Restaurant Review: 황가네 (Eco-Park Restaurant)

 


I’ve spent a lot of time at this restaurant over the years so it goes without saying I’m a bit biased and probably couldn’t give an objective review even if I wanted to.  However, judging by the reaction of family and friends I think I’m justified in giving this no-frills restaurant an enthusiastic two thumbs up.This place is well known amongst locals, mostly due to the cheap prices and pungent flavors (seriously the kimche at this place is beyond “fermented”!), but also has it’s fair share of signatures on the wall from visiting local/national celebrities.  Famous or not, this place is packed with customers during mealtimes, mostly ordering the star of the show:  the kimchee jiggae.  The kimchee jiggae (see photo above) is made with the aforementioned “funky” kimchee, but is also chocked full of pork and homemade green tea tofu.  Best 6,000 you’ll ever spend!


The green tea tofu can be ordered on it’s own (comes with dipping sauce) and will usually be served with the ban-chan before your main dish arrives.  It’s fresh.  It’s delicious.  Order some to-go on your way out!


Speaking of ban-chan, the six pictured above are usually what you get…the portions are certainly representative of Jeolla-Do (read: large) and refills often happen whether you ask or not.  The ban-chan (and food for that matter) is definitely on the salty side, but most good Korean food is.  The menu has a few different options, all of which you would expect to find in a place like this, but honestly I never venture far from the kimchee jiggae.  They are accommodating for vegetarians as well, but make sure you ask (everything except the tofu itself has meat and/or seafood in it).

Kimchee Jiggae, Ban-Chan and Green Tea Tofu

 

순두부 지께

Getting there from the house is easy.  Head towards the Eco-Park (take a right on the main road and a left at the gas station) and continuing walking past the park entrance (it should be on your right) for another few minutes.  The restaurant will be on your right and looks like this:

Stop by next time you’re in the area…you won’t regret it!
Looking for something else?  Plenty of other restaurant recommendations can be found here.

Bike’n Hike (VII): Chuwolsan Provincial Park

Destination:  Chuwolsan Provincial Park
Cycling:  97km
Hiking:  4km
Days:  1

 Chuwolsan Park
Gamagol Eco-Park (용소)
  
Gamagol Eco-Park (출렁다리)
The destination and dates for Bike’n Hike VII bounced around a bit, but eventually focused on a one-day adventure exploring some of the parks around Damyang.  Specifically Damyang’s most famous mountain, Chuwolsan, and the neighboring Damyang Lake and Eco-Park.  Even packaged as a manageable one-day outing, it’s tough to find willing cyclists during the dead of winter.  Thankfully Geoff, a participant in the inaugural Bike’n Hike almost a year ago, was both available and interested.  You’re about to see a lot of photos of Geoff (clearly I had the only camera!).  
 
Leaving Jishil Village
We left from The Damyang House and headed toward Damyang (Eup) via the 887.  This is one of my favorite roads as it’s relatively free of heavy traffic, is flat and has awesome views of the surrounding mountains.  It also leads directly to downtown Damyang (20km) or connects you with other important cycling roads. 
 Road 887
 
 Road 887
Navigating through Damyang (downtown) is pretty simple as it’s well marked in terms of signage for both the roads you need and Chuwolsan Park.  I recommend staying on 887 until you arrive at 13 where you’ll take a right.  Shortly after you’ll take a left on 29 heading toward Chuwolsan Park.  If nothing else just look for the mountain as it’s usually visible from just about everywhere around Damyang!
    
Chuwolsan Mountain
 Chuwolsan Mountain
 Chuwolsan Mountain (fall)

As you get closer to Chuwolsan you’ll be met with a few different climbs, varying in length and difficulty, but nothing to worry about.  Be thankful you’re heading north because it’s more challenging coming from the other direction.  You’ll also get your first views of Damyang Lake, which like most lakes in Korea is a dammed river that fills in the valley creating a giant amoeba shape. 

Getting Closer
Damyang Lake

 Uphill
 Damyang Lake
After you pass through a small tunnel, you’ll be pretty much right in front of the mountain and it’s all downhill to the park entrance where you’ll find a few restaurants, an information center, trailheads and a series of boardwalks around the lake.  There isn’t much open in the winter.  During the summer this place is packed…especially on weekends. 
Chuwolsan (summer)
 Damyang Lake Boardwalk
 Damyang Lake (Boardwalk is just above the water line)
We opted to cancel our attempt to summit Chuwolsan for a variety of reasons.  First, it was colder near the mountian/lake and much windier.  Second, Chuwolsan is much bigger than it looks and getting to the top would not have been quick or easy.  We were on a pretty tight schedule as it was (short winter days!) so instead pressed on past Chuwolsan and Damyang Lake towards Gamagol Eco-Park.  Getting to the Eco-Park from the base of Chuwolsan is easy as it’s located at the north end of the lake.  Continue north on 29 and take a right on 792.  Of course there’s another climb heading this direction.
 Leaving Chuwolsan
 Take a Right onto 792
Gamagol Entrance 

The park entrance will be on your left and is hard to miss.  The roads leading into the park are scenic and during this time of the year, extremely quiet.  Judging by the plethora of riverside restaurants along this road, I’m guessing this is not the case during the summer months. 

 Heading into Gamagol

At the end of this road you’ll find a parking lot and a park office.  The park itself is small and you can see a lot of the highlights in less than an hour.  Grab a map at the park office and explore!

용연1 폭포
가마골

                                                              용소

                                        

용소
출렁다리

출렁다리
출렁다리 & 용소

After a quick look around we hopped back on our bikes and returned to 792, the main road that brought us here.  Instead of backtracking the way we came, which is certainly an option, and a quicker one at that, we decided to continue on 792 and pick up 24 creating a loop back to Damyang.  The ride along 792 is scenic and relatively traffic-free, however it also hosted our biggest climb of the day.  You’ll eventually ride past another county park, Gangcheonsan, which we unfortunately didn’t have time to explore on this trip.

Gangcheonsan Park Entrance

Near Sunchang, home of gojujang, you’ll pick up 24 which will take you back to downtown Damyang.  This is by far the least fun 10km of the route.  The gojujang village is over-the-top ridiculous and has nothing to offer outside of this one famous ingredient (i.e. no marts to restock on supplies) and this section of road is pretty miserable with narrow shoulders, fast cars and construction.  Joy!

Gojujang
Gojujang
Once back in Damyang, you’ll pick up 887 downtown and basically head back the way you came.  Time permitting, I’d recommend grabbing lunch in Damyang as the options are plentiful.  We, of course, were in a race to get home before the sunset so instead chose to stop by the Bamboo Brewery (담주 브로이) and pick up a few pitchers of ‘to-go’ bamboo beer and bamboo sausages to enjoy once we arrived back at the house.  It’s a quick detour down 13, just outside of downtown, and only added an extra 15 minutes or so.  The ride back on 887 is always a welcome finish to the day and we were able to catch the sunset at the Gwangju Lake Eco-Park right as we arrived home. 

Gwangju Lake/Eco-Park/Mudeung Mountain
Once back at The Damyang House, we stocked the fireplace, poured some beers and enjoyed those tasty sausages!  
Victory Beers
Looking for a different route?  Something easier?  Something more challenging?  Plenty of other suggestions can be found here.

Restaurant Review: Sanggyo Galbi (쌍교 숯불갈비)


Sanggyo has recently undergone some major renovations, presumably to solidify their reputation as “the” top dog in the Damyang restaurant market.  I try not to let fancy buildings influence my judgement of the food (it’s Korea after all…some of the best food in the country is found in some of the scariest looking restaurants), but it’s hard not to be impressed with this beautiful hanok inspired two-story restaurant.  As a testament to the quality of the food, I can tell you that for the better part of a year, during the renovations, they had people eating in make-shift shacks and it didn’t affect business in the slightest.  Be prepared to wait at least 45 minutes on the weekends…mind blowing when you see how big it is inside.

 

Like any good tourist restaurant (not a negative in this context) they provide, both floor and table seating as well as private rooms.  The food comes out quick and servers are accustomed to obnoxious picture taking so snap away.

 
They offer two local specialties: ddeok galbi and Damyang style BBQ’d galbi.  I’m sure you can find better ddeok galbi elsewhere in town, so stick with the galbi they’re famous for.  The Damyang style of BBQ is a bit different in that the meat is brined and cooked in back and comes out piping hot and ready to eat.  You have a choice between regular and spicy (it’s not spicy at all).  Both are delicious.

 
The basic banchan will arrive almost immediately and consists of three types of salad, three types of kimche, three types of seaweed and a couple of other odds and ends.  The server will recommend which salad or seaweed to eat with the meat, but after a decade of living in Korea I’m pretty sure that there is no rule about what goes in your lettuce leaf wrap.

Additional servings of meat are easy to order and encouraged by the staff.  Refills of banchan are no problem what-so-ever.  Basically, arrive hungry and ready to eat.  Be sure to save room for the “shik-sa” portion of the meal…because it’s not dinner unless rice is involved!  We, for some reason, always order the sujaebee and are always disappointed.  One portion is more than enough for three or four people though so at least it’s not expensive.  In fact our entire meal for three people, including five orders of meat (don’t judge), five beers, and an order of sujaebee was about 80,000…and I didn’t eat for the next 48 hours~

 


Not interested in galbi?  Plenty of other options can be found here.

Restaurant Review: Vietnam Restaurant and Mart

Spring Rolls

Fried Spring Rolls

Pho Bo

Pho Bo

What this place lacks in decor and ambiance, it makes up for in authenticity and taste.  Don’t be fooled by the dilapidated exterior of the building and the exposed kitchen and appliances indoors.  They’re serving Vietnamese food miles beyond what you’ll find in Gwangju (those Vietnamese chain restaurants basically serve Korean food for twice the price).

 

 

Walking in, I was met by a small Vietnamese server and a handful of younger Vietnamese friends having lunch…always a good sign to see actual Vietnamese people in a Vietnamese restaurant.  Rumors of Bahn Mi sandwiches proved false (possibly sold out?)  (update: been back a couple of times and still no Bahn Mi sandwiches) so we opted for the litmus test of Vietnamese food:  Pho and Spring Rolls.

It wasn’t cheap at 24,000 for two people, but two bowls of soup and a plate of spring rolls was more than enough to fill us up and ultimately well worth the price.  Simply put, it was delicious. (The fresh spring rolls are better than the fried)

This place is also a mart selling Vietnamese snacks and ingredients.  The mart is in the back, where you will also find additional seating.  The best part is they sell fresh cilantro if you ask nicely…2,000 for a large handful.

The location is pretty easy to find as it’s close to the river, noodle street, and one of the most famous restaurants in town, SeungIl Shikdang (승일 식당).  Here’s the google map link.  Just in case, here’s the map from my phone:

If you have room for dessert, head down to the river and get in line with the rest of these suckers and buy some of the “famous” Damyang donuts 🙂

 

죽순 소시지 (Bamboo Shoot Sausage)

죽순 소시지 (Bamboo Shoot Sausage)
6km down the road (at the 고서 intersection) there is an appropriately named grocery store called ‘Local Food’ offering all the best and freshest foods the local farmers have to offer.  Bamboo alcohol, free range eggs and volume 10 kimches and namuls are all standard goods for sale.  The bamboo shoot sausage however, isn’t something I’ve seen before and honestly bought strictly for the novelty of the photo.  
The novelty obviously stemming from the fact that bamboo is EVERYWHERE around Damyang and the locals try their best to exploit it in every way possible.  These particular bamboo shoots (죽순) are no joke though…they’re expensive and people come from all over to try and poach them from the local forests.  I “chased off” at least two poachers this summer from our front yard.  They also grow extremely fast so you have to pick them at the right time.  This photo shows a bamboo shoot that grew 230cm in a week!
I clearly misjudged the sausage though.  They were delicious.  And as someone that routinely makes sausage, I can honestly say there were made by someone who knows what they are doing (natural casing and all).  At 7,500 for five they’re definitely pricier than what they have at the nearest Home Plus, but worth every won.