Last November, a few friends and I decided to go on a spontaneous bike trip to Youngsan-gang, a river running through the province of Jeolla-do. I mentioned number of times on my blog that Jeolla-do is the mecca of traditional Korean cuisine. Nowadays, it is a popular tourist destination not only for foreigners but for Koreans from other provinces as well. Living in Daejeon, the center of South Korea, it is just an easy two-hour bus ride to Gwangju, the largest metropolitan city of gourmet province.
The bike path from Gwangju to Mokpo along the Youngsan-gang river is an absolute beauty. It was November and winter seemed just around the corner. The air was cold and damp as we ride through foggy wind. However, our bodies soon warmed up and I soon enjoyed the chilly air across my face.
We left Gwangju in late morning and arrived in Naju around lunch time. The small town is famous for traditional gom-tang, or beef soup. Unlike seolleongtang in which the murky soup is the result of boiling soup bones, gomtang broth is fairy clear as the soup is made by boiling only meat chunks.
I was surprised by how clear and light the soup is. Most beef soups I had in Korea were almost milky in their colour with rather heavy flavour. The beef broth of Naju gomtang went through the process of taking out the excess fat from meat so it result in clear soup. The meat is also quite soft and was not tough at all.
Naju beef soup became nationally famous and now there is “gomtang street” in Naju. On these streets, you can find old restaurants that are run by same family for generations. The one we went for lunch was in business since 1960s. The old ladies working there with aged tables and chairs were quite impressive. What caught my attention was the huge log transformed into cutting board. The lady who was working her knife on top of it seemed like she’s been doing it forever.
It was November but luckily we could still get a taste of autumn through last falling leaves in colour. Through the entire ride, we were mesmerized by the colours of the mountain and fields. After lunch, I had to stop by in front of a large ginkgo tree across the street where I placed my bike in front of it. It felt like this tree had been serving the townsmen for decades by providing comforting rest spot.