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By Way of Korea

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an epicurious New Yorker's journey around South Korea

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By Way of Korea: $1M+ Dedicated to Promoting This Local Dish Ahead of the Olympics (Pyeongchang)

Updated: May 15, 2019

On the first day of September 2017, I boarded a bus to Pyeongchang with two large suitcases full of most of my belongings. The Seoul metropolis soon faded behind me as I headed toward Pyeongchang County's agriculturally-dominated landscape. After tw0-and-a-half hours, the bus stopped at a small intercity bus terminal in Hoenggye, a small, sparsely-populated village in Pyeongchang that was to host the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies.


Hoenggye serves as a hub for visitors headed for Alpensia Ski Resort or Yongpyong Ski Resort and offered the only restaurants within a 10-15 minute driving radius from the housing provided by our company. After work, we'd often drive into the village for dinner. Ranting and sweating while eating Dangoljip's spicy osam bulgogi was a cathartic evening ritual on practiced on some of our most stressful days.


"Osam" is formed with the first characters of the Korean words for squid (o-jing-eo) and pork belly (sam-gyup-sal), the two main components of the dish. Pyeongchang claims credit as the origin of this widely-popular dish consisting of slices of pork belly and squid marinated in gochujang sauce. (The pork belly in the osam bulgogi featured below is not marinated.)


Prior to the Olympics, the county conducted R&D on osam bulgogi to find ways to improve the dish and reintroduce it as the region's star food attraction through local restaurants along the newly designated "Osam Bulgogi Street" (오삼불고기 걸이) in Hoenggye. The project produced a sauce made with the addition of deodeok extract, a natural ingredient that effectively eliminates the "porky" smell. Pyeongchang offered local restaurants financial incentives and support in the form of recipes, training, and marketing to encourage them to feature osam bulgogi on their menus. By the time I had arrived in Hoenggye at the beginning of September, the campaign to promote the dish was well into execution.


Dangoljib (단골집), our choice destination for osam bulgogi, features bossam more prominently on both its signage and menu. But upon surveying what the other diners are having, you'll most likely find that osam bulgogi is the more popular dish. Pork belly and squid* marinated in gochujang sauce are cooked on a portable grill on your table. All the fixings for ssam are provided, as well as a rich miyuk-guk that, judging by its yellowish color, may have been made with hwangtae (dried pollock), another culinary gem of Pyeongchang County. After eating all the protein, we always order rice to mix into the leftover sauce. After many post-work osam bulgogi dinners, we figured out the magic number of bowls of rice to order for fried rice: one less than the number of people in our party.



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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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