Sampaedong 358-2, Namyangju City
Gyeonggi Province, South Korea
Whenever I travel and have the opportunity to indulge in some well known dishes that have made their way to North America, I make sure to partake in them whenever I can. The only time I’ve ever turned down an offer was when I was in Manila two years ago and came face-to-face with a dare to try balut.
Why do I do this?
Partly to experience how its made in the “home country”, and pick up any hints as to what has been adapted by the Canadian version, and to become aware of any obvious misinterpretations.
Throughout these experiences and discoveries, I’ve come to learn that more often than not, despite how connected our planet has become in the present day, there are two factors that seem to stand out for me. One, the availability of certain ingredients in “authentic” dishes that are just too rare/expensive/bothersome/perishable for transport to ever retain its presence in the North American versions of these dishes. Two, the acceptance of some ingredients by North Americans is a hard one to overcome, for whatever reason: flavor, scent, appearance, source, etc.
I guess there are some things that will just take more time to become mainstream enough to be readily available and acceptable.
Nestled along the banks of the mighty Han River quite close to where the north and south arms converge together, is a stretch of walking/bicycle paths and fields that are popular with families out visiting the countryside from Seoul, especially on weekends. I can understand this human need to get one with nature, as when I lived in the city of Calgary, I would often hit the road and go to nearby Bragg Creek, Kananaskis, or even out to Canmore/Banff just to get away from the concrete jungle after a busy workweek. Being in Asia this time, the way the city slickers were out and about in Namyangju‘s beautiful parks and public water lily gardens, reminded me of how busy Hong Kongers head out to the New Territories to get their quiet waterside, “resort” experiences.
Back to my visit… among the handful of nearby restaurant options was this two story structure that housed a place named Cheongtong Bapjip. With some members of our group having previously dined here and saying positive things about it, I asked if we could go in and have our dinner meal as it was getting close to that time of the day.
Inside, as with many Korean establishments, seating was on the floor. Low propped up tables were spaced out evenly in the clean main dining area. These two pictures above were soon occupied by a large party of parents and their middle school aged children. Clearly one of the advantages of these tables is the ability to move and configure placements as required.
Now I’m sure many of you have had bibimbap before. This time there was a twist or two, as first off, it was served family-style. The toppings were all compiled on a large circular plate for all five of us to share. I loved the color here, almost like a painter’s palette board. If I were to say there were difference from the bibimbap I’ve had in Canada, I’d say the ingredients here were mostly cut long and thin, rather than wider slices that I see often with things like marinated mushrooms that are toppings I’ve seen here in North America with this dish. Otherwise, most of the namul have made appearances in various bowls of bibimbap eaten on this side of the big blue pond.
Next to make it interesting, a pair of rice were ordered. Partly to give it more texture and flavor. For me, I was looking at the health properties of the non-polished type. 🙂 Please disregard the portions here, I was being quite light handed with my choices, and the hot weather outside wasn’t exactly helping my appetite.
The best part of this style is you can choose what and how much of each namul topping you want in your bowl. Generally though, I tend to go “around the horn” and pick everything available at my disposal. Add the spicy gochujang, and mix it all up and you’re set to eat! Image shown above is before these last two crucial and necessary steps.
Aside from the obvious nutritional value of having so many colorful varieties of vegetables in your meal, the contrasting soft and crunchy textures within is what makes bibimbap special. I love when its all infused together by the hot sauce. Served cold or hot, bibimbap is one power packed and stomach filling meal. With fresh ingredients, the bibimbap here at Cheongtong Bapjip was a winner. And the idea of mixing two strains of rice was an excellent one as well to further enhance the flavors – I will have to ask for this duality the next time I order this in Canada and see if they can accommodate.
As mentioned, the area around this restaurant was pleasant for those interested in walking a few of those eaten calories off, immediately after. And with that, we ventured off for a good thirty minute walk along the water route that streams all the way into the nation’s capital…