Monday, July 5, 2010

Gwangju Restaurant Guide

As everyone who knows me understands, I love food. I get really excited about good food, and when I find something delicious I usually can’t help but eat it again and again. I also LOVE eating out. It was tough for me when I first moved to Gwangju in August 2008 because there weren’t a whole lot of restaurants that catered to western tastes. I’m not talking fast food here; there are plenty of Lotterias and Mickey Ds. I’m talking about a diversity of foods and flavors, as well as healthy and organic food. In just the couple of years I’ve lived here a ton of great restaurants have opened, plus I’ve discovered some great Korean places as well (of course). I hope this list helps any newbies to the Ju’ and even some old timers that want to spice up a night out.

First Nepal- Delicious Indian goodness. The food is great, the service is great, and I always want to go here. Definitely the best Indian spot in town, the staff is very friendly as well. It is a little on the spendy side, Dan and I usually spend around 25,000 won for a boozeless dinner.

Directions: Downtown, head down the street across from the Migliore, take the second right. Second floor, it’s on your left. Or head down the pedestrian street next to the YMCA, after about 150 yards you'll pass a mini-stop on the intersection on your right, then it's 20 yards ahead to your left.

Outdoor Galbi- I don’t know what the name of this restaurant really is, but it’s quite famous in the foreigner circles as having the best beef galbi in town. You get many delicious sides dishes (note the emphasis on delicious, no live octopus or strange gelatinous milky creature here) and the meat is fairly priced. Dan and I love it because if we’re not that hungry we get two portions and spend about 15,000, if we are really hungry we get three. Service is good, you can drink the night away there, enjoying K-pop tunes on the giant TV outside!

Directions: Down the same street as First Nepal 75 yards, big outdoor seating area, on the right.

Shabu Shabu- Originally Japanese, this is a soup that you cook at your table. After the big pot of spicy broth with mushrooms and greens cooks down, add thinly sliced beef. Dip that in wasabi and red sauce and eat. Fucking delicious. Seriously. You also get side dishes and udon noodles to add. The best part, when you are finished the server takes your pot and fries up some rice in it. So good. 10,000 a person.

Directions: Downtown, walk through the YMCA's corridor, between the tourist info office and the photo shop, and it's across the alley on your left. There's also a good Shabu Shabu place in Sangmu on the same street as City Hall about half a kilometer toward the bus station. It's on the left when coming from City Hall.

Alleyway- Opened recently by a permanent foreigner fixture in Gwangju, Michael Simning. This small restaurant offers some really good western food, including breakfast on the weekend. This is a must have whenever you are feeling a little homesick or just need some good conversation, even if it's someone else's. Reasonably priced, we usually spend about 20,000 with sodas. They do take-out as well.

Directions: Downtown, on the street with the Lotteria, (the first street toward the river from the amphitheater park) across from Zara’s, down a SMALL alley. Right next store you can find the foreigner market.

Lemon Table: This small, kitschy café offers some delicious burgers, onion rings, pasta and salads. Dan and I have only tried the chicken salad and a couple of the burgers, but we were very satisfied with everything we’ve had. Definitely choose this over Burger King if you need a burger! We usually spend about 23,000 here.

Directions: This one is slightly difficult to explain, it's on the corner of the amphitheater park furthest from the intersection. It's to the left of Gloria Jean's Coffee.

The Couple Set Place- I don’t know what the actual name of this downtown Italian restaurant is, but we love the “couple set” here! It includes your choice of salad, pizza, pasta and drinks, You also get soup and cheese bread to start. It is MORE than enough for two people, and the cheapest deal around (22,800). Stick to the regular pizza’s and pasta and you can’t go wrong. We like the chicken salad, I’ve never tried the other one offered. The décor is very unusual and interesting, including very comfortable couches and an indoor balcony.

Directions: Down the street from Zara’s, in the alley right next to UNIGLO clothing store. You will see a fat Italian chef statue outside, it’s on the second floor. There's another good couple set place in Chonnam that is similar. They supply construction paper and crayons on the tables. This one is down the first street parallel to the main Chondae hoomoon street. It also has a fat Italian chef outside showing the way, it's on the second floor as well.

Hoa Binh- This is a fairly new Vietnamese restaurant in Sangmu. Even though it’s a bit of a journey for us, we’ve been here pretty much every other week since we found out about it. The Pho noodle soup is excellent, and comparable to what we ate in Vietnam. We particularly like the chicken and flank steak soups. We usually get one large soup and one rice option, the spicy pork rice is SO good. It’s cheap too, free tea and it comes to about 18,000 for the both of us.

Directions: On the main street, next to E-Mart, look for the Seven Monkey’s Coffee. It is in the same building, second floor, beneath Todai seafood buffet.

华村 (Joong hua chon)- Chinese food in Yong Bong- This is also a new addition to our eating out routine. Recently opened on the Yong Bong Dong side of Chonam University, the owner spent many years in China and has brought all he learned with him to satisfy our Chinese food cravings (I went through the shakes myself). This isn’t exactly like the all fried Chinese take-out you get back home, but I think it’s better. Definitely ask for the set menu. We LOVE the kungpao chicken and fried noodle set, it comes with some awesome steamed rolls also. This place is cheap (usually around 20,000, but if you want to bare bones it you can get a set to fill two people for 8-13,000), and we always leave absolutely stuffed.

Directions: Next to Hoban Apt, three long blocks from the Seattle Coffee in Yong Bong Dong. It's tricky to get here actually, so here's a map.

Chinese Food in the bus terminal- Again, I don’t know the name of this place, but it is easy to find, right next to the TGI Friday’s in the bus terminal. The menu is all in Korean, and the staff isn’t friendly, but the food is good and reasonably priced. If worst comes to worst, you can point at things in the display window. If you are in the bus terminal, I would recommend this restaurant, or the sushi place next store for cheap, quick delicious food.

Grissini Italian Trattoria- I very recently tried this restaurant and I am so sad I haven’t discovered it before now (we're sad but our budget is happy). The food here is AMAZING. True to Italy, the portions here are small but serious quality. My friends and I shared two homemade pasta dishes, a salmon dish and a steak with veggies. We also had the most delicious bruschetta I’ve ever eaten. Everything was cooked impeccably, the service was perfect and the atmosphere was peaceful and comforting. If you want to really impress your date, or just have a delicious meal with friends for a special occasion, this is the only option! For the four of us, five dishes and a bottle of wine, the total was 157,000. Not cheap, but well worth it.

Directions: In Samgmu, near the LotteMart, across the street from VIPS, on the first floor, next to a coffee shop.

If you haven’t tried some of these places, please do! I’m sure there are many other delicious places as well, I didn’t mention TGI Friday’s, Outback or VIPS because well, they are pretty much the same back home, minus the kimchi. If you know of any more great places let me know, we love trying new restaurants.

Amanda. (Some parenthetical expressions supplied by Dan).

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Considering our pending departure from Korea, Dan and I decided it might be our last chance to make a trip to the DMZ. We signed up for a USO tour (94,000 won) and traveled to Seoul late Friday night so we could be ready to go EARLY Saturday morning (7:15 am!). The USO was super easy to find and most people had beaten us there, about 45 people were waiting in lobby when we got there. Our clothing and passport were checked, no shorts and no printed tee-shirts or tank tops allowed! Only foreigners are allowed to visit, apparently Koreans could feel such an overwhelming desire to see their families in North Korea that they are a just too tempted to run straight across the border and defect to the wonderful dictatorship to the north. Either that or they might open fire on the North Korean guards. I’m not sure.

Anyway, as always when I am around a group of people that speak English, I cannot help but just sit and listen to everyone’s conversation the whole time. The people next to us were incredibly hung-over, the group behind us was from Australia, and there was an adorable family who had adopted a Korean girl who had come back to show her where she was born. And I didn’t actually speak to any of these people. This eavesdropping problem is annoying as hell, and I sure hope it fades when I get back to the states.

So we went to the border, which is actually just little flags. No fence. No wall. Nothing. Well, except for snipers and land mines. We got to go in one of the buildings that is directly on the border and actually stand on the North Korean side. So yep, we went to North Korea. I thought the DMZ was one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen in Korea. Tons of foliage and wildlife. A sharp contrast to the majority of South Korea.

An army dude conducted the border part of the tour. He wasn’t too informed about the history of the two countries. He was also chock full of propaganda, referring to North Korea as communist every single time he mentioned the country, which I thought was pretty off base. Yeah, I think it’s more of a totalitarian dictatorship/ sovereign death-cult, but you know, same same in the the United States government’s eyes. Axis of evil, hate us for our freedoms and all that.

We had an adorable Korean woman for the rest of tour that included going down the tunnels dug by North Koreans to invade Seoul and discovered in the 1980’s and 90’s. We also went to a train station that will supposedly connect South Korea with the Trans Siberian railway. When the two Koreas are reunited. Yep, not holding my breath for that, but it would be pretty cool to ride a train from Seoul to London. All in all, it was kind of interesting but not too stimulating. Kinda like Korea.