Finding the perfect fall getaway
Autumn is the perfect time to be outdoors and travel. The leaves turn vibrant shades of red and yellow, and seasonal food is getting bigger and juicier. Those are already two good reasons to pack up and leave.
So here is a list of autumn destinations across Korea to indulge in this short yet stunning season.
Jangheung: Silver grass and hanwoo
Mount Cheonkwan in Jangheung is well known for its tall and thick silver grasses, which can grow as tall as the average man. When the weather is good, trekkers can look down on the southern sea, and possibly even catch a glimpse of Jeju Island’s Mount Halla.
Jangheung also specializes in juicy hanwoo, or homegrown cattle. In fact, the hanwoo raised there even outnumber the residents. About 40,000 people call the county home, but the hanwoo number about 60,000.
The weekly Saturday market, where customers can directly purchase hanwoo from farmers, is consistently packed with people from all parts of Korea.
Hanwoo’s taste may be comparable everywhere, but the way people in Jangheung enjoy hanwoo is different. The county even has its own signature menu - hanwoo samhap - which roughly translates to “harmonious trinity.”
The original consists of three dishes: sliced fermented skate, boiled pork belly and kimchi. The three are eaten together.
With this in mind, the local samhap includes hanwoo, shiitake mushrooms and pen shells, which are all regional delicacies. Sans marinade or seasoning, the three are grilled on a cooking stone and eaten together. Some restaurants recommend that it be accompanied with pickled perilla leaves.
Shiitake mushrooms have their own unique smell and the pen shells are chewy, the combination of which makes for an interesting harmony, intriguing the palates of locals and tourists alike.
In downtown Jangheung, more than 30 venues offer hanwoo samhap, but the oldest, Chirak Sikdang, located near the Jangheung County Office, has been serving it for 30 years. Two servings of hanwoo samhap, with 200 grams of sirloin, pen shells and shiitake mushrooms, cost 40,000 won ($39).
Gangwon: Fall foliage and sailfin sandfish
Fall foliage in Gangwon is likely to reach its peak next weekend, and Gangwon’s tourists and locals often head to two places to enjoy the scenery. Hangyeryeong, in northern Gangwon, is known for its vivid autumn leaves, and though the fall foliage along the old path of Daegwallyeong is smaller in scale, it still teems with saturated colors.
But whatever you do, you must eat Gangwon’s sailfin sandfish. The harvest season for this saltwater fish lasts from October to December. And Goseong County’s tradition of catching sailfin is still a relatively new phenomenon. Many locals love to grill the fish, but eating it boiled in a spicy marinade is also common.
Of the many restaurants there that specialize in sailfin sandfish, Jungangjip Sikdang in Sokcho is the longest-running eatery, serving the fish stew since 1970s. A small serving of sailfin sandfish stew for two people is 25,000 won. (033) 662-4144.
Cheongsong: Fall leaves and chicken stew
Speaking of fall foliage, Jusan Lake on Mount Juwang in Cheongsong County, North Gyeongsang, can’t be overlooked. Its scenery this time of year is unforgettable.
Against a backdrop of autumn leaves, fog blankets the lake, and the forest’s assorted colors are utterly magical, making for a perfect crisp autumn morning.
Sustenance is also important on the road, and Cheongsong is well known for its mineral water, which makes its chicken stew extra special since the water contains carbonic acid.
Cheongsong’s County Gov. Han Dong-su, a fan of the dish, recommends Sinchon Gyegok Garden, his favorite place.
Established in 1988, the restaurant prepares its chicken stew in a unique way: First, the whole chicken is soaked in mineral water for a full day. Then the breast is marinated in a red pepper paste while the rest of the chicken is boiled with the other ingredients.
Two servings of the stew and marinated chicken breasts go for 24,000 won.
Gochang: Fall scenery and eel
In Gochang County, North Jeolla, fall foliage is often associated with Mount Seonun and Mount Naejang. And visitors have no choice but to eat the Pungcheon eel.
Often mistaken as the name of the region, Pungcheon, in fact, is a reference to the mouth of the river where the Pungcheon eel is grown. Autumn eels also taste richer and are more robust and hearty.
Near the entrance to Seonun Temple, which is in close proximity to Mount Seonun, more than 40 restaurants serve the eel, but Yeonki Sikdang is probably the most representative among the pack.
Opened in 1970, the restaurant sells up to 230 kilograms (507 pounds) of eel per day.
One serving costs 31,000 won.
Ulleung Island: Flowers and squid
Off the peninsula, Ulleung Island’s fall season is unique.
Ulleung chrysanthemums, designated as natural monument, cover the islets from October to November, and teolmeowi flowers, a type of canary yellow chrysanthemum, are in full bloom throughout the fall.
But it’s the squid that most likely represents autumn on the island. Here, squid intestine stew is a rare delicacy that can hardly be found off the island. (Intestines go bad quickly and cannot easily be transported.)
Along with the intestines, other parts of the squid, like the lung and the heart, are boiled with assorted vegetables.
The broth is clean but the aftertaste can be spicy.
The local establishment 99 Sikdang specializes in squid intestine stew. A single serving costs 10,000 won.
BY SON MIN-HO, HONG JI-YEON