The previous restaurant in this location, a steamed chicken place, shut down late last year for unknown reasons. A shame because it was a tasty restaurant and also the location Uncle Jung chose to introduce us to the village when we first bought property here. They also served some of the oldest and funkiest kimche around.
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).
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Fried Spring Rolls
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: