Dakgalbi Myeongdong Street and Nami Island – Chuncheon’s Highlights
Chuncheon is the capital of Gangwon-do, and is famous for two things; drama and food. I tried to do both whilst there last weekend, with varying degrees of success:
1. Dakgalbi street, also known as Myeongdong street, is the main highlight of central Chuncheon. Here we were a lot more successful tourists! Dakgalbi is a Korean dish made mainly of spicy marinaded chicken, cabbage, rice cakes (tteokbokki), sweet potato and garlic. It is served all over Korea, but its home is in Chuncheon, and you won’t get a better dakgalbi anywhere else. They won’t do a serving for one, so make sure you take a friend. Expect to spend about 8000 Korean won each.
Firstly the plate in the centre of the table is heated:
Next the delicious mound of ingredients is poured on to start frying. You can have a sip of some of the iced radish soup if you’re starving – patience is important with dakgalbi and you should expect at least twenty minutes cooking time:
The mound of amazing-ness will gradually reduce. Don’t worry about stirring it, the servers will keep an eye on it for you. If you’re with someone who’s king of the BBQ though, no-one will mind if you use the spatula to push around the food yourself, Once it’s cooked you can choose if you want cheese or not. I always do as it helps with combatting the spiciness of the dish. If you have it, they’ll put a metal cover over the food for a few minutes to get the cheese good and hot:
Then its tuck-in time! You can eat straight from the plate, or wrap pieces of the dakgalbi in lettuce leaves (another good way to stave off some of the heat):
I’ve had dakgalbi in a couple of places, and I have to admit the reputation of Chuncheon’s Myeongdong street is very well deserved. Ending a day with plate that looks like this is part of the Chuncheon experience:
2. Chuncheon is the setting for Winter Sonata, a super popular drama series both in Korea and in Japan. You can even visit where it’s set, on Nami Island, just outside the city. It’s a bit like going to Ramsey Street in Australia, only it feels like half of Korea’s (and much of Japan’s) population is making the same pilgrimage. I have to admit that the visit was a little bit of a failure for us – we ourselves did’t actually make it onto the island. The tailbacks on the roads to the ‘port’ meant the final 3km took us two hours driving, parking was a disaster, and I have never seen a queue quite like the one to get on the boat to cross the water. It snaked out of the carpark and actually left the facility. We queued for a further hour, before realising there were actually two massive queues, one for tickets and then one to get on the boat (the latter named ‘passport control’, even though Nami Island is part of Korea). Naturally, we’d started in the wrong queue. At that point hubby decided he was having no more, and we had to leave before steam came out of his ears.
For those wanting to visit Nami Island my advice is twofold. Firstly make sure you arrive early. The buses from Seoul arrive at about midday, filled with other tourists, and this greatly increases the island-crossing traffic. Secondly, make sure you start by going right up to the front and working out where you’re supposed to be queuing – you need a ticket before you can get on the boat, and that’s a separate counter.
I’m told the island is beautiful, especially in Autumn. As a October visitor, and looking at the island from the shore, the colours were absolutely amazing. Next time I shall take my own advice, and see the place up close for myself!
Of course, there’s more to Chuncheon that soap operas and spicy chicken. There’s a lovely walk along the riverside, a sculpture park, and a great pedestrianised shopping area right alongside Myeongdong. If you’re planning on getting a hotel then anything around Myeongdong street will be great, everything you need in the city is within walking distance.
Chuncheon is well worth a visit, for visitors of any age. We recommend it!