Last weekend we decided it was time to get out of Seoul and go on an overnight trip. But we wanted to go somewhere we hadn’t been before, somewhere not too far away, and somewhere we could get to easily (within 3 hours) from the express bus terminal. After looking at the map we decided on Gunsan. Yes, some of the information I found on the Internet said things like “there is nothing there” but undeterred we planned our trip anyway.
As food is usually first on my agenda I wanted to plan nice places to eat. We discovered that in Gunsan there is a ‘very famous’ noodle shop called 복성루 (pok-song-ru), a Chinese Korean restaurant which specialises in 짬뽕 (jampong) – Chinese style spicy seafood noodle soup. So we planned to go there on arrival as it’s near the bus station. The very first bread shop that opened in Korea is also located in the city so I thought we might pop in there. And we wanted to try some of the local delicacies which include raw crab marinated in soy sauce as well as sashimi – the city is a port after all.In terms of history, the old part of the city is interesting because of the buildings that remain from the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945).
At this time it was a fishing village but was also good for growing rice. So the Japanese built a customs house at the port and shipped rice back to Japan before and during the colonial period. Today there’s a large industrial site here as well as the longest dyke in the world, Seamangeum Seawall. Several islands can be accessed by boat from the mainland – but we didn’t get that far this time.
The empty streets of Gunsan on a Saturday morning
We arrived at 11 am and headed straight for the noodle shop. The streets were empty around the bus depot and it almost felt like a ghost town after the packed streets of Seoul. We walked down the back streets of the old town following directions on the iphone nav – gotta love that. We were congratulating ourselves on our early arrival confident that we would be one of the first to arrive for lunch at the restaurant particularly as everywhere seemed so quiet.
But then ….
As we come around the corner towards the tiny restaurant Mr Kim says, Oh NO LOOK AT THAT! I look and see a MASSIVE long QUEUE outside. Surely that is NOT the restaurant, I ask. Unfortunately it is. So from having hardly seen a soul since we arrived, we are suddenly standing in a long line of people. Grrrr. And the irony is that I would never stand in such a slow moving line just to eat lunch in Seoul. And yet here we were in the countryside where we came to GET AWAY FROM CROWDS now standing in a line.
And we waited in the line for ONE and a HALF hours.
The trouble is that once you have been standing in a line for a while and more people join the end of it, you feel as though you can’t leave. You can’t give up your place after you’ve been waiting half an hour. That would be a waste. So we wasted one and a half hours instead. By the time we got inside we were exhausted.
What shocked me though was the amount of people in the line with small children, even babies. At first I thought the restaurant hadn’t opened yet and everyone was waiting for it to open at 11:30am perhaps. But no.
Then I hoped that the line would move fairly quickly – Koreans won’t stand around in slow lines I told myself. I was wrong. It was a VERY small restaurant and even though they don’t serve a huge variety of dishes – people order the noodle soup or the other classic Korean Chinese noodle dish 짜장면 (jajangmyeon) – it still took time to get people through. Sigh.
So when we finally got a seat we were starving. Our order was taken while we were standing outside in the line so it arrived pretty quickly once we sat down. However after waiting so long my expectations were VERY HIGH.
Korean Chinese restaurants serve raw onion with a dark soybean paste dip, and two types of radish kimchi
SO what was the verdict?
The soup was rich with a smoky flavour which I really liked and it wasn’t too spicy or salty. It tasted freshly made too – sometimes the broth can taste too fishy or like it’s been stewing away for days. And there was plenty of seafood in it – mussels and squid with a topping of pork. Mr Kim thought there was too much squid in the soup and not enough other stuff – how about a prawn for example? And in fairness there was a lot of squid and it was cut up in big chunks too – thinner slices would have been tastier and easier to eat.
I had more of an issue with the noodles. Maybe I’m asking too much but if I have to wait so long for lunch I expect to have home made noodles. But these noodles were just ready made ones – much like shop bought spaghetti that has been slightly overcooked. I much prefer the kalgugsu type of noodles that are made on the premises. They have a nicer texture – a bit more chewy. They are flatter and cut by hand so each ‘noodle’ may not be EXACTLY the same width. Our local Chinese restaurant in Seoul serves jampong with home made noodles. grrr. If I wanted spaghetti I’d go to an Italian restaurant.
But I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the food. Because I did. If there had been no queue and we had eaten straight away I would probably have walked away very satisfied. (although still not in love with the noodles) I’ll give it 8 out of 10.
Anyway after this we went off for a walk around the old town stopping off at various places of interest which I will mention in another post. And then at 4 0’clock on our way to the hotel we decided to go and take a look in the first bread shop in Korea. BUT … OH NO
The first bread shop in Korea
We couldn’t get in because, yes, you’ve guessed it: THERE WAS ANOTHER LONG QUEUE OUTSIDE THERE TOO.
FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. What is going on here? It’s JUST a bakery. At first we thought people were queueing up to meet someone famous. Was Psy in there doing his Gangnam Style perhaps? But no, they were waiting to buy bread. All the other bread shops around were empty of course! I had a look in the window and it did seem as though they had some nice bread. But I had had my fill of queueing up for one day. There comes a point where one has to draw the line
I may be British but that doesn’t mean I want to queue all day long thank you very much.