top of page

By Way of Korea

South Korea   |   New York

A Korean food blog and travelogue inspired by

an epicurious New Yorker's journey around South Korea


Grilled Back Ribs & Wild Vegetable Bibimbap at the Foothill of Maisan Mountain (Jinan)

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

With Eric's suggestions for must-try Jeonju dishes (bibimbap, kongnamul-gukbap) in mind, I spent most of my restless night combing through #전주맛집 tagged Instagram posts and cross-checking findings with Naver blogs to find my next destination for lunch. My tireless efforts guided me to the discovery of a "restaurant street" (식당가) along the path to Maisan Mountain that is popular for its sanchae-bibimbap (wild vegetable bibimbap) and grilled pork back ribs. A hike followed by lunch by a scenic mountain seemed like the perfect way to spend a day, so I put my laptop to sleep and committed to heading to Maisan Mountain in the morning.

From Jeonju Bus Terminal, we boarded a bus to Jinan, where we were to transfer to another bus that'd take us directly to the mountain's entrance. In about an hour, it pulled into the very small Jinan Bus Terminal, where we were met with many pairs of curious eyes.

The elderly represent 31% of Jinan’s total population (more than twice the national figure). We seemed to be a scarce variety of black-haired visitors in a station full of white and gray-haired commuters. I awkwardly approached the mostly covered-up ticket window from which only a hand was visible slipping in and out of a slot to collect money and slide over bus tickets. Upon inquiring about the bus to Maisan, a voice from behind the window responded that one would be arriving in twenty minutes. A printed bus schedule on the wall stated otherwise, but I decided not to question the voice and just bought my tickets.

Twenty minutes passed and there was no sign of our bus, but anyone I asked about its arrival simply responded with unfazed certainty that it would arrive "soon." Two halmonis teased another for the bag of snacks she saved for her husband waiting for her at home while others excitedly compared their promising purchases from the market. Their patience and youthful energy illuminated a way of life unfettered by the constraints of age and time, reminding me to savor the wait regardless of when the bus might come.

Sometime later, our bus arrived and its seats (and floor) filled quickly. A man dropped in to deliver cheerful health precautions and well-wishes for the elderly, before the bus bolted out of the station and cruised past the bucolic beauty of Jinan to the foot of Maisan. The halmonis had remembered where we were headed and made sure we got off at the park entrance.

Shortly after entering the park, a stretch of storefronts with colorful signage came into view - we were on Maisan's Restaurant Street.

Mountains occupy about 70% of the Korean peninsula and hiking is a widely beloved pastime. Enjoying food and drinks on the descent seems to be just as part of the hiking culture as the actual hiking itself, so it’s no surprise that some of the best restaurants can be found along the trails or around the bases of mountains.

Taking a quick survey of the eateries as we passed through, I spotted several racks of pork back ribs hanging inside a wood-fired smoker. The sight of flames tickling the ribs and smell could've entertained me for the rest of the afternoon, but we would've been remiss to pass up on the natural wonders ahead, so we moved forward on the path leading to Maisan.

A quiet walk between rows of naked trees led us to the Tabyeongje Reservoir, a half-frozen body of water across which lies the unmistakable Maisan peaks. Maisan usually doesn’t make it onto lists of Korea’s most beautiful mountains or best hikes, but it certainly isn’t one to be overlooked. Its name, ‘Horse Ear Mountain’ (mai means ‘horse ear’ and san means ‘mountain’), denotes its unique, double-peaked form, which takes on a different poetic name each season. In the Spring, the two peaks against the blue sky resemble ship masts floating on the sea and are given the name Dotdaebong (dotdae = ship mast). During the summer, covered in lush green, they are reinterpreted as dragon horns and renamed Yonggakbong (yonggak = dragon horn). When warm foliage overtakes the greenery in autumn, the mountaintops are called Maibong (mai = horse ear). And pointing out of the snow-covered land like a pair of ink-dipped brush tips, they go by the name Munpilbong (munpil = writing brush) in the winter.

Continuing around the reservoir, we were soon welcomed to Ammaibong (the "female" horse ear) by a golden statue of Buddha nestled high up on the ledge of the rock formation. This would be the first of many sights to marvel at as we advanced around the base of this ear.

In a true Indiana Jones moment, Tapsa, a sacred Buddhist temple ground notable for the mysterious, natural phenomena that occur within, materialized before us.

A retired scholar named Lee Gab-Yong spent thirty years in solitude constructing each of the 80 stone pagodas scattered around Tapsa. While meditating on Maisan on a diet of pine needles, he grew enlightened to dedicate himself to prayer and to raise these remarkable structures. Lee devoted three decades to building the pagodas using stones from mountains all over the country and without any adhesives. Despite their fragile appearance, they've endured for over a century demonstrating the wonders of the invisible forces of nature that hold them unyielding to the agents of weathering. Commemorative statues of Lee can be found throughout the temple grounds.

By what means the smaller pagodas resting in the tafoni (crater-like pockets in the rock formation caused by weathering) high above ground-level were created remains a mystery to me.

Another natural phenomenon that can be witnessed here are inverted icicles. They say that if you pray before a bowl of freshly drawn water at Tapsa, you will see the water freeze upward to form "inverted" icicles. Unfortunately, even the third week of December wasn't cold enough for this marvel to occur.

In contrast to the monochromatic and stoic geological formations, the temples stood in vibrant hues housing the colorful prayers and wishes of those who had come before us. Eunsusa, a temple where King Taejo prayed for 100 days, lied a short walk up from Tapsa.

Witnessing one of the most remarkable displays of self-discipline did little to encourage us to exercise some self-restraint. The sun began to set, as the hunger did in our stomachs, so we retraced our steps back to Restaurant Street, where we headed straight for Cho Ga Jeong Dam (초가정담), the place I had noted for its smoked ribs. There, I ordered Set B for two, which included pork back ribs, pork neck, two bowls of sanchae (wild vegetable) bibimbap, and acorn jelly salad.

Winter delicacies - namely dotori-muk (acorn jelly), deodeok (bonnet bellflower root), and shiregi (dried radish leaves) - made appearances in the banchan and soup. The acorn jelly salad (acorn jelly tossed with lettuce and sesame seeds in a light gochujang dressing), deodeok seasoned with a sweet gochujang sauce, and a hot bowl of soybean paste soup with dried radish leaves (시래기 된장국) alluded to the breadth and depth of flavors to be experienced through this meal.

The bibimbap arrived in three parts to be mixed together: a bowl of the essential mix-ins (shredded radish, lettuce and seaweed, sesame seeds and oil, and gochujang), eight varieties of locally sourced mountain vegetables and mushrooms arranged on two plates (soybean sprouts, Korean thistle, braken fern, mountain lettuce, Fischer's ragwort, ogapi sprouts, wood ear mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms), and a bowl of white rice. The incredible range of earthy flavors and textures in each spoonful of the bibimbap was truly something to be savored.

The pork back ribs were "low-temperature aged" (저온숙성) for forty-eight hours with sea salt, garlic, pepper, and basil and bay leaves, then roasted and smoked over an oak wood fire before being grilled for service. They arrived at our table followed by a sizzling skillet of pork neck prepared by the same method.

Carrying a few extra pounds in our stomachs, we plodded back into the street to figure out how to get back to town. Somewhere along the way, an infectious 7080 tune playing on the side of the road held us by its source until we were able to identify it with a Google search of its lyrics. The song rang in our ears until we reached the entrance, where we opportunely found a bus departing for Jeonju waiting.

No other passengers boarded the bus, prompting the driver to suggest that Maisan should be visited in the spring during cherry blossom season. We learned that the bare trees lining the path to Maisan, are actually cherry blossom trees, which flourish in mid to late April. They are the last to bloom in Korea, where cherry blossoms can usually be appreciated from the end of March to mid-April. If you miss the annual bloom in Seoul, you have another chance to appreciate them in Jinan! Their delayed bloom is attributed to Jinan's wide daily temperature range. This aspect of their climate is also credited with influencing the unique aroma and flavor of their famous deodeok.

After letting us know we'd be taking the more scenic route out of Jinan, our driver took us on a road meandering through the mountains.



Home: Blog2


"If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel - as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them - wherever you go."

Anthony Bourdain's unmatched relish for adventure and humble approach to food, cultures, and humanity left an indelible impression on my younger self. Imparting on me the courage to veer into the unknown, he inspired me to embrace my vulnerabilities and seek adventures and growth beyond the comforts of home.


In July of 2017, I boarded a one-way flight to Seoul, South Korea. Within the first week of arrival, I signed a lease for an apartment and by the end of August, I had accepted a job offer that relocated me to Pyeongchang and Gangneung, where the Winter Olympics were soon to be held. From there, I had the rare opportunity to explore much of the greater Gangwon Province's beautiful mountainous and coastal regions and their distinctive foods. Once or twice a month, I'd return to Seoul or travel to an unfamiliar region to poke around alleyways, markets, and mountains in search of more good eats and adventures.


By Way of Korea is a storytelling project inspired by the food, places, and faces I encountered throughout Korea. By sharing my fondest memories, notes, and images of Korea, I simply hope to play a small part in piquing greater curiosity about Korean food and culture in my readers.  My content will heavily spotlight, but not be limited to Korean food and culture. 

Home: Inner_about
Home: Contact


Let's connect!

Your details were sent successfully!

bottom of page