It's a dish that is ubiquitous throughout Korea, and is world-known as the national dish of South Korea, yet bibimbap is considered quite a 'basic' dish. Not so the bibimbap of Jeonju, the home of the world famous dish.
I went in search of Jeonju's best bibimbap, a search that had me wondering all over the city, and spending a great deal of time being lost or disorientated. When I did find Gajokhoegwan I was suffering from the grumbling pains of hunger, and the weariness of a decently long journey from Seoul, I was ready to eat.
After climbing the stairs to reach the shop what greeted me was a large restaurant and very friendly staff. There are two options on the menu; one with cooked beef (W12,000), and the other with raw beef (tartare - W15,000). Both of these options include the same vegetable, sauce and rice combinations.
The price of this bibimbap, at first glance, may seem exorbitant. I know I regularly pay a measly W4,000 - W5,000, afterall this is not bibimbap, this is an experience. After ordering the cooked beef bibimbap the first thing brought to my table was a large tray of bunchan (side dishes). If you are new to Korea cuisine, one thing you need to understand is that rarely is a dish served without a series of side accompaniment. These side dishes are supplied service (or free of charge), enjoy them. If you eat them all you can ask for more!
Gajokhoegwa's bunchan spread is one of the best I have had when eating bibimbap. Every one with it's own unique taste and texture profiles. Most of them are vegetables, either fermented or marinated in varying levels of spicy sauces. My favourite ones are; the sticky sweet potato, green onions, spicy radish kimchi.
Along with the side dishes a pot of hot steamed egg topped with chilli and sesame seeds in served. I particularly like this soft, pillowy egg dish. It's simple, comforting and tasty. I had to remind myself that I was here for the bibimbap and not to fill up too much on the side kicks. Now for the main show.
Served in an iron pot, remittance of Dolsot Bibimbap (hot stone). Leave it for a moment to allow the rice to crisp on the bottom of the dish, I like it quite crunchy so a minute or two is sufficient. At first glance it is obvious that this Bibimbap contains far more, and a greater variety, of vegetables than the standard dish.The combination of textures and tastes is amazing, all complimentary. The sauce, a little spicy, garlicy. and incredibly comforting. This is a Bibimbap that knows who it is, no hiding, and expects that everyone will love it. I certainly did.
After eating this dish I was full. It was a good kind of full, not the type where you cannot move for fear of ripping at the seams. I was full in the way that my body felt nourished and as if I had a direct injection of health.
If you make the journey to Jeonju make sure you take the walk to downtown and experience South Korea's dining culture at the affordable and delicious Gajokhoegwan.
The establishment can be a little hard to locate, and directions will depend on where you are staying, or walking from. It is walkable distance, 10 minutes, from the Hanok Village. I have included a link here to help getting there. If you want to get an idea of the menu before you go along, you can click here. Please note the website is in Korean only.
The address: 80, Jungangdong3-ga, Jeonju, Jeollabuk-do, South Korea.