If you need a break from the bustle of Seoul and want to get fed extremely well in a fun environment, you must get yourself to Jeonju. This post focuses on the folk village, but the rest of the city is worth seeing as well and was chosen as a city of Creative Gastronomy as a part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network.
The folk village is also known as a hanok village– hanok refers to the style of traditional Korean house featured in the village (over 800 of them). The village is home to the traditional paper (hanji) museum and the traditional wine museum. These are awesome spots to check out if you’re into history and crafts. But you can’t enjoy a city of gastronomy without sampling a lot that famous food, so that’s was the focus of our trip.
First of all, to get there from Seoul, we took a bus from Nambu bus terminal. I love buses in Korea because they are cheaper than bullet trains and they also make pit stops at these weird and awesome rest areas along the highway. Once we arrived in Jeonju we took a local bus to the folk village.
Alleged to be the best and original home of this famous dish, Jeonju bibimbap is served with a variety of vegetables and side dishes as well as dottori (acorn jelly). Apparently, the main distinguishing factor is that in Jeonju style bibimbap, the rice is cooked with beef broth. We got our bibimbap at the 꽃담집 (flower wall house) a bibimbap restaurant housed in a hanok. It’s gorgeous, and very popular, so don’t be surprised if there’s a bit of a wait to get in.
They have meal sets that include bibimbap, seasoned meat patties, a variety of banchan (or side dishes), soup, as well as some locally produced makgeoli (unfiltered rice wine– my favorite). It’s reasonably priced, delicious, and the atmosphere is unbeatable.
Snacks and street food
Jeonju is also famous for choco pies. PNB prides itself on being one of the oldest Korean bakeries, but also the originator of this iconic treat. There are several PNB bakeries in and around the village, so you have plenty of opportunities to sample their baked treats. Korean baked goods tend to be lighter and chewier because of rice flour blends. Yeasted doughs are uncommon, but interesting flavor combinations are abundant.
Hotteok is another iconic Korean street food that is readily available on the streets of Jeonju. These crispy pancakes are stuffed with honey, brown sugar, nuts, and seeds and cooked on a large griddle. Croquettes, savory stuffed and fried dough, are also found with an incredible variety of fillings at street stands and even in large shops dedicated to the food.
For a modern, western twist to snacking, there’s an incredible little shop called Hawaiian Shaved Ice. They do a multiple flavors of fresh fluffy shaved ice (like the best bingsoo) and even feature some alcohol infused options if that moju wasn’t doing it for you. Hot dogs, s’more inspired desserts, and a very friendly proprietress await you at this little shop.
Normally, I don’t really care for kalguksoo. It’s a dish of fresh cut noodles cooked in a broth with vegetables and often in coastal regions, seafood. The fresh noodles make the broth quite starchy and sometimes floury tasting. Near the end of our day in Jeonju, we discovered a very old noodle shop along one of its streets. The shop seems to have been run by the same lady for decades, and never redecorated in that time. She clearly doesn’t get too many foreign visitors in her shop and seemed delighted to see us. It was also fairly empty when we arrived.
This was the best kalguksoo I’ve ever had. It was perfectly cooked and didn’t taste floury at all. Topped with fresh veggies and seaweed, she added sharp black pepper powder over the top of the dish. I think that made all the difference to neutralize the floury taste. I don’t know how long it will be until the lady retires, but while she’s still in business, definitely check out this no-frills homestyle shop.
As I mentioned before, there are some cool museums to check out in the village. You can also rent a hanbok to get into the traditional feel of things. Some shops also offered traditional school uniform rentals that are in the style students would have worn during Japanese occupation in the early 1900s.
There are plenty of shops with paper and fabric crafts, kitschy little toys and gifts, as well as moju (a blend of makgeoli and Chinese medicinal herbs) and makgeoli to take home as a souvenir. You can also rent motorbikes to tour the village in style. We did just that, it’s a great way to make the rounds and see it all before deciding your day’s itinerary. Some of the hanoks are also guest houses. You can spend the night and sleep on traditional Korean floor mats.
Don’t forget to take some time to enjoy the sculptures and little art pieces throughout the village. And stop to enjoy the traditional houses and the historic cathedral as well. It’s a glimpse into what a typical Korean town might have looked like over a hundred years ago, before major cities in Korea became tall steel and glass. Sit in a pagoda (shoes off!) and enjoy the sunset.