The 2013 Chuncheon Makguksu and Dakgalbi Festival

Each year in August the small city of Chuncheon, about an hour by express commuter rail from Seoul, hosts a week-long festival celebrating two specific Korean dishes: makguksu and dakgalbi. Apparently this year the town decided that late June was a more suitable time for the festival this year, and thank goodness because we’re really glad we got to go.

Dakgalbi, a casserole made from chicken ribs, rice cakes, red pepper paste, cabbage, and a few other things depending on where you’re eating it, was one of the first Korean dishes we ever had and easily among our top favorites. It’s prepared on a giant skillet in the middle of the table and shared among everyone present. We had been craving it since the moment we got off the airplane.

Makguksu was new, at least we’re pretty sure we had never had it before. It reminded us of bibimguksu, except with buckwheat noodles and possibly a different kind of broth. It’s a chilled noodle soup with a radish, anchovy, or beef broth. I think we had the radish variety. Apart from the noodles, the soup was a lot of different vegetables, some kimchi, and red pepper paste.

Picking a place to eat makguksu was not hard, though it definitely could have been. The festival took place in a large field directly outside the train station that we understand was once a military camp. The food tents formed a outer wall for the festival, with banners above them alternating blue and red, for the soup and the chicken, respectively. Despite what must have been two dozen possible choices, we were so hungry we sat down at the first one we came across.

After eating we walked around the festival, but eventually the heat became too much to bear, and with a surprising lack of shade, we reluctantly headed to a cafe for iced drinks to plan the rest of our day. We wanted to see some of the amazing lakes and streams that Chuncheon is famous for but didn’t have the will to jump in a cab, so we headed to Gongjicheon, a small stream running between the lakes nestled into Chuncheon’s mountains. It always struck us as amazing how well Koreans do the outdoors. Gongjicheon, like so many other parks and wilderness areas was beautiful, with well maintained walking, running, and biking paths (this park had at least 12k of track along its rivers and lakes). We ended up having a our dakgalbi not at the festival, but at a little shop along the stream. It might have been the best dakgalbi we’ve ever had. The chicken was excellent, and the vegetable combinations were perfect. I guess that’s what happens when you get it from the source.

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