2014 Our stay in Jeonju, South Korea

Once we got out of Seoul, we had more of a language problem. In Jeonju, our first stop, our hotel reception desk had no English-speakers. Somehow we communicated. It was difficult. As we have gotten older we seem less patient than we were in 1993 when we started traveling and everything was new, exciting and fun. But we got a room that we liked so we stayed in Jeonju a total of six days (click here to read about our accommodations). We used the free (free call and free service) translation service by dialing 1330. It was sometimes very, very helpful but (of course) it depended on how good the person answering the English line was (press #2).

We enjoyed walking around the hanok maeul or village. It was in the process of being renovated (or as Dimitri said) rebuilt from the ground up. So some buildings looked very spiffy, in a traditional way. There were few Western-looking waygooks (foreigners) or Ko jang ee, a Korean term that translates as "big nose". But there were lots of Korean tourists.
Looking down on the traditional houses of the hanok village
We liked the location of our hotel because it was outside of the Jeonju Hanok Maeul (village) on a shopping street but very close to walk to the traditional hanok village and around there. We found noodle restaurants  and an egg soufflé (gyeranjjim) for lunch around our hotel but went to the hanok village or further for our dinners.

Jeonju is a foodie landmark because it is the birthplace o bibimbap and offers the definitive version of the dish. On our first night we went to a restaurant famous for bibimbap. Hangukip was on the corner of Paldal Road and King's Portrait Ave. (King's Portait Ave., 2-1), tel. 063-284-2224, www.bibimbab.name). We shared everything and had one Dolsot Bibimbap “sizzling stone pot bibimbap” (KRW 11,000/ US$11) with vegetables, mung bean, jelly and egg. It was very good but the rice at the bottom never turned crispy. That was a disappointment. There were 8 banchan served with it and each of us was given a bean sprout soup and a slightly sweet cold kim chi soup. The sides that we were given were a wild green salad, a green vegetable, a seaweed dish that was excellent, a dish of miniature crabs in a spicy paste sauce, a kim chi and and marinated soy beans. With our meal we had a 12.5% rice wine (KRW 6,000/US $6) called Bak Se Ju which was good. The room was pleasant, the tables and chairs were comfortable and the service was pleasant. We spent KRW 17,000/US $17 and were happy.

On our second day we took a guided English tour of the Gyeonggijeon Hall and Royal Portrait Museum of King Taejo frounder of the Joseon Dynasty. It cost KRW 2,000 for 2 (US$2).The guide was good enough. She gave us some interesting facts. The story of the historiographers writing down everything that the emperor did and said was fascinating and seeing the Archives of the Annals created by the historiographers from the Joseon Dynasty was interesting too.

We went to a song and dance performance of an ancient love story (KRW 25,000 for each ticket, after the 50% discount/ US$50).
The poster for the performance
It was fun to see the costumes and hear the music. The music was kind of melodious.

In Jeonju we finally had a commoner’s baekban. Baekban, meaning a "hundred banchan," is a home-style Korean meal featuring a large variety of banchan, or side dishes. Hanjeongsik is a Korean table d'hôte featuring courses -- you could say that it's a formal version of baekban, with sophisticated dishes that accompany the rice. For our baekban we went to Jukrimjip Baekban Restaurant, Jeollagamyeong-ro 33, Jeonju, South Korea, tel. or 63- 284-4030 or a neighboring baekban restaurant at Jeollagamyeong-ro 44, tel 63-284-6932; we are not sure, frankly. In any event, we had 18 banchan and 4 main dishes. First the sizzling main dishes: there was an egg custard that we typically love called gyeranjjim. We like it with seafood and this one was a plain one. There was a mung bean and tofu stew in a flavorful (but not spicy) soup and a stew with pork belly that was spicy. There was also a plate of pork belly in a heavy sauce.
Our baekban meal with 18 banchan for KRW 17,000/US$17
The 18 banchan included Jeon (pancakes), tuna (tasted canned), a spicy red sauce on the ubiquitous chewy ginseng root, marinated mackerel, a small whole fish that had been lightly breaded and sautéed, a green similar to bok choy, marinated quail eggs, cabbage in a light mayo sauce, glass noodles (japchae), green onion kim chi, cabbage kim chi in traditional red chili, seaweed, a jelly with sesame and onion on top, bean curd coated with an egg mixture and fried, a sour daikon, kelp, mushrooms in a creamy sauce and marinated soy beans. Is that 18? Phew! So, now what do we think of the baekban? Well, most of the 18 dishes were made in the morning (or days before) and were cold. The different tastes were interesting and we got a kick out of having so many of them. But they weren’t delicious, if you know what we mean. They were good but not great. The price of our baekban was KRW 17,000, with a small bottle of chamisul soju (which was too strong to drink). On the basis of this baekban meal we decided we would not go to a hanjeongsik meal. First of all they start at about US$80 per person and second of all there is no way we could eat enough to get our money’s worth. Audre gained ½ kilo with the baekban meal! (In Busan, we did have a wonderful hanjeongsik meal for KRW 44,000 per person and were glad we did!)

On Sunday, we walked 1 ½ hours along  the Jeonju Stream.
A view of the Hanok Village from the Jeonju Stream
We went to Omogaritang (Spicy fish soup area, 6 Jeonjucheondong-ru, Jeonju, South Korea, tel. 063-284-6630) for lunch. For the first time in Korea we sat at a low table and it was uncomfortable to the max. We were by the river which was pleasant but the breezes were infrequent and so it was very hot in the afternoon when we went for lunch.
Audre before she became crippled having lunch at a traditional table
We had one fish soup (KRW 55,000) and one beer (KRW 6,000). The exchange rate was US$1 = Korean won .00098 on September 4.The outstanding feature of the lunch was the nurrungji, crispy rice, served separately. We had 9 banchan and 3 sauces served with the stew. The stew was mostly a heavy green, stringy vegetable, one small fish and some miniscule shrimp. The broth was tasty and not too spicy. The banchan were: nori seaweed, cucumber in quarters with a bean paste sauce, jeon—fried zucchini and an egg-based roll, a salad with dressing, tiny fish, salted and sweetened in an interesting way, a spinach-like green, cabbage kimchi, marinated leaves that some Koreans call wild sesame (perilla), and spinach kim chi. We were also served rice with black beans in it and a rice soup that was extremely bland for after the meal.

After lunch we went into the kitchen to see how the nurrungji is made. Cooked rice is spread thinly on a wok-like pot. It is cooked over a flame until the underside is crispy and the top is dry. It makes a crunchy/chewy treat. Our assessment was that the meal was disappointing and at KRW 55,000/ US$55 over-priced.

Another day, we walked to Jaman Mural Village.
A mural from Jaman Mural Village
It was described as “one of the old lower-income hillside villages in Korea, Jaman Mural Village, is located below the ridge connecting the Omokdae and Imokdae historic sites at the foot of Seungamsan Mountain`s Jungbawi Rock. From the mural village, Jeonju Hanok Village can be seen. The history of this village dates back to the 1960s when the first few houses were erected, and after which the alleys became packed with small houses. Although it is a fairly steep walk up to Jaman Village, visitors will be able to enjoy murals painted on the buildings and walls along the way. With the increasing number of visitors flocking to see the murals, Jaman Mural Village has become a top tourist attraction of Jeonju along with Jeonju Hanok Village, Omokdae, and Imokdae.”  They weren’t kidding the hike up was in fact very steep. The murals were cute.

For lunch after a long walk, we went to the famous noodle restaurant Veteran has been located in front of Jeonju Sungsim Girls` High School since 1977 (85-1, Gyo-dong, Wansan-gu, Jeonju, Jeollabuk-do, South Korea , 063-285-9898). "While their kal-guksu (knife cut noodle soup/ 5,000 won) topped with a generous amount of dried seaweed, perilla or kkannip seeds (which some Koreans call wild sesame), and red pepper powder is their most beloved dish, during the sweltering summer months, many people come for a delicious bowl of their kong-guksu (noodles in a cold soybean broth/KRW 6,000), which resembles patbingsu (shaved ice with toppings) at first sight. The savory and sweet kong-guksu comes with a generous serving of noodles in a thick soybean soup sprinkled with roasted rice and grain powder. The mandu (dumplings/ KRW 4,000) make for a great side dish to accompany any of the noodle dishes at Veteran. The restaurant is open from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m." - See more at: http://english1.president.go.kr/travel-culture/visitkorea/travel.php?srh%5Bboard_no%5D=32&srh%5Bview_mode%5D=detail&srh%5Bseq%5D=7148&srh%5Bdetail_no%5D=36#sthash.N4Z6APn3.dpufWe thought it was good, not great.

One night for dinner we went to Songjeongwon (34, Jeon-dong, Wansan-gu, Jeonju, Jeollabuk-do, South Korea, tel. 063-284-5569 and 063-283-7663). It is a very pleasant-looking place with regular-height tables. No one spoke English and there were no pictures of food to choose from on the menu. We did not want to spend a lot of money (we could tell that they had hanjeongsik (table d’hôte) because of the KRW 200,000 prices for sets). We enlisted the aid of the travelers help line 1330 (press 2 for English) which was invaluable. We told them the problem in English, the woman asked what we wanted to eat for dinner. We found something to order and were told the price. We had Gochujang Meatballs. They were served dry (without sauce) and were in fact overcooked, dry and uninteresting. Fortunately, the banchan were interesting. There were 7: a spinach, beans which were slightly sweet, pickled cucumber, wild mushrooms in a creamy sauce, kim chi, pickled diakon, octopus in a spicy red sauce, and two soups. One soup was a muscle/chicken broth and one was a seaweed soup. All of the side dishes were good. We had one rice with a red beans in it also. There was plenty of food for the two of us. Unfortunately, the main we ordered wasn’t to our liking. Oh well. We spent KRW 20,000/ US$20.

On our last day, we went to SpaLaQua, a jjimjilbang. It was a hoot. We spent about 1 ½ hours at SpaLaQua. It was really fun. We were in our separate male/female areas and we each tried all of the pools. In addition we had a fairly good lunch of risotto with scallops (KRW 12,000/US $12) in the restaurant. Dimitri had a hair cut (KRW 12,000/US$12) and a shoe shine (KRW 3,000/US $3). The women’s area (and also the men’s) had 5 pools. Inside there was a round one at 43° C, another indoor with nano bubbles at 39° C, one with head to toe jets at  29° C, a cold one at 21° C and an outside hydrogen carbonic pool at 40° C with attractive bubbles. Inside there were many showers both on the wall and with a hand held shower nozzle. All shapes (except American-style obese) of naked women were using the pools, bathing and sitting around chatting. Both Dimitri and Audre liked the indoor with nano bubbles at 39° C because we could stay in the longest in that one. Dimitri found men in the outside pool who could speak enough English to have a chat with. He had great fun. No one talked to Audre.  We’d recommend SpaLaQua.