Largely isolated from the rest of the country by its mountainous landscape and rugged coastline, the northern South Korean province of Gangwon has developed a cuisine all of its own. Due to the short growing season and hilly terrain, potatoes have long been favoured over rice, while the nearby East Sea provides plenty of fresh seafood. Typical Gangwon dishes include dak galbi (spicy stir-fried chicken), makguksu (cold buckwheat noodles), gamjajeon (potato pancake) and ojingeo sundae (stuffed squid). Gangwon is also famous for its healthy namul (mountain greens), which can be found in numerous side dishes or used as topping for Korean standards such as bibimbap — a rice dish with meat and assorted vegetables. The food of Gangwon reflects the hearty, generous spirit of its people, and is a highlight of any visit. Nobody knows more about this than Edward Kwon — one of the country’s most celebrated chefs — who calls this unique province home.
What did you eat growing up?
When I was a kid, we had a lot of root vegetables in our diet, especially potatoes, as well as corn. I grew up in Donghae and Gangneung, which are seaside towns, so we also ate squid, pollack and other seafood.
How would you define the cuisine of Gangwon?
Gangwon’s mountains and coastline have influenced its cuisine. Because of its isolation from the rest of the country, the province doesn’t import much food and has long been cut off from the nation’s food culture. This means people in Gangwon have had to focus on the food they can grow or catch themselves. Also, compared to Gyeonggi, or especially somewhere like Jeolla, we don’t add a lot of seasoning to our food, but rather concentrate on bringing out its natural flavours. I was born in 1971, and most of us in Gangwon were quite poor back then. We relied on potatoes — my mum used to make potato rice, where she’d peel the potatoes, put them in the cooker and add a little bit of rice. We used this to make mashed potato bibimbap.
What do you like to eat when you're in Gangwon?
I love soy-fermented vegetables, known as jangajji. You’ll find them in restaurants in places like Sokcho, Yanggu, Hongcheon or Yeongwol, because there are mountains everywhere, which is where these vegetables grow. There are a lot of these in Gangwon — so many that I don’t even know all the names. The taste is awesome!
What's your favourite dish?
I love gamjatang (pork back-bone stew). It’s a pork soup that’s a little spicy and contains wild sesame, which gives it a good flavour, as well as various vegetables and noodles.
You had great success abroad. Why did you come back to Korea?
I get a lot of emails from Korean children who want to be chefs or work in kitchens, but whose parents won’t allow it. Korea is a very strict society. This is why I decided to return to my country — to help change how people perceive a career in the food industry. I want them to look at what we do through different eyes. We’re not just technicians. We’re artists. We should be proud of working with food and the amazing dishes we create.
For more information, go to eng.gwd.go.kr/gw/eng
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