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The Holy Trinity of Foods in Jeonju: Jeonju Bibimbap, Congnamul-gukbap, and Hanjeongsik
Date 05-11-2018 15:56
The Holy Trinity of Foods in Jeonju:
Jeonju Bibimbap, Congnamul-gukbap, and Hanjeongsik

If you tell Koreans that you’ve just been to Jeonju, they will expect that you have had lots of delicious food while traveling. Jeonju is known as “the town of tastes.” The city boasts of a well-developed culinary tradition based on the seafood of the West Sea, the grains grown on the fertile soil of the Honam Plains, and the wild herbs and vegetables from mountains that flocked into the city. Jeonju was also home to the Jeolla Provincial Office during the Joseon period; thus, locals developed, early on, courteous and formal ways of entertaining government officials. The “holy trinity” of foods in Jeonju that you must taste are the jeonju-bibimbap, congnamul-gukbap, and hanjeongshik. These foods are great ways for you to discover the tastes of Jeonju.

A Tasty Mix ‘n’ Match of Diverse and Colorful Ingredients in a Single Bowl: Jeonju-Bibimbap

Jeonju is not only the name of a city; it also refers to a particular style of how bibimbap is prepared. The jeonju-bibimbap features extra-glutinous steamed rice that is to be mixed with ingredients of all colors placed on it. This single bowl of rice features some 30 ingredients in total including beansprouts, beef tartare, eggs, spinach, and pyogo mushrooms. The colors of these diverse ingredients mingle together to present a dish that is delectable both to the palate and the eyes. Remarkably, the jeonju-bibimbap creates a new taste by bringing together all these ingredients that manage to retain their distinct flavors even while they create a new taste. It is no wonder that bibimbap is so popular among foreigners traveling to Korea. Michael Jackson, who tasted bibimbap for the first time while on his flight to Korea, had bibimbap in almost every meal during his stay here.

The jeonju-bibimbap may be served quickly, but the quality and care that went into it makes it incomparable to any fast food. The rice is steamed not merely in plain water but in a deeply flavorful oxtail stock. Vegetables such as carrots, mushrooms, and more are sliced into thin strips and separately stir-fried in vegetable oil. Leafy vegetables are placed on the outer edge, while gochujang (chili pepper paste) and a raw egg yolk are always at the center. To enjoy the jeonju-bibimbap properly, place the chili pepper paste and mix every ingredient together with a spoon, churning it up and down repeatedly.

Courtesy of the Jeonju Municipal Government

A Hearty Bowl of Soup Sure to Warm Your Heart: Congnamul-gukbap

The congnamul-gukbap, Jeonju’s signature beansprout soup, is served piping hot along with steamed rice in an earthenware bowl. The soup broth is pure and tasty, while the beansprouts in it retain their crunchy texture. This hearty, hot soup is beloved all over Korea as a hangover treat. Beansprouts are one of the 10 must-taste flavors of Jeonju. The beansprouts grown here have thicker stems and straighter shapes than beansprouts grown elsewhere. Beansprouts have long been used as a popular ingredient in local cuisine in Jeonju because they helped prevent and alleviate bloody vomits associated with the liver fluke, a common local disease in the past.

Humble diners serving the congnamul-gukbap are everywhere in Jeonju. The three most popular ones are Sambaekjib, Waengyijib, and Hyeondaeok. Sambaekjib offers soft-boiled eggs as part of the piping hot soup contained in earthenware bowls. The congnamul-gukbap at Waengyijib is particularly spicy with lots of green chili pepper added, and goes especially well with moju, a traditional unfiltered rice wine unique to Jeonju. Hyeondaeok’s congnamul-gukbap boasts extra umami with chunks of squid added.

Foods That Make You Feel Like Royalty: Hanjeongsik

Hanjeongsik refers to traditional-style table d’hote menus in Korea. Famous restaurants renowned for their unique hanjeongsik are found everywhere across Korea, but Jeonju is especially popular for its hanjeongsik, which serves well over 30 different dishes at once. Jeonju’s hanjeongsik includes steamed rice, light soups, and “basic banchan,” as well as rare wild herbs and leaves, bulgogi, galbijjim (steamed, not grilled, beef or pork ribs), nokdujeon (mung bean paste pancakes), jjigae (stews), and guyi (grilled meat, fish/seafood and/or vegetables). Hanjeongsik in Jeonju features different ingredients in different seasons such as wild herbs collected from local mountains in the spring and samgyetang (whole-chicken stew containing ginseng) in the summer.

Hanjeongsik differs from Western-style table d’hote in that the former serves every dish at once. As you face a gigantic table topped with endless arrays of dishes and bowls, you will naturally wonder where you should start. Do not rush yourself. Give yourself enough time and patience to enjoy at least a bite of every dish presented. Hanjeongsik chefs in Jeonju prepare every single dish with extreme care.

Courtesy of the Jeonju Municipal Government