346-2 Ha-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
After a morning spent outdoors in the sweltering summer heat taking in some live acrobatic performances and a long walk around the touristy Shilla Millenium Park, we headed back to the cooling comforts of our air conditioned car and sought out more places on my native host’s list of places to eat at. A simple search in the auto’s GPS device turned up another location that was not too far away and so off we went. Best known as a restaurant that specializes in dishes that contain beans (soybeans, peas, lentils, etc.), Kongerang was set just off the main road that passed by it. It was situated in an older looking, traditionally-built Korean country home.
An ample parking lot was situated right on its parcel of land and it was full of cars! A young man (who’s job I would never want) was sitting on a folding chair on the side of the road and as we approached, he came to our driver side window and explained their parking system. Essentially, there were no open spots available now (and thus no unoccupied tables inside), but he was soon on his headset conversing with someone inside and gave us an estimated wait time of thirty minutes. He allowed us to park on the shoulder of the street, and as one car left the lot, we were permitted to move the car onto the rocky stone-lined parkade. This however did not mean our table was ready yet, but this place was prepared as they had a large tented (and air conditioned) area towards the back where other waiting patrons were patiently sitting. Later on, a voice came out over the speaker inside noting our number and we then proceeded into the building housing the restaurant where our freshly set table was waiting. A swift and efficient system!
On the spartan menu, the kongirang chongsik was highlighted as the house specialty. Basically, it involved the choice (for each person) of one of four chiggae. Since there were three of us at the table, this made the choice rather simple: a kimchi sundubu, chongguk sundubu and a piji chiggae. This represented a fairly standard choice, a very unique one (the fermented style that reminded me of Japanese natto in the chongguk) and the much more chalky in texture (piji). There was no choice in the level of spicy heat, so they all came with a substantial kick. I suppose people’s tolerance of fiery food differs, but I note that when I visit Korea, I have to keep in mind a mild is more like hot, when it comes to my tolerance. So basically, I take things down a notch (or at least ask at times when my stomach isn’t feeling up to it). A final comment here since readers may have picked up on my penchant for ordering sundubu dishes. the version here was comparatively more “liquidy” and less chunky with fewer supplemental ingredients relative to the ones I’ve eaten in the greater Vancouver area. It was loaded with smooth tofu though, and given its the key to this dish, it was welcome and interesting overall to eat this without the “interference” of other things in the mix.
With only the Korean stews to fight our hunger, an order of cheyuk pokgum was also made. Essentially, it was a spicy stir fry of thin sliced pork, kimchi and green scallions served with a side of fresh, firm tofu. A wide array of banchan also were brought by our server, including, as one would expect from a place that specializes in them, some that were bean-based.
Looking back on this meal now, I’m not sure how we got through such hot (in terms of temperature) food on a brutally humid day. The strong flavors and agreement that the tastes were spot on probably had something to do with it. I can see why the parking lot was packed to the max and the waiting line in the annex tent was not short. A well run operation that is used to a busy service and delicious food. A perfect combination for a lunch time outing in this resort town, one that I’d recommend to anyone who might be traveling there. All told the total bill came to 21,000 Won (less than 19 CAD), so for the budget traveler, an even stronger perk!