Image: One of the must-eat dishes in Pyeongchang, Gangwon-do Province, is dried pollock, known as hwangtae, a natural ingredient made after a series of freezes and thaws. The most-beloved dish made of dried pollock is pollock soup, or hwangtae haejangguk.
The natural environment of Gangwon-do Province is the foundation of the province's famous cuisine.
Blessed with mountains, sea and land, the province is home to the Taebaek-sanmaek Mountain Range, the backbone of the Korean Peninsula, that marches down the center of the province. The Gangwon-do Provincial Government recently announced a list of 30 famous dishes from the province in honor of the upcoming PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. They aren't fancy, but they are solid and delicious, full of heart, and they're made from pure natural ingredients.
The representative dishes from the province include bulgogi marinated beef, buckwheat pasta noodles, freeze-dried pollack (hwangtae) noodles from Pyeongchang, Chodang soft tofu, a seafood stew in a hot pot from Gangneung, and Jeongseon's famous bibimbap mixed rice that has thistles, boiled pork and bellflower root. The best dishes that bear the taste of the land are pollack soup (hwangtae haejangguk), Chodang soft tofu and potato dough soup (gamja ongsimi).
■ From the mountains: freeze-dried pollack (hwangtae), a product of the Taebaek-sanmaek Mountain Range
One of the dishes you shouldn't miss in Pyeongchang is the pollack soup.
hwangtae, is a local specialty made by repeatedly freezing and thawing the fish more than 20 times on wooden racks where the freshly caught and gutted pollack are hung. The mountain pass town of Daegwallyeong in the Taebaek-sanmaek Mountain Range is particularly famous for this. The fish develops a fluffy texture and a rich flavor, and makes for the perfect hangover cure. Daegwallyeong, the biggest source of dried pollack in the country, has the best natural conditions to make it, because of the huge snowfall each year and the great temperature variance between the day and nighttime.
In most restaurants around Pyeongchang, various kinds of pollack dishes are served. There's seasoned pollack, grilled pollack, steamed pollack and a soup, too. The freeze-dried hwangtae pollack restaurants in the region have developed new menu items for the non-Korean Olympic athletes and tourists expected to visit this year. There's a new crispy deep-fried pollack cutlet and a pollack burger, too, where the patty is replaced with a delicious slice of dried pollack.
■ From the sea: soft tofu (sundubu) from the East Sea
“My restaurant is not an eatery that serves any kind of fancy food.”
Kim Hun-hoi runs the Wonjo Chodang Sundubu restaurant, a third-generation family business in Gangneung, Gangwon-do Province. His restaurant serves a wide range of soft tofu dishes, known locally as chodang sundubu.
Many people might be surprised to hear a restaurant proprietor make such a statement. However, there’s a different nuance to his beliefs concerning tofu and, more importantly, there’s a secret behind how his family has carried on the time-honored traditions embodied in his restaurant's menu items to this day.
“We don’t use any seasoning or chemical additives to create certain flavors. We just serve the pure flavor of the soy beans,” said the owner. "The secret here lies in fresh soy beans, seawater and cooking skills handed down through the generations,” he said.
This kind of soft tofu (chodang) is made after squeezing the beans, boiling the soy milk and curdling the soy milk from the beans with seawater from the East Sea. It tastes like absolute perfection.
"Block tofu with rice, along with other side dishes, is the most popular. It doesn't taste that strong, so non-Koreans can really enjoy it, too," the owner said.
There are about 20 tofu restaurants in Chodang Village that make soft tofu this way. The village is about 10 minutes from the Gangneung Ice Arena, the Olympic venue that will host the ice sports during the upcoming Winter Olympic Games. It's also less than 30 minutes from Pyeongchang, the main Olympic host city.
Image: Chodang tofu, one of Gangneung’s must-eat culinary items, boasts a tender texture and natural flavor. The tofu is made in a manner so that seawater from the East Sea is used to curdle the soy milk squeezed from the beans. It's served along with soy sauce and perfectly fermented kimchi.
■ From the land: a bowl of potato dough soup (gamja ongsimi)
Potato dough soup (gamja ongsimi) is made by grinding the potatoes and mixing the curdled chunks with the sediment. This allows the chef to create a sort of ball of potato powder, from which they can then make the noodles by hand. The story behind potato dough soup embodies one of the most difficult post-war moments of modern Korean history.
"Back in the day, rice in Gangwon-do was really in short supply. So we turned to potatoes as an alternative crop, which grew aplenty on our farms. Then they came up with a new dish to feed the families. My mother told me she used to eat potato dough noodles as a child, as did all of the other children in the neighborhood," said Choi Dong Gyu, owner of Gangneung Gamja Ongsim, a local restaurant specializing in the dish.
"Potato dough noodles are undoubtedly one of the most popular dishes among tourists here. It's a simple but filling dish, and even more delicious when coupled with some cabbage or diced radish kimchi," the owner said.
Image: gamja ongsimi is a simple but filling dish, and even more delicious when coupled with some cabbage or diced radish kimchi.