Friday, December 15, 2017

Local Delicacies in Pyeongchang

" First we eat, then we do everything else." 
- M.F.K. Fisher

One of the joys of traveling is the opportunity to taste and appreciate local delicacy. Korea is surrounded mostly surrounded by the sea and 70% of the land is mountainous. Regions within Korea are bounded by steep mountain ranges and rivers. Thus, climate conditions vary within these regions and hence, there is a great variety of natural produce. During our winter trip to Pyeongchang, we got to taste and enjoy the various local delicacies as recommended by our pension hosts. 
Hwangtae (Dried Pollack)
 
Pyeongchang is the birthplace of yellow dried pollack. The fish is left to dry for weeks under the winter sun and it can get as tough as cowhide. In fact, dried pollack is considered the national delicacy. Our pension host recommended this place and even drove us to the restaurant. This place must be very popular for there is always a constant stream of diners walking into the restaurant. 
Hwangtae contains almost twice as much protein as fresh pollack due to the lengthy freeze-dying process. It is also a high-nutrient, low cholesterol health food. It is rich in amino acids, which is believed to aid the liver to recover from heavy drinking. 
Hanwoo Beef
Hanwoo is one of the four indigenous Korean breeds and it is regarded as a premium beef because of its high palatability and desired chewiness. Hoengseong County in Gangwon-do is best known for its hanwoo cattle, where the environment is well-suited for cattle farming. 
You get to choose your own meat from the butcher or buy from the pre-packaged section, then head to a table and grill the meat for a small table fee, which includes an assorted variety of banchan. 
The meat literally melts in your mouth, yum!
Osam Bulgogi 
Osam bulgogi is a dish made from squid and pork belly, marinated in a blend of seasonings and then cooked over a grill with vegetables. This dish is well-known for its texture, hence making it the ideal dish to eat with rice and/or goes well with wine. In fact, according to this report, a new food alley for this dish will be developed near Alpensia Resort, the main venue for the Winter Olympics. 
Dalgakbi
Dakgalbi (spicy stir-fried chicken) is not only a representative dish of Chuncheon, but also famous across the entire nation. Listening to the sizzling sound made from stir-frying the marinated chicken in gochujang-based sauce within the cast iron pan will make you salivate! Nothing goes to waste in this dish, for the remaining sauce is used for making fried rice after devouring the grilled chicken. 

These are just some of the Korean cuisines that we tasted over winter in Pyeongchang. I will be back with more local cuisines as I sort out our Korea adventures, stay tuned!


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Royal Cuisine: Jihwaja 지화자 , A Taste of Joseon Dynasty

With over 5000 years of history, royal cuisine is the essence of Korean food culture having been passed down by word of mouth of court cooks and royal descendants as well as the records written on royal feast. Royal cuisine was prepared by the best cooks in the court with quality ingredients sourced from across the country. Having reached its peak during Joseon Dynasty, there are still 7 traditional restaurants in today serving the royal cuisine that has been inherited over generations so that more people can enjoy the taste and art of royal cuisine. We decided on Jihwaja, which was the first restaurant specialising in royal cuisine in the country. 
The entrance to Jihwaja.
Directions to Jihwaja
There are a couple of ways to get there:
By Subway
* Alight at Anguk Station, Exit #5 and walk for 50m straight to SK Hub Plaza. Jihwaja is located on the first floor of the building. 
* Alight at Gyeongbokgung Station, Exit #3. Go straight for 1.2km, approx 20 min walk. Jihwaja is located on the left side of the street.
By Bus
* Gyeonggisanggo High School bus stop, green bus: 1711, 7016 and 7018. 
We reached slightly ahead of our reservation timing, so we ventured into the mini gallery next door which documents the history of Jihwaja and the founder, Master Hwang Hae-Sung. The late Master Hwang Hae-Sung, was appointed master of royal culinary art when the Joseon Dynasty royal cuisine was proclaimed part of the Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Korea (no.38). Jihwaja is run by the family and her daughter, Han Bok Ryeo is also known for her commitment to the culinary tradition. 
Posing on the Eojwa (the King's royal throne during the Joseon Dynasty) with Irworobongdo, a Korean folding screen with the landscape painting of a sun and moon with five peaks. The sun and moon symbolise the king and the queen while the five peaks denotes a mythical place. 
We were greeted by this gigantic porcelain vase when we stepped into the restaurant. We were then shown to our table at a little corner, giving us a lot of privacy for picture taking. 
A place card which detailed about the history of royal cuisine, as well as the founders of Jihwaja. 
Leecher kept saying that he is Jeonha (전하) aka King since this is a meal fit for a king. 
For appetizers, we had pumpkin soup, water kimchi and also, sauteed vegetables wrapped in pancakes and cucumber-stuffed dumpling. The pumpkin soup was so good and sweet. My first try at mulkimchi and the broth tasted so refreshing. The veggie wrap was really chewy and needless to say, they are delicious yet healthy. 
The highlight of the day - the royal casserole with vegetables and meat. I was talking to the server when I got startled by the fire and she was, in turn startled by me. 
The royal cuisine are very healthy and nutritious as they are prepared with only natural ingredients and royal culinary techniques, without using any MSG, artificial flavours or additives. As the server was explaining the dishes, I had a vision of Dae Jang Geum (大长今) preparing my dishes at the back of my mind. 
This was indeed a meal fit for a king for we struggled to finish all the dishes placed in front of us which included the casserole, glass noodles with sauteed vegetables and several other seasonal delicacies. 
We finished off the meal with dessert and tea.
We were lucky that the chef came out of the kitchen to greet the customers, so we took the opportunity to take picture with her and also, thanked her for the amazing meal. 
Jihwaja 지화자
Address: 125, Jahamun-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Tel: +82-2-2269-5834
Reservations are required

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Ski Resorts in Korea


There is just something magical about winter. It could be the smell of holiday season lingering in the air; it could be the snow-covered pavements; it could be the warmth from the cup of coffee that you hold in your hands. Winter season in Korea typically lasts from December to early March and with temperatures falling to sub-zero degrees, it is the best time to head to a ski resort and enjoy the winter activities. Gangwon-do province is surrounded by lush mountains and pristine waters. Due to the wet winter winds across Taebaeksan Mountains, the province gets a lot of snow hence a lot of ski resorts are located in the area, making it the winter sports capital. Boasting beautiful snow-capped views, Gangwon-do is an ideal winter getaway.
YongPyong Resort
Opened in 1975, YongPyong Resort is the birthplace of the development and popularization of skiing in Korea. It has hosted various international events and is currently one of the host stadiums for the Winter Olympics Games. With a ski area of 16,200,000m², the resort has 28 slopes and 14 lift facilities. The main slope, "Rainbow Slopes" will be there the Alpine Skiing competition is held for the coming games. 
On one of the 14 chairlifts, which took us to the start of the slopes.
Address: 715 Olympic-ro, Daegwallyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do
Website: www.yongpyong.co.kr
*image credit to KTO
Phoenix Park 
As the venue for free-style skiing and snowboarding events of the Winter Olympic Games, this clearly shows that Phoenix Park is equipped with world-class facilities, particularly those that address the thrilling need for speed of ski and snowboard enthusiasts. Of the total 21 slopes that allow skiers to experience dynamic speed, 12 have been officially approved by the FIS. The beginner course "Panorama" is 2.4km long and reaches the top of the mountain.
Address: 174 Taegi-ro, Bongpyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do
Website: www.phoenixpark.co.kr
*image credit to KTO
High1 Resort
High1 Resort offers 18 slopes, including a 4.2km beginner slope that starts at the peak of Jijangsan Mountain at an altitude of 1,345m. Three gondolas and 7 chairlifts knit the slopes like spider web to maximise your winter sports experience. The facilities have been designed to ensure safely for everyone, including those with disabilities. The resort also has extensive accommodation facilities with a variety of convenience facilities, as well as a casino and golf course to make your stay even more enjoyable. 
Address: 265 High1-gil, Sabuk-eup, Jeongseon-gun, Gangwon-do
Website: www.high1.co.kr
*image credit to KTO
Alpensia Resort
As the main venue for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics Games, Alpensia Resort is often known as the "Alps of Asia". Situated 700m above sea level in Daegwallyeong, Alpensia offers 6 slopes of various gradients allowing visitors to enjoy thrilling rides. The "Foxtrot" and "Echo" slopes are advanced courses certified by FIS while the "Bravo" slope is designed for beginners. 

Alpensia is also an integrated tourist complex that is open all year round, featuring european-styled accommodations, a convention center, water park and a 45-hole golf course. You can enjoy skiing in winter or golfing during spring/autumn. Nearby the resort, there is also a marvellous National Park and other tourist sites that will make your trip even more interesting. 
Address: 325 Solbong-ro, Daegwallyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do
Website: www.alpensiaresort.co.kr
With the opening of the KTX Ganggyeong Line, visitors can reach these resorts within 2 hours. Remember to get your Pyeongchang KORAIL pass to explore these areas!

Monday, December 4, 2017

KTX Ganggyeong Line: Bringing you to Pyeongchang Winter Olympics

Times flies and now, we are fast approaching the last month of the year. It is now less than 70 days away from the opening of Pyeongchang Winter Olympics! During my winter trip to Korea, I shared on how you can travel to Pyeongchang from Incheon Airport via the express bus, which took us 3 hours to reach Alpensia Resort. Then, it was announced that a new KTX line - KTX Ganggyeong Line - will be constructed to facilitate visitors who are travelling to Pyeongchang from Incheon Airport or Seoul, reducing the journey time to less than 2 hours. With this new service, Pyeongchang is now more accessible. The trains will stop at Pyeongchang Station, Jindu Station and Gangneung Station near the host city. Now, I am happy to share that KTX Ganggyeong Line is now open for booking! 
KTX Ganggyeong Line: Ticket Purchase & Fares
Tickets can be pre-purchased from KORAIL Talk (코레일톡), KORAIL website or at the ticket counters of the railway stations. Those who purchase a ticket during this period may receive 20% discount. That is not all - for ticket holders, you are eligible to board the free shuttle bus service from the KTX station to the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games venues. 
image credit: pyeongchang2018.com
International visitors also have the option of purchasing the PyeongChang KORAIL pass, where the pass can be used unlimited times on the KTX and other KORAIL-operated trains throughout Korean between 1st Feb till 25th Mar 2018. 
KTX Ganggyeong Line: Journey Time 
image credit: nowpyeongchang.com
Incheon International Airport → Pyeongchang (Jinbu Station): 1h 38 minutes 
Incheon International Airport → Gangneung Station: 1h 52 minutes 
image credit: nowpyeongchang.com
Gimpo International Airport → Jinbu/Gangneung Station: within 1.5h 
(transfer at Seoul station is required)
image credit: nowpyeongchang.com
Seoul → Jinbu/Gangneung Station: 58 minutes
KTX Ganggyeong Line: Frequency & Time Table
A total of 51 trains are expected to run daily during Games time. Each train is able to accommodate up to 410 passengers. During Pyeongchang 2018, KTX will transport up to nearly 21,000 passengers each day from Incheon Airport to Jinbu and Gangneung stations. 
image credit: pyeongchang2018.com
KTX Ganggyeong Line: Stations
Jinbu station is only 10 minutes away from Alpensia Olympic Park and Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies will take place. Meanwhile, Gangneung station is 15 minutes ride from Gangneung Olympic Park, where all of the ice sports will take place. 

Last but not least, the new KTX train will make its first public journey on 22nd Dec. There isn't much time left, so grab your tickets soon! 
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