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: Daega (대가 – 생선구이)

Daega is another popular “destination restaurant” for both domestic tourists and Gwangju day-trippers alike.  It’s situated directly across from the Gwangju dam and it checks all the right boxes by being comparatively cheap, serving local specialties and having a somewhat quirky “traditional” interior design.  Even during the winter months, when everything else is dead, this place is thriving on the weekends with a packed parking lot and a full restaurant.

 

Even if you don’t like grilled fish (looking at you dad), this place is just straight up fun to be in.  Walking through the big wooden front doors, you’re greeted with a large open restaurant offering floor seating, table seating and a few private rooms in the back.  There’s tons of traditional kitsch around to keep your eyes occupied while your stomach waits for your food to arrive.  They even have a water-way built into the floor with goldfish swimming around!

The menu has a few options, depending on the size of your group, but it’s basically your choice of grilled fish with or without ddeok galbi.  Don’t sleep on the ddeok galbi…it’s better than most (all) of the Damyang restaurants specializing in this tasty local treat.  The set menus toward the top will give you a mix of different fish, ddeok galbi and the dolsot rice.

The banchan will arrive first, of course, and while it doesn’t look like much they are extremely friendly about refilling the dishes you like, especially if you catch them before the lunch/dinner rush.  The kimche is at least a million years old and is phenomenal…refills are a must.

Next out is the dolsot bap.  If you’ve never had it before, it’s basically two dishes in one:  rice and 누룽지 (I’m not even going to try and spell that in English).  Simply scoop out your rice into the separate rice bowl (not pictured).  Don’t scrape too hard because the crispy burnt pieces stuck in the bowl is what makes your 누룽지.  Next, fill the stone bowl with the barely tea from the pitcher on your table and put it aside until the end of the meal.  During the time it takes you to eat everything else, this burnt rice and barely tea will turn into a delicious after dinner porridge.

Shortly after you’ve dealt with your dolsot bap, the fish and ddeok galbi will arrive.  The type of fish will vary depending on which set menu you choose, but it’s all delicious!  If you’ve been in Korea longer than five minutes you probably know the fish comes out whole…you’ve been warned.

  

Here’s what the entire spread looks like:

 


For dessert you have a choice of coffee, shikhye or do-it-yourself ice cream cones.   Or you can do yourself a favor and skip the crappy dessert and order another round of OB and a few more of those tasty ddeok galbi paddies!

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 🙂

 

Hiking: Jishil Valley (The Mountains Behind The House)

This is the 5km dog-friendly hike I’ll recommend to you when you visit and be secretly disappointed when you provide some thin excuse the next day as to why you couldn’t fit it in your schedule.  My disappointment lies in the fact that this trail is nearly perfect in so many ways.

For starters, it offers more “bang for your buck” than any trail in the area.  It’s got a bamboo forest, a pine forest, giant boulders, ancient pagodas and a pretty amazing overlook just towards the end that acts as the cherry on top (it’s all downhill from there!).

Spring

Summer

Fall

Winter

Next, it’s extremely accessible.  The trailhead is in the front yard (literally) and the trail ends just on the other side of the village.  No need to walk along the busy main road, ride a bike or drive anywhere.

 

 Start at 12 (the house) finish at 1 (Shikyoungjung)

Lastly, it’s the perfect length; long, but not too long.  At around 2 hours, it’s just long enough to make it feel like you accomplished something and earned that second helping of chicken pot pie.  You can even cheat and head straight up to the overlook by doing the hike in reverse.  From the front door you can be looking out over the entire valley and Mudeung National Park while enjoying a cup of makoli in less than 20 minutes (double that if you’re my wife).

 

The hike itself is fairly easy to navigate, but here’s the play by play just to help eliminate a least one of the more common excuses (getting lost).

In the front yard, to the left of the fence, you’ll find the trail.  This trail runs behind the fence and out to the road in the village so it’s not uncommon to see hikers passing through.

The trail from the front yard

The trail leading into the bamboo forest

This trail leads through a thick bamboo forest that gradually thins out as you go up the mountain.  Even if you’re not interested in hiking the whole trail, do yourself a favor and at least walk through the bamboo forest.  It’s what Damyang is famous for and pretty cool to have right at your fingertips.  Bonus points if you go in there at night (spoiler alert: it’s terrifying).

At the top of the first climb, you’ll come to a small ridge and a trail marker.  Here’s the secret to this hike: take a left EACH time you see one of these trail markers.  That will loop you back around the valley to the other side of the village.

 


As I mentioned, after the first climb and at the first trail marker you’ll take a left (always a left) and continue up the mountain (if you take a right you’ll end up at Sosaewon).  It’s a fair bit of uphill, but I promise it’s worth it.  It gets rocky towards the  top and you’ll start realizing how high up you are!

 


After a couple of left turns and a couple of climbs/descents, you’ll end up at the overlook.  There are actually two overlooks.  The one on the left overlooks the Jishil Valley and of course Mudeung National Park.

 

 

 

The overlook on the right provides views of Gwangju Lake.

 

 

The overlook is a good place to relax and soak in the views.  It’s all downhill from here back to the house so take a break and continue down the trail when you’re ready.  When you reach the pine forest you’re very near the end of the trail and its ultimate destination:  The National Heritage site of Shikyungjung.


As you exit the pine forest continue walking towards the pagoda and ultimately down the stone staircase.

 


This small park has four or five pagodas and is a popular tourist attraction for the bus loads of Korean tourists that visit during the summer.  It also attracts a lot of photographers and can be very scenic with dramatic changes throughout the year.  Here’s my best effort:

 

 


From Shikyungjung you will be able to see the poetry museum.  Behind the museum you will find a small village road that will take you back to the house and offer one last glimpse of Mudeung National Park.

Poetry Museum

If you have a bit more time and energy, walk across to the Eco-Park and watch the sun set!  Enjoy.

 

 

Restaurant Review: Changpyeong GukBap Restaurant (국밥)

Gukbap is one of many foods Damyang claims to be famous for and Changpyeong, just down the road, is the epicenter of it all.  Unlike ddukgalbi, which overshadows all the less famous Damyang foods, gukbap is actually affordable and doesn’t come with a pretentious “fusion” theme (don’t get me started).  Quite the opposite actually.  At 6,000 won a bowl, Gukbap is some serious blue collar eats. Come here during lunch time any day of the week and you’ll see what I mean.

If you’re not a fan of the nasty bits, you’ll want to give this spot a pass because the menu is nothing but pork products.


“Changpyeong Gukbap” is one of the more popular gukbap restaurants around this area and is consistently packed.  To get there head down 887 to the Goseo intersection and take a right (about 6km).  The driveway entrance to the restaurant is about 100 meters down the road on your right.  The restaurant itself is tucked away and a bit difficult to see from the road so keep your eyes peeled for the tall blue roadside sign.  A map with this restarant labeled (and many others) can be found here.

Most people order the standard 국밥 (pictured below), but personally I prefer the 공나물국밥 (don’t worry, it also comes with plenty of organs as well).  Enjoy!