Travel Musings: Tongyeong (통영) 2014
Over the fall, one of my best and respected buddy made a return visit to Seoul since moving back to his home country of Thailand just over a year ago. This is the same guy who always graciously allows me crash at his place when I keep headin' over to Thailand and goes so much out of the way for lil ol' me. In any case, for his welcome return a group of our friends had been planning another trip to coincide with his visit since we last made a trip out to Andong a year before. The plan had originally been to make it to Jeju but when that plan was scuttled by logistics, we settled on Tongyeong.
I think I've made it quite clear by now I have such a fond affection for Tongyeong. This sleepy coastal town right off the southern shores of the Korean peninsula is blessed with a picturesque ocean view that's dotted with islands, gorgeous blue ocean colors, and some of the freshest (and inexpensive) seafood in Korea. With its pristine ocean just a stone's throw away, no wonder the offerings from the sea such as the oysters from here are renown and lauded as some of the best in Korea. This was my second trip out to this town and since I was now more familiar with its bearing and layout, I made it a point to try and seek out some good eats and whatnot in between. Here's a look at some of the eats, sights, and other activities we did!
After a long 5 hour drive, we made it into Tongyeong in mid-afternoon, hungry and eager to get our eating on right away. We were intrigued by a much-buzzed place called "Wonjo Milmool Sikdang" (원조밀물식당) as it drew raves for its munggye bibimbap (멍게비빔밥).
I'm sure everyone knows what bibimbap is but munggye (멍게) refers to a lil guy known as the 0sea squirt. The typical variety of sea squirt consumed in Korea is apparently known in English as "Sea Pineapple". Like its name infers, the sea critter resembles a bright, orange-red pineapple and is a favorite for seafood fans in Korea.
Sea squirt, or sea pineapple, for sale (Picture from Wikipedia)
It's strange that we chose to eat this as none of us are hardcore seafood eaters and three out of four of us didn't even like munggye in general. But the reviews for the munggye bibimbap here raved about the delicate and mellow taste without any fishy scents and we figured this was about the best place to try it.
An interesting but somewhat sad note about this restaurant is that it was apparently originally located nearby as plain old, "Milmool Sikdang". But it did so well that the greedy landowner kicked them out and began operating a restaurant there under the same name. This led to the original restaurant relocating and setting up shop in its current location today where they put in a "Wonjo" (원조- meaning "original" or "first of") at the front of the name. I know many Westerners would balk at the legality of such a string of events happening but it happens all too frequently in Korea it seems...
That sad footnote aside, the restaurant is well known and has already appeared on a lot of publications and tv shows. Their best known dishes are the munggye bibimbap (10,000), munggye jeongol (a munggye stew- also 10,000), maeuntang (spicy fish stew- 10,000), and their mixed grilled and seasoned fish (8,000).
They also offer galchi jorim (braised hairtail fish - 10,000 but minimum order of 2) and non seafood items such as soondubu jjigae (7,000) and dweji duruchigi (braised spicy pork and kimchi - 15,000 for small and 25,000 for large). As a restaurant truly devoted to what's in-season, they offer seasonal items that are quite unique and nearly impossible to find in capital Seoul such as a seatail fish and pumpkin soup in the summer and oyster soup in winter. All your standard and regional alcohol beverages are also offered.
For the four of us, we went with two orders of the munggye bibimbap (10,000 each) and two orders of the modeum saengseon (mixed grilled and seasoned fish - 8,000 each). As much as I was intrigued by the munggye jeongol/stew, we were all munggye novices and decided not to take the gamble for this menu item...
Soon enough out came the spread of generous banchan. In addition to your root vegetables and kimchi, like many restaurants in the area, they make use of the seaside location with many seafood-based banchans.
Standout banchans included:
Myeolchi hweh moochim (멸치회무침). Anchovy sashimi that's mixed with a spicy sweet sauce and vegetables. Excellent and the anchovy hweh is melt-in-your-mouth tender, I would have been quite happy just ordering a bigger portion of this alone. I'm not sure but this may be a seasonal side dish they offer and, unfortunately, you can't get unlimited refills on this.
Seasoned, dried anchovies
Pa (green onion) kimchi
And then, just as we were getting comfortable, out came the two bowls of munggye bibimbap... Placed before us were big metallic bibimbap bowls with a trinity of toasted seaweed crumbles, toasted and ground sesame seeds, and fresh sea pineapple bits with just a drizzle of sesame oil. On the side were bowls of rice ready to be tossed and mixed in
You have to admit, that the sea pineapple meat isn't exactly the most appetizing looking thing. In fact, for seafood novices, it looks even daunting. But we weren't letting a few bits of gooey orange bits stand in our way from our sense of adventure (and hunger) so in went the rice to begin the bibim-ing (mixing).
Here's even a video for you to enjoy of the mixing process :)
And voila! The fluffy rice was now coated with sesame oil and speckled with tasty goodness. And the nutty smell wafting from the rice was quite good! As for taste, the verdict? Good! Quite good in fact! There's a slightly dark edge that comes from the munggye but when it combines with the nutty and salty properties of its peers it comes together to blanket the rice canvass in a completely mellow way. I was especially surprised to find that, despite its look, the munggye has a bit of texture to it with a slight and pleasant chew. Add to that that the munggye was quite fresh (I saw the ajumma cutting them open in the kitchen) and absolutely no fishy smell at all. All of us marveled at how well the munggye bibimbap went down with many of us noting we were surprised we were able to eat munggye in the first place!
The modeum saengseon also comes fresh from the grill with a simple spooning of a semi-sweet soy sauce-based dressing and a mound of chopped scallions on top. As the "modeum" or "everything" implies, the fish are all different in variety including yeolgi, jogi, maegari, and something else. I can't even tell you what the English names for them are except jogi which is yellow corvina and I think maegari is a dialect for horse mackerel.
English names aside, again, fantastic dish. They really got their fish grilling down which keeps the skin so crisp but the skin inside so moist and tender. I like how the sauce that's basted on at the end is light enough to let the fish meat shine while the scallions add a wonderful fragrant note. Even those who aren't too fond of fish should find this dish a winner. And we clearly were also fans as noted by the fish massacre scene from the aftermath of this dish...
Wonjo Milmool Shikdang (원조밀물식당)
19, Hangnam 1-gil, Tongyeong-si
경상남도 통영시 항남동 139-33
경상남도 통영시 항남동 139-33
Located a stone's throw away from the downtown harbor, the restaurant is found right in front of a Shilla Motel parking lot.
Our bellies were full but as it was approaching late afternoon by that time and we weren't left with a lot of choice on what to do. Seeing as how the skies were so clear though, we decided to join in on a popular recommended activity and catch the sun setting at the observation deck in Dara Park (달아공원). The view from the observation deck is already lauded as one of the most scenic in Tongyeong with its clear views of the sea and the dozens of islands scattered about. For history buffs it's a great place to catch sight of some important naval battle sites- on the left you see the Hansan Sea where the ferocious and important battle of Hansan Island from the Imjin Wars was fought (also thought to be the third largest naval battle in all history) while on the right the battle of Dangpo was fought (also from the Imjin War.)
Historical significance aside, the spot is one of complete beauty which is aided by the wonderful scenic coastal drive that leads up to the park. While parking is free, the spaces are limited so on crowded weekends many simply park on the side of the road which I'm pretty sure would illicit some parking fines if enforcers chose to do a check. Entrance is also free to the park and the observation deck is only a short 1-2 minute walk (slightly uphill) from the parking lot. The walk is really a small bit of effort for a rewarding view of the south sea and surrounding islands which is difficult to rival anywhere on the Korean peninsula.
If you're going for the sun setting make sure to go early if you want good seats- especially in summer seasons or on weekends. We went a good hour or so before the sun really began setting and we were already surrounded by a horde of visitors chattering and snapping away on their phones and cameras. While an hour wait can sound a bit long, as the sun began its last hour of descent the sight and subsequent radiant color show was really something.
The sun really began to glow and radiate in the last half hour as though it knew it was being admired by so many.
Yowza! Be sure to bring sunglasses :)
With our eyes more than titillated, it was time to do so with our stomachs (again). You may recall the last time I was in Tongyeong I gorged on oysters but unfortunately missed out on the hweh (sashimi) offerings of Tongyeong. It's safe to say that I more than avenged that grievance this time around by stuffing myself nightly with glorious, fresh hweh.
I've explained before but Tongyeong is just about the best spot for seafood in Korea as it's located not only off the South Sea but just smack dab in the center between the West and East Sea. This means you get seafood of just about every variety at its most freshest in Tongyeong while the fewer number of hands it passes through means the prices are just about the lowest in all of Korea.
The seafood offerings in the Tongyeong central market alone is staggering and well worth a look. It's almost like a free aquarium admission as just about everything beneath the sea is seemingly on sale for preparation and consumption.
And man, are the creatures here FRESH. You can clearly see the clams and oysters gaping in the water, shrimps scurrying around, and you may even get splashed by some of them who try and make an escape (including a few that do make a small, futile escape as witnessed below).
Most of the seafood shops are located in the Joongang Sijang (Central Market) but if you pass its entrance and keep going, about 100 meters or so, you'll see the entrance to the Hwal Uh Sijang (live fish market). You can't really miss it as it's just a long row of ajummas sitting in front of colorful baskets of live fish and expertly hacking, slicing while trying to sell their fishy goods to passerby.
Make your way down the row and almost to the end until you're right in front of the entrance to the building of the dried goods market.
Sitting in front of there should be this lady below with her hair in a bob and working hard on prepping her fish to hungry patrons. There's no sign but her station is actually called Cheonan Soosan (천안수산). This lady was actually a friend of one of our friend's mother. Our friend had been telling us that this lady always was extra generous to her customers and he was not kidding! As busy as she is, she gives you the expert low down on what to get and is helpful for even novice hweh order-ers. The first night, for example, we asked to get enough sashimi for 5 people and she pointed out which fishes would work for our number and then expertly prepared them to be ready to be taken out to eat at our condo. The following night, we returned and asked for 30,000 won worth of fish and she also gave us a few options which led to two nights of hweh feastin.
You can catch her doing her thannnng here:
I should point out that, like any other live seafood market in Korea, the setting isn't exactly "polished". In fact, it's very rustic and even primeval the way the ajummas nonchalantly hack away at the live fishes in front of you with scales and fish parts sometimes flying around. If you're a bit squeamish you may want to opt instead for one of the associated hweh restaurants in the central market where you can get your seafood without watching its demise beforehand.
Mmm... fish guts, bones, and fins
But do try and check it out!
Waitin to seafood feast!
Cheonan Soosan (천안수산)
Located within the Hwal Uh Market (활어시장).
If you're facing the entrance of the Central Market, head to your right about 100 meters and you will see the Hwal Uh Market entrance sign. You can't miss it as it's just rows of ajummas on the ground.
Here's what the entrance of the Live Fish Market looks like:
Here's the market entrance on a map:
Where the "E" pinpoint marker is"
On a side note, you can even have the hweh delivered to you via quick motorcycle or even nationwide (within Korea) by delivery, both for a fee of course.
Purchasing your hweh from these shops will give you the best prices you can find but the downside is that the standard fixings including dip, lettuce (for wraps), and other stuff aren't offered. But that's easily remedied as many of the shops around sell lettuce, chogochujang, ssamjang, minced garlic, soy sauce, wasabi, and even maeuntang seasoning albeit a bit pricey. Your best bet would be to pick up those things in an actual supermarket nearby but if you're in a pinch, these shops will do which is what we did. If you want to make maeuntang, be sure to ask the hweh ajumma for the head and bones which she'll put in a bag for you. Our Thai friend had a mighty hankering for sora (conch shells) so we picked up a big bag of those from the central market for only 10,000 won too. Back at home, we quickly put the goods in the fridge and began prepping the table and sides for our hweh feast.
To say our hweh ajumma was generous is a serious understatement. We were given some 4 packs of our hweh and this alone was just two of those packs.
See how shiny and glimmering the hweh is? Our eyes were just boggling at the sheer amount as well. And taste? Delectable. Exquisite. Enchanting and everything in between. Whether put in lettuce and ggehtnip (perilla leaves) wraps , or just dipped in sauce (I preferred, as always, soy sauce and wasabi) the sweet flesh seemed to just melt in your mouth. Seriously, hardly any chewing necessary!
The sora were simply boiled for a few minutes (overdoing the boiling will make them tough!) and pulled out from their snug shells and eaten too.
We picked up two packets of maeuntang seasoning to make the soup and we threw the fish head and bones in with some water and put it to a boil. These seasoning packets aren't the most healthiest things and have a good dosage of MSG. But maeuntang from scratch takes a bit of effort and time and when you're on vacation, I guess it's ok to cut corners every once in a while, right?
But the highlight was the hweh for sure. The four of us gorged on the two packs, ate a half of a third one and was stuffed. Late in the night we were joined by two other friends who decided to impromptu head down to Tongyeong for a night and we busted out the remaining 1.5 packs but we STILL had leftovers!
We were so busy feastin that we forgot about some of our beers we had placed in the freezer to quickly chill and, despite what some of us believed, beer does indeed freeze. In fact, you get a beer slusht if you leave it in the freezer long enough haha.
On our second day, despite our feast the night before, we were more than eager to get our bellies filled after a full night of slumber. We decided this was a good opportunity to hit up a place that was high on our priority list. Sehjib Shikdang (새집식당) is already highly regarded by locals as reflected in its 43 years of business operations. The neighborhood the restaurant is in (강구안 골목길) is a historic one with some buildings and operations, including Sehjib Shiksang, having been around for decades.
They even proudly explain their history and significance in the restaurant and though it doesn't look like much, don't be fooled as the magic comes from the kitchen.
As a sign of a true eatery, you're limited to simply three menu choices here: the haemultang (small for 30,000 and large for 40,000), the haemul ddookbaegi (8,000), and the mool hweh (10,000). The haemultang is a spicy seafood stew and the haemul ddookbaegi is basically a rich dwenjang jjigae filled with seafood. Whatever you order though, all the seafood comes from Tongyeong and is of the freshest of quality. The restaurant also claims it was the first to serve the haemul ddookbaegi in the Tongyeong region.
The banchan are all tasty and seasonal. But the real standout includes...
The grilled fish with spicy sweet chojang spooned on top. I'd be lying if I said I could tell you the name of the fish but t'was sweet, sweet flesh.
Chives gyeranmari. It's gyeranmari with a ton of roughly chopped chives added in for a fragrant egg dish. And look at how perfectly that golden crust gives way to the softer inside!
The dookbaegi comes boiling to your table and, on first glance, may raise some eyebrows for its simple demeanor. But use your spoon as a treasure hunting utensil of sorts to dig in and you'll find a feast of seafood goodness.
Oyster fans will especially be in luck here as the plump morsels of sea meat are plentiful. The broth tastes rich but not of the sodium kind and with just a slight bit of heat from the peppers. As you get to the bottom of your ddookbaegi treasure hunt you'll definitely find your ddookbaegi tilted a bit so you can spoon out every last drop of that delish broth.
The mool hweh is rather unusual at Sehjib Shikdang as there isn't actually any "mool" or chilled broth that comes typically in this dish. It's actually something the restaurant servers will always preface when you order the dish but the worker realy are telling no fib- not a drop of liquid will be found in your "mool" hweh.
Instead, it's actually more of a hweh deop bap as a big bowl of rice comes with a bed of julienne cucumbers, chopped chives, fresh sashimi slices and a hearty spoonful of the seasoning paste. The seasoning paste itself is easy to be confused with simple gochujang but it's made with a combination of other ingredients such as vinegar and maesil concentrate (Japanese plum concentrate) and the paste is always made to order- says the restaurant- as making it ahead of time will take away the edge from its characteristic sharp, tangy-sweet taste. The sauce, and fresh fish slices, are the secret behind Sehjib Shikdang's "mool" hweh.
Give it a nice mix and... you get hweh deop bap. ^^;;
Not sure why the name is mool hweh still but you can't deny it's fresh and tasty. Just have the expectation that you're getting hweh deop bap and not mool hweh and you'll be golden.
Not sure why the name is mool hweh still but you can't deny it's fresh and tasty. Just have the expectation that you're getting hweh deop bap and not mool hweh and you'll be golden.
Sehjib Shikdang (새집식당)
1-73, Hangnam-dong, Tongyeong-si, Gyeongsangnam-do, Korea
경상남도 통영시 항남동 1-73
What I missed out on my last visit to Tongyeong was a ride up the popular cable car to the top of Mt. Mireuk and I was quite eager not to miss out on it this time around. You should note that the cable car does not operate on the second and fourth Mondays of every month. This was something I didn't know and was the reason why I couldn't take a ride up it on my last outing.
Otherwise you're good to go after purchasing a ticket at the base which is 5,500 for one way or 9,000 round trip for an adult. Due to its immense popularity though, the order you get to go up on a gondola determines on when you bought your ticket. In our case, they told us to come back in an hour. So, we took a stroll around the town nearby...
When you escape the popular tourist sites and town center of Tongyeong, you're always reminded that it really is still a sleepy, coastal town. Fishing and the ocean makes a strong stake of claim in most of the residents' daily lives and there's always a sense of calm and placidity you can't find in the big city.
But don't get too charmed by Tongyeong's beauty and be sure to be back on the cable car station precisely when they say to be back. They post the numbers they're currently taking up for rides on a few big electronic billboards so pay attention when your group's number group gets called up. Then get in line and you and your group will soon be ushered into an 8-person gondola and swept up.
At some 2km in length, the cable car ride is actually the longest in Korea and in about 10 minutes it takes you to almost the peak of Mireuksan (461 meters). Though it's not a really tall mountain, it's considered to be among the top 100 in Korea apparently.
From where you get off at the top, you need to actually walk up a few more steps (for about 10 minutes) to get to the various scenic overviews so the elderly, disabled, or anyone with frail health that wouldn't want to do some steps may find the cable car an overreach. But if you have no excuses, do go up because the views are spectacular indeed.
Pictures don't do justice so make a stop up here if you're passing through! Next time I'd like to even consider climbing the trail to the top... :)
Back down on ground level, we were in the mood for a snack which gave perfect leeway into trying arguably the most eyebrow raising dish on our list of potential places to try- the Ujjamyeon from Tongyeong Ujja and Jook. Perhaps you were able to deduce what an "ujja" is but to put it simpy it's udon and jjajangmyeon.... together... in one bowl...
My skepticism was sky high too but it was just too intriguing not to give it a try. For what it's worth, the place and dish has even been featured on the popular KBS variety show, <1 Night, 2 Days>. According to the store, the dish came to creation long ago when some locals were in the mood for both udon and jjajangmyeon. A spoonful of jjajang was spooned on top the udon and its been history ever since. Tongyeong Ujja and Jook is actually a boonshik joint so they have your standard ddeokbokki and such but the intriguing menu items are the Ujjamyeon and the bbaedaegijook- a mildly sweet porridge made from dried sweet potatoes. I would have loved to try the unique porridge but our goal before dinner was to merely sample the curious ujjamyeon so we stuck with two bowls to split between the four of us.
As a boonshik joint, the prices here are extremely cheap with a bowl of ujjamyeon alone only costing 4,000 a bowl. There's really no surprises in what to expect with the noodle dish... you have your bowl of udon- soup, noodles, and all- with a few bits of chopped veggies, danmooji (pickled daikon), and just a sprinkling of red chili flakes and sesame seeds on top. But to the side of it all is a spoonful of watered down jjajang.
The intriguing yin-yang visual is certainly one that will initially leave your brain perplexed and perhaps unable to comprehend what is before you.
Yet give it a mix and the dish looks more like a soupy jjajangmyeon with udon noodles and that's exactly how it tastes as well. The closest taste we could describe was a soupy Jjapagetti- the popular instant jjajangmyeon noodles. It's nothing mind-blowing and it's certainly nothing worth going out of the way for but it's a tasty enough boonshik dish that I'm sure kids (and those with tamer palettes) will love. I will say though that this eatery gets its balance of flavors right to make this dish. By this I mean that I sampled both the udon broth and a bit of the jjajang separately before mixing and they were both flavorful. You would then think that the mixing of the two would result in a salty, bizarre mesh of tastes but it's surprisingly mild and not salty at all! Tongyeong Ujja and Jook is located right in the town center by the harbor so I say just drop by for a snack when you're around.
Tongyeong Ujja and Jook (통영 우짜 죽)
1-9, Hangnam-dong, Tongyeong-si, Gyeongsangnam-do, Korea
경상남도 통영시 항남동 1-9
The Ujja restaurant is located right by the downtown harbor where the market was so we readied ourselves for another night of feasting by picking up some more hweh from our favorite hweh lady (and yes, she hooked us up big time again for another night), some fresh shucked oysters, and some other goods.
We also picked up the ubiquitous choongmu kimbap- one of the most famed dishes from Tongyeong. You can look in just about any direction in the downtown area and you'll see a choongmu kimbap store so you can't miss them. They all claim to be the original so I can't say much on a particular store to recommend but I just stuck with the same Ddoongbo Halmunee Kimbap as last time. I doubt they really differ that much in taste from one shop to another and they certainly don't differ in price as each serving in just about any shop in the area is 4,500 won. It's a bit pricey for the amount you get but darned if they aren't so tasty. I will point out though that if you walk out towards the edge of the downtown area, I noticed some of the shop prices dropped to 4,000 won per serving so hike out a bit if you want to save yourself 500 won.
On our second night, we were joined at dinner by another friend from Seoul who jumped on a bus down to Tongyeong as soon as she finished work. After picking her up, the five of us were ready for another night of feasting. The main attraction was the hweh like the night before but it was joined the second night by chicken...
fresh shucked oysters... (10,000 won though they did tell us we were still slightly early for prime oyster season)
... and kkool bbang. I wrote about these in my last Tongyeong trip reflection too but they are also just about sold everywhere in the downtown area. They're essentially fried cakes with various fillings (red bean paste, chestnut, etc) and topped with nuts and seeds.
They're pricey too at about 1,000 won a pop. They're either sold in packs of 5 or 10. I certainly don't think they're anything particularly special but I'm not a sweets guy in general so I may be biased. If you don't feel like buying a pack but still want to try it, any of the shops have out samples to try. Just don't push your tasting to an ill-mannered level... ^^;;
Of course, as many of you know, I'm a big fan of the mak (that's makgeolli of course) and I always love picking up the local varieties when I'm in different parts of Korea.
This mak below I remember having in Busan before too which was nice with its crisp finish.
The other two varieties were a first and definitely a Tongyeong mak complete with the little turtle ship in its logo to really drive the point of its association with the region.
Creamy, bubbly, and a little bit sweet, definitely enjoyed washing down all the good food with the drinks.
On our third and last day I returned to Dongpirang Village which I enjoyed a lot on my first visit to Tongyeong. Two of our friends had never been to Dongpirang (let alone Tongyeong) so the pleasant stroll about the artsy neighborhood was nice and it was fun to take the pictures in together.
The nice thing about Dongpirang is that the paintings are re-done every so often so even for returnees it's almost like a new experience. It definitely helps to go on a weekday as the weekends and holidays can get very crowded.
Another one of our eagerly anticipated hit-up spots was a special cafe called Olabong. What's so special about yet another cafe in Korea you ask? Well Olabong's hit item is its "ssangyok latte" or "curse latte". Basically the barista will take a look at you and also ask a few questions and then proceed to make your latte. But instead of a cute latte bear or tree art, what you get is a curse/insult written and customized especially for you. You can do a search online and the hilarious results from past visitors include such gems as, "the girl whose face terrorizes" or "the ass who looks so strong but has a dick so small he has no use". It's all the more funny if you know that the Korean expression used to describe someone who's been cursed at is that one has "eaten" curse. So here, you're literally eating curse that's been written out for you that you're paying with your money.
OK, so perhaps not to everyone's humor code and the place does make a preface it doesn't sell the latte art to underage children or expectant mothers. But this was up our alley and we eagerly wove through the streets and alleys of Tongyeong to find this place... only to find it was closed for whatever reason on the day of our visit... ㅜㅜ
No wonder there wasn't a long line of people around the cafe as expected. Sigh. Will have to hit it up next time!
To make up for our disappointment, we stopped instead at this place called "Ggul Bong I" (꿀봉이) which we passed on the way to Olabong. It mainly caught our attention for selling seafood croquettes(!)
The place has a 50+ year history and began by being a kkool bbang bakery. Since then its expanded considerably and in addition to offering coffee and kkool bbang, they actually sell a number of other cool menu items too including an "ice cream beer" in which frozen beer slush is spooned on top a frost tall glass of cold beer. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't feeling that but no one else was and I didn't want to be the lone guy looking like an alcoholic at 11 AM so I stuck with the seafood croquette (6,000 won each) which we ordered for take out.
I'm a huge fan of croquettes in general but I was greatly bemused to see a seafood variety kind. The seafood croquettes here take a few minutes to come out as they are re-fried fresh to order for customers. The hot cakes certainly didn't look noteworthy on the outside and I was expecting the seafood filling to be light and almost empty.
But upon biting, I was entirely shocked at how much filling came bursting out. Bits of squid, shrimp, vegetables, and other goodies came spilling out and coated in a nice creamy sauce. They really filled the delicious croquettes to the max and I just about almost turned around to get myself another one. What a hidden gem!
Ggul Bong I (꿀봉이)
432, Taepyeong-dong, Tongyeong-si, Gyeongsangnam-do, Korea
경상남도 통영시 태평동 432
Looking to beat the after work traffic into Seoul, we left Tongyeong with a sad heart in early afternoon to make the five+ hour drive back up. But before leaving we made one final eating pit stop, this time at Tongyeong Gonli Shikdang for our final lunch.
This is also a popular and famed eating joint but it's just a bit off from the Tongyeong downtown center so the prices are a bit lower too. You're given only three options in terms of eats:
the haemul ddookbaegi jeongshik (10,000 but with a minimum order of 2 servings), the kimchi jjigae jeongshik (8,000 for 1 serving) and the nakji bokkeum (20,000 for 2 people and 30,000 for 3 but rice separate).
But the restaurant is most known for its haemul ddookbaegi so we got a four-person order of that and a kimchi jjigae jeongshik for good measure.
At this point I'd like to interrupt this blog post just to shine light on this little guy who was our neighbor for lunch that day. I know I'm being borderline creeper ajoshi but this guy was just too much with his big eyes, chubby cheeks, and stylish fauxhawk. Through the whole meal this guy just kept staring at us while chewing on his little spoon and sweeping us all off our feet. Sorry, dear parents of this little charmer, but I had to share the little guy with my readers.
OK, end slightly creepy tangent by me.
Ahem. So where were we?
Oh, right. As it's a jeongshik, the table gets loaded with sides which were all pretty standard and tasty here.
The haemul ddookbaegi is certainly one to make your eyes bulge. This was our second time eating haemul ddookbaegi on this trip but the ddookbaegi here definitely beat out Sehjib Shikdang in terms of visuals for its mountain of seafood that jutted out from the stew.
It's all the more amazing if you take a step back and see what 10,000 won got you for a feast-like meal.
Unfortunately, after digging in, the haemul ddookbaegi was less impressive than Sehjip's. The broth in itself was considerably lighter which wasOK but the seafood was definitely not up to the freshness level of Sehjip's. The variety at Gonli was certainly more spectacular with crabs, clams, shrimps and more found within but the crustacean ingredients in particular had a strong fishy smell. Seeing as how there wasn't a visible aquarium on the restaurant premise, I'm guessing the seafood had been in the fridge for an extra day or two. Nothing close to the point of food poisoning or anything but it's still disappointing for a seafood restaurant in Tongyeong of all places to fall a bit behind in freshness.
The kimchi jjigae was fine but nothing noteworthy. There were ample bits of meat and the kimchi was nice and sour. But it's not really worth coming out to Tongyeong just for a bowl of pork kimchi jjigae, right?
All in all, certainly not terrible but in my opinion, Gonli Shikdang was the least favorite among my eats in Tongyeong this time around. But the staff is friendly!
1060-14, Mujeon-dong, Tongyeong-si, Gyeongsangnam-do, Korea
경상남도 통영시 무전동 1060-14
Ah, Tongyeong. You never cease to astound me. And, of course, the good times (and eats) were amplified by the amazing company.
We'll be back, Tongyeong!