This month, teams of foreigners will be travelling around Korea to sample the local delicacies. The First Korean Food Tour for Foreign Foodies is organized by the Korean Food Foundation, a part of the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The gastronomical adventures of each team are documented by a camera crew to be later broadcast on KBS2.

Under the logo "Discover Korea's Delicious Secret," the teams compete to introduce signature dishes from different regions of Korea. The purpose of the tour is to expose foreigners to some of Korea's culinary treasures and spread the word to other foreigners. The five teams are being sent to Gangwon-do (Gangwon Province), Gyeongsangbuk-do (North Gyeongsang Province), Chungcheongnam-do (South Chungcheong Province), Gyeongsangnam-do (Southo Gyeongsang Province), Jeollabuk-do (North Jeolla Province), and Jeollanam-do (South Jeolla Province). At the initial orientation, there was a bit of drama as three teams hoped to visit Andong, a city in Gyeongsangbuk-do rich in culinary history, from the royal food of the Joseon Dynasty to modern dishes such as jjimdak, made of boiled chicken, vegetables, and cellophane noodles.

"This tour will take place in beautiful Korean cities and villages," claims the promotional material from the Korean Food Foundation. "Participants will discover the origins of Korean foods and experience Korean culture and history during the journey. This program will satisfy all your senses."

Applicants were selected based on experience with blogs, food reviews, and social networking to best promote the trip and the foods. Participants come from America, Canada, the UK, Italy, France, Switzerland, and Russia, and include teachers, students, writers, and actors.

“Korea doesn't do enough to promote itself to foreigners in my opinion,” said Curtis File, a Canadian teacher and TV host from CTV Korea who participated in the program. “Sharing food is a great first step to opening up Korea to the world and letting people in.”

Participants from all five teams gathered for an orientation on September 24.

The first team to make the trip travelled on October 7 to 9, visiting Andong, as well as Chuncheon and Hoengseong-gun (Hoengseong County) in Gangwon-do. As all cities lie along the Jungang Expressway (route 55), the team coined the term Jungang Hansik (Central Korean food) to brand the delicacies of the landlocked region, known for its agricultural heritage.

Chuncheon's signature dish is dakgalbi, a stir-fry made of marinated chicken, vegetables, rice cake, and chili pepper paste. Although dakgalbi means "chicken ribs," the Chuncheon variety only contains leg meat from younger chickens that have tender meat. Chuncheon, a center of poultry agriculture, offers the best quality dakgalbi in Korea. The best restaurants can be found in Myeongdong Dakgalbi Alley.

“I think dakgalbi would make a great dish to introduce to people overseas,” said File. “Whenever I'm showing around people that are new to Korea, one of the first meals I show them is usually dakgalbi.”

At Chuncheon Jungang Dakgalbi, Curtis File cooks with the help of Daniel, the son of the owner.

The second day of the road trip, the group visited Hoengseong-gun, in time for the final day of the Hoengseong Hanu Festival. Hanu is the name of a particular breed of cow raised in Korea, particularly in Hoengseong-gun where the climate is ideal for cattle. At the festival, they sampled a variety of foods made with Hanu, from sausages to bulgogi, learned about traditional Korean farming techniques, and drew a crowd riding the mechanical bull. Afterwards they went to Hanu Plaza for a taste of top-quality beef.

"It's like eating a cloud," said File, describing his first taste of tender Hanu beef.

"Legit," added his teammate Dori Yi, a Korean-American visiting from Los Angeles.

Although one serving of Hanu can cost as much as 100,000 won in Seoul, it was available for half that price during the Hoengseong festival.

Jacob Verville, a philosophy student from Kyunghee University, rides the mechanical bull (left) and tills the field using an ox-drawn plough (right).

The trip ended in Andong, where the group tried local specialties including salted mackerel, funerary food, apples, and jjimdak.

They visited the Andong Soju Musem to learn about traditional Korean foods and distillation methods. Andong Soju is founded by Cho Ok-hwa, who was named the twelfth intangible cultural asset of Gyeongsangbuk-do for reviving secret traditional distillation techniques for Andong-style soju dating back to the Goguryeo Dynasty.

After sampling the powerful rice liquor, the team went to Andong Old Market, where jjimdak is believed to have been invented in the 1980s, to try making the hearty food themselves.

Left: Phil Digby, an English teacher from Seoul English Village, pours Andong Soju for Verville. Right: Digby and Yi prepare jjimdak in Andong Old Market.

“The experience was great,” said File. “I love that Korea is divided into regions with food niches. The whole trip we got to talk to restaurant owners who shared their passion with us and it felt really good to see that different side of Korea.”

The second team begins their tour this weekend, bound for Chungcheongnam-do, where they plan to visit Taean City and Anmyeon-do.


By Jon Dunbar Editor