed by cucumber kimchi and a really good water-kimchi. Regular old sour cabbage kimchi comes in 4th, though it’s the type I eat most often and cook most with.

    Still, I have to admit that you’re right about how kimchi is overrated by Koreans: one of the weirdest nationalist-urban legends I’ve ever heard is that kimchi was protective against SARS. Even some relatively intelligent [Korean] people I know had to pause for a second and think about it before snickering and dismissing it.

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