End of the Line: Chuncheon

by Jacqui

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Fortunate is the food enthusiast with fellow enthusiast friends, especially those who will travel for food. It was my friend Habiba’s idea to journey to Chuncheon for the city’s annual Dak Galbi Festival. Thank you, Habiba! Though Chuncheon boasts a lot of natural beauty, we went for its culinary claim to fame. We met at noon in Seoul on a Sunday and took the Gyeongchun line to the end. Along the way we met a good-tempered man, typically bedecked in hiking civvies, whose first words to us were, “Welcome to Korea!” What a guy.

Habiba’s approach to food is bewitching, and I’m constantly learning from her. She contemplates flavors and how to pair them, and she always has an anecdote or interesting piece of history to share about the ingredients she uses. But the best part about her culinary point of view is that she doesn’t take it too seriously. In Chuncheon, we ate bin dae duk, or savory pancakes made with mung beans and fried so that they crisp at the surface but stay tender at the center. We tore them apart with wooden chopsticks and soaked each piece in salty sauce flecked with red pepper and green onion, alternating between bites of crackly pancake and kimchi and swigs of shitty Korean beer that somehow grows on you despite your best attempts to avoid it. We walked around and made friends, and when we were sufficiently sweaty, we headed to a corner tent for the festival’s main attraction.

Dak galbi is a dish meant to share, and the aroma itself can lure you from a block away. We sat around a circular table with a big flat grill in the center, and soon a woman in a red kerchief delivered a heaping serving of chicken, sweet potato, cabbage, garlic, green onion, and rice cake. Dak galbi’s sauce is thicker and sweeter than gochujang and, like all good sauces, is the magic ingredient of the dish. Our lady used a wide metal spatula to fold it all together, and as it cooked, the rice cake’s edges turned golden and candied. The cabbage relinquished every bit of its sweetness, and when the chicken was ready, we wrapped it in lettuce with grilled garlic like little dak galbi tacos. Dak galbi tacos?! For a nanosecond, I thought the idea was all mine. Not even close. Yes I would travel to Chattanooga, Tennessee for dak galbi tacos. I wonder if I could convince Habiba to join me…

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Photos in color, copyright 2013 Turmeric and Twine.

Photos in black and white, copyright 2013 Something for Sunday.

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