Filipino food in the heartlands of Korean cuisine

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jeonju, capital of North Jeolla province and former capital of the Baekje dynasty sits in the middle of the fertile Honam plain in an area also known as the rice bowl of Korea. The south-west corner of Korea is occupied by the Jeolla provinces and in my slightly biased opinion, home to the best Korean food in the country and therefore the known universe. Good, wholesome, traditional, regional cooking at its finest; food that has fed countless farm workers for generations and now serves up delicious, mouth wateringly good food to me.

Jeonju however, in amongst the swathe of other cities, towns and villages offering delectable dishes in these provinces, is particularly light on ethnic food. Foreign food if you prefer. We have traditional Australian food (via the USA) in the guise of 'Outback Steakhouse' and when you need a big burger and a goldfish bowl full of alcohol, TGI's can step in and fill your foreign belly and offer a welcome respite from Korea (just hope it isn't someone's birthday.)

No, there really is no substitute for good old fashioned ethnic food. Jeonju has nowhere to get a Thai curry, red or green, no food from India or Pakistan or anywhere even in that region, no Turkish kebabs, no hummus, no European food even (Sweet potato pizza is a distinctly Korean invention and does not even come close to satisfying a pizza craving and don't even get me started on 'TEAM' the fauxer than faux Italian restaurant whose idea of risotto is a bowl of dry rice in a hot stone bowl with a slab of inferior melted cheese on top) but not too long ago I found a place that qualifies as ethnic, a place hidden away in a back alley, untouched by foreign hands that serves traditional, home cooked, delicious Filipino food.

A recent shortcut took me down a side street I had walked through a hundred times, past a large shop that sells a lot of ethnic ingredients, which is itself relatively unknown, and past a shop offering 'Digital Pinting' when a shop front caught my eye. It wasn't covered in Hangul and the door was open. Racks of unidentifiable food ingredients were visible from the street and were enough to make me step inside for a closer look. As I stepped into what turned out to be an Aladdin's cave of Filipino ingredients and home cooked food on a back alley in Jeonju, far from the madding crowd of Koreans scoffing pizzas that have had their crusts stuffed with pumpkin puree, I knew I had stumbled on a little secret.

What turned out to be a short reconnaissance mission saw me leave with a bottle of San Miguel (which turned out to be cheaper in the supermarket) and the knowledge that the small shop/restaurant, with its small tables, enough to host maybe 8 or 9 and the several family members who were sitting around eating, would be visited again very soon.

I did indeed visit again very soon but this time brought my very own talking food translator, in the form of my friend Cezar, a Filipino-American (or should that be the other way around?) We feasted on the food of the day, which on that particular Sunday included;

Langonisa ( lahn-go-knee-sa) - Philippine chorizos flavoured with indigenous spices.

Banggous ( bahng- oouhs) - A dish of milkfish cooked in what I imagine was some kind of soy / vinegar sauce.

Nilaga (knee- la- gha) - Nilaga means boiled and these soups are characterised by long cooking, leaving the meat (popularly beef) to become meltingly delicious.

Gulay (Goo-lie) - A dish of ginger and squash, also delicious.

and last but by no means least, a delicious bowl of Halo-halo, the Filipino answer the Korea's summer favourite pat ping soo, which I have to admit to preferring over the Korean version.

Filipino food will from this day forth be very much a part of my regular eating out experience, especially as it will be somewhat of a surprise to find out what the family are eating that day.

Rob McGovern

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