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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


Hanwoo, Korea's Most Prized Beef (Hoenggye, Pyeongchang)

Updated: Jun 29, 2019

The evolution of the role of hanwoo allegorizes Korea's dramatic shift from an agrarian to industrial economy.

Hanwoo refers to "premium" beef valued for it 40-50% marbled fat content, or the breed of small cattle indigenious to Korea that it comes from. Nicely boxed sets of hanwoo wearing lofty price tags are prominently displayed at department stores around special holidays during which they are considered a coveted gift.

Throughout Korea's agricultural history, hanwoo was valued for its extensive use in farming and transportation. But the 1960s marked the beginning of the country's rapid economic growth which encouraged the increase in beef consumption that resulted in the animal's being redefined as a meat-type cattle.

A couple of months into starting my job in Pyeongchang, our company organized a hwesik and treated us to hanwoo at Goyang Iyagi in Hoenggye, the small village where the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium (and not much other than a limited selection of small restaurants) was located.

Upon being seated, an overwhelming variety of banchan arrived as a prelude to our main meal; there must've been about five varieties of kimchi alone. Arranging all the dishes to fit on our tables inadvertently became a team-building activity that took considerable collective effort.

Each banchan was delicately seasoned to allow the natural flavor of its star ingredient to shine. Some of my favorites, such as the memil jeonbyeong (buckwheat crepe), showcased ingredients that are considered staples of the local diet. Buckwheat grows in abundance in the Gangwon Province and is extensively used in its cuisine.

Beef with prominent veins of fat soon arrived at our already crowded table. Its near 50:50 fat-to-protein ratio promised juicy, tender bites full of beefy flavor. Hanwoo commands a high price for these qualities, but also for its limited supply. Only 30% of Korea's land is arable, which greatly limits the space available to breed such livestock. The Hanwoo Research Institute, also located in Pyeongchang, is devoted to developing a more efficient hanwoo industry.

The beef certainly lived up to its reputation. I was partial to the unmarinated hanwoo, which I enjoyed most with a dab of salt and a sliver of garlic wrapped in baek kimchi.

I'd be remiss to not introduce Goyang Iyagi's gondeure rice and ssam. Gondeure (Korean thistle), a nutritious plant found abundantly in the mountains of Gangwon-do, is a another staple of the local diet, often dried for consumption as banchan or to be mixed into rice. Each individual stone pot of rice is made to order, so you must consider the cooking time and order accordingly. A black stone pot full of white rice cooked with gondeure was served with a side of gang-dwenjang* (made and aged in-house) and sheets of unseasoned seaweed.

We were instructed to scoop the rice out into an empty bowl and pour hot water into the stone pot to enjoy the nurungji (scorched rice). The fragrant rice, we were told, should be mixed with the gang-dwenjang then eaten in the form of ssam using the seaweed as the wrap. The first bite of ssam packed with the earthiness of the mountains enveloped in the smell of the sea compelled me to continue gorging past my stomach's capacity.

* baek kimchi:"white" kimchi

* gang-dwenjang: dwenjang that is thickly-stewed and often used as a condiment for barbecue/ssam



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"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. 

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