Thursday, August 1, 2013

eating kongnamul gukbap in jeonju

After the 30-dish hanjeongsik (see previous post), the next thing that I had to eat in Jeonju City was kongnamul gukbap. I was armed with a list of restaurants that specialize in it, but I quickly realized that it was useless since hardly any signages were in English.

Luckily, it turned out that Dongmun Culture Street, just a five-minute stroll from our guesthouse, was Kongnamul Gukbap Central. There were three specialty restaurants within spitting distance of one another, and they were all open 24 hours a day. We chose the biggest one. I don't know its name, but the cute bean sprouts on the neon sign seemed a happy harbinger.

Yez, kongnamul gukbap is soybean sprout soup with rice. Doesn't sound very appetizing, but I was assured by the interweb that it was well worth the trip to Jeonju just to eat it. It was a very cheap breakfast for only 6,000 won (US$5.30) per order. There were seven of us sharing three orders, so it was around US$2.25 per person.

The first thing we noticed was The Tower.

Like in every Korean restaurant anywhere in the world, as soon as we sat down we were presented with some banchan. During our four days in South Korea, the cabbage and radish kimchis and baby octopus (nakji bokkeum) were ubiquitous even in the capital Seoul, but it was only in Jeonju that I encountered the tiny fermented shrimp, saeujeot.

Our soup arrived piping hot in stone pots called tukbaeki.

Although we only ordered three sets, each of us was given a raw egg in a metal bowl.

None of the staff spoke English, but through sign language we were instructed to tear up some roasted and lightly salted laver seaweed and sprinkle the pieces on top of the egg.

Then take about three spoonfuls of soup and mix everything in the metal bowl. The steaming hot, mildly-flavored broth will effectively cook the egg, but not too much.

The eggy soup was good on its own, but with the crisp sprouts and fragrant white rice, and a dab of fermented shrimp, it was fantastic.

Kongnamul gukbap is probably one of the best things I've ever had for breakfast. The broth itself is quite bland, but the seaweed and saeujeot provided the salty elements, while the kimchi gave it a spicy kick and the octopus was a sweet touch. Each mouthful was a different flavor, depending on the combination of ingredients. And the naughty egg yolk (cholesterol) and soybean sprouts (uric acid) made the whole experience pretty exciting for me.

It's the perfect hangover food, by the way.

On the way out, we saw tubs of octopus and kimchi that they used for their banchan. I wanted to bury my face in them.

Learn more about kongnamul gukbap here.

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