I’ve long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime ‘associates,’ food, for me, has always been an adventure ― Anthony Bourdain,
Searching for Chuncheon Dak Galbi Street
We find Chuncheon after a longer-than-expected drive through holiday and road construction-aided traffic. Yes, I shouldn’t have gone driving like a salmon against the waves of other eager drivers looking to see Korea’s wonderful Gangwon Province. But I’m a hungry man and want to visit a place famous for my favorite Korean dish – dak galbi. Is it going to be worth the trouble? A little background will explain why we’ve come all this way.
Just Dinner, after a Walk and Ride
I’ve written about dak galbi’s Dinner for Two mantra as an insight into Korean food culture, and feel like my words wouldn’t be worthy without visiting the place where the dish got its start. As with most original locations, we know this trip might be met with feelings that it’s too touristy and overblown but for me, it’s for a special meal. After all, it’s just dinner. There’s no need to make a fuss, right?
After sitting through road construction-aided gridlock for hours, negative feelings stir around inside me. Maybe this adventure isn’t worth the hassle, and turning back is maybe a better option. Thankfully, we deal with the traffic and arrive in Chuncheon with time to spare before our goal-fulfilling dinner. We celebrate first with a bike ride and walk along the Soyang River through some truly charming parts of this little city. Riverside walks and rides are always wonderful when the sun is cooperating and not too powerful.
Dak Galbi Street
The hunger grows as we walk and enjoy a coffee at a spot overlooking the river. I’m also starting to anticipate the thought of meeting my favorite Korean food at its source. The car eases through the small-town traffic and finds an underground parking garage, something every town could use in this space-challenged country. We find “Dak Galbi Street” shortly after the sun has gone down and when everyone else’s appetite has drawn them towards dinner as well.
More of an alleyway than street, my feelings harken back to times inside toy stores when I’d follow Mom and Dad around shopping malls in the hopes that we’d stop at a toy store. This is the moment I’m waiting for and of course, I’ll get a toy in the form of a truly wonderful meal. We walk through and immediately, familiar smells surround our noses. This place is like Chicken Heaven and full of restaurants that are here to fill our bellies with something good. Eventually settling on a place with no line outside, we find a seat just in time to snag the last table.
Good Stamp, Convince Me
Some corn-flavored makgeolli gets us started and we look around at the happy faces of families and friends who are here from all over Korea. Outside, a line starts to form and convinces me as the confirmation necessary to put a good stamp on this restaurant. Hopefully the food would live up to the hype and we’re about to find out. Our uncooked meal quickly gets places on the table and the waitress-cook ignites the flame to get things rolling. My mind loses those minutes and seconds watching the steam rise and the dak galbi cooks to the point where she gives us the “okay” to get started.
I’ve eaten great, good and bad dak galbi in this country and rank my palate up there with the best. First impressions from my first bite of the exquisitely marinated chicken are hard to capture with words. It’s probably the most tender and hottest in temperature I’ve ever encountered. Nappa cabbage and a variety of onions provide the perfect crunch with large rice noodles completing the experience. Sliced sweet potatoes are there for an extra bit of color if that is even necessary. The sauce holds that perfect balance between spicy and sweet and leaves that subtle, oh so wonderful burning sensation around my lips that only the best spicy foods can bring.
Traveling for Food
This is truly a food adventure and a memory I will always smile about while imagining those tastes and smells. As we search for the car underground, I fail to realize that this meal in Chuncheon will be the best dak galbi in my life and future creations will work hard to reach it. I’ve come out of this recharged and comfortably full, enjoying the post-meal euphoria as it wears away. The lip-burn will follow for at least and hour during our customary “meal walk-off.” This experience with Chuncheon Dak Galbi proves that traveling for food is okay, as long as the meal holds up.
Like a great writer once mentioned in a guest post here, some of my favorite experiences have involved food. It’s an essential part of every day so why not make it worthwhile? Seeing Chuncheon for its dak galbi was truly a journey with bumps along the way, but certainly an experience. As we pull away from the scene and begin the search for a room that night, a moment during our meal comes to mind. Christina asked if the food was worth driving all this way. She waits for my answer as I savored those last precious bites.
“Absolutely!” I responded without a thought.
What do you think of dak galbi? Ever tried it? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section below:)
I’ve written a lot more about Korea and would love for you to read those stories on that wonderful country.
Getting to Chuncheon
Courtesy of Korea Tourism
Train: If wishing to visit Chuncheon via train, Seoul’s Gyeongchun Line operates trains from the city to Chuncheon. Trains run from Cheongnyangni Station to Chuncheon all day between 5:25 a.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Bus: Bus travelers can visit Chuncheon from the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal with departures every 15 minutes betweet 6:00 a.m. and 9:20 p.m. Buses also run from Sangbong Bus Terminal between 5:40 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. The journey from both terminals runs about an hour and a half but keep traffic in mind. We got stuck in some pretty big jams and travel time more than doubled.
Getting to Chuncheon Dak Galbi Street
Courtesy of Korea Tourism
Bus: Across from Chuncheon Intercity Bus Terminal, buses No. 7, 9, 64, or 64-2 will take you there. You’ll arrive after a 10 minute ride to Chuncheon’s Myeong-dong stop. Train travelers can take a bus from the front of Chuncheon Station. City bus 63 will take you to Chuncheon’s Myeong-dong after about 10 minutes. From Namchuncheon Station, take city buses 1, 32, 32-1, 35, or 67 and get off at Chuncheon’s Myeong-dong after a 15 min ride.
Taxi: You can taxi from the Bus Terminal and arrive at Myeong Dong in 5 minutes. Fares run between 4-5,000 won. Leaving from Chuncheon Station? You can also get to Myeong Dong in 5 min from there with roughly the same fare. It takes about 10 min from Namchuncheon Station and costs about 4,000 won.