Last Sunday, my parents and I decided to go for a little drive out of the city. Less than an hour away is a small city called Iksan (익산시), located in the province of Jeollabuk-do. Today’s destination was solely based on my father’s suggestion. He has been eager to try the famous ddeokgalbi (떡갈비: minced short rib meat shaped into patties then charcoal-grilled) that his tennis buddies were raving about for some time. He was pretty serious about giving a fair review.
The restaurant sits in a quiet countryside and is conveniently adjacent to the entrance to a country club that mom often goes with her golf buddies. In fact, mom has been here few times before during the summer. She also praised the quality of the meat patties and claimed that they are better than that of “originals” in Damyang city. Our family has tried the dish few years ago when we went on a road trip to Damyang, the city where ddeokgalbi was born. We ate at one of the most famous places in the city — the kind of place that often appears in media and claims that they are the “original”. Unfortunately, I do not remember much of the dish as it was not special to me at all. Perhaps I got my hopes too high but in the end I felt the meat patties of Damyang were just average-tasting and overpriced.
The sign also includes the word “Damyang” — probably indicating that they are following the cooking method that was originally developed in Damyang. The first impression was not so welcoming as the place was completely empty. The owner explained that the winter is their off-season. Of course, most of their regulars are probably golfers who only come all the way out here to enjoy a game under the sun. A frosty, gloomy Sunday in January is indeed no day for golfing.
While the room is being heated just for the three of us, the table setting was completed with tasty sides. Some I have never seen before — like pickled radish leaves. The mushroom pancake was great. I wonder how they got the greenish color. Maybe from green tea powder. Iksan is not too far from Daejeon but you can really see and taste the difference in food. Food of Jeolla-do has been long recognized as the best and most traditional Korean cuisine.