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Gangwon delicacies are verdant works of art: Korea Folk Museum highlights the region’s unique culinary heritage

Apr 19,2017
Replicas of the delicacies of Gangwon created by Chef Lee Jong-kuk are on display at “A Joy of Spring” exhibition to celebrate the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in the province. Clockwise from top: Memil jeonbyeong (stuffed buckwheat crepes); dish using two varieties of mushroom grown in the province; gamja-tteok (potato rice cake); stuffed squid sundae (Korean stuffed sausage); and baechu jeon (napa cabbage pancake). [KCDF]
“A Joy of Spring” exhibition displays a variety of works by artists such as Choi Jeong-hwa’s installation of a gigantic radish. [KCDF]
Different regions of Korea each boast their local specialties. The Jeolla provinces are known for their abundance of crops and seafood, giving a wider variety of cuisine than other regions.

Many of the popular dishes from the Gyeongsang provinces include fish, while the Chungcheong provinces use many ingredients derived from their streams such as freshwater shrimp, freshwater eels, olgaengi (freshwater snails) and more. Although people don’t take trips to Gangwon for its delicacies, it perhaps provides the country’s healthiest dishes, full of wild edible greens.

To introduce the delicacies of Gangwon prior to the kick off of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games next February, the Korea Craft and Design Foundation (KCDF) together with the National Folk Museum in central Seoul organized an exhibition titled “A Joy of Spring.”

“There is about 300 days left until the big national event so we wanted to shed new light on the cuisine of Gangwon,” said Choi Bong-hyun, who was newly appointed as the president of KCDF in February. “By [presenting] Korean crafts and designs as well as artwork like photographs and media works that feature Gangwon together with the dishes, we hope to present Korea’s culinary culture as part of our cultural contents.”

Chef Lee Jong-kuk of the two Michelin-star restaurant Gotgan selected some representative dishes of Gangwon, created replicas and placed them on plates and bowls crafted by Korean artisans.

“At first, I thought there was nothing special about the delicacies from Gangwon and that they were not that delicious,” said Lee. “But as culinary trends move towards eating healthy, I started to take notice of its food and ingredients. Because of its topography, there are diverse seasonal ingredients that can be used in cooking all year round.”

At the exhibition, which kicked off on Saturday at the National Folk Museum, there are replicas of flatfish sikhae (a fermented dish of fish and grain), gamja-tteok (potato rice cake), memil (buckwheat) noodles, memil jeonbyeong (stuffed buckwheat crepes), baechu jeon (napa cabbage pancakes), stuffed squid sundae (Korean stuffed sausage) and more, nicely placed on top of dinnerware by artisans.

“To really highlight the natural taste of all the healthy ingredients used in Gangwon dishes, it is important not to use too much seasoning. I think such neat flavors and characteristics of Gangwon go really well with the simple craftworks by our artisans,” added Lee. “The more I taste dishes from Gangwon, the more I like them. There’s an event at my place next month with some foreign chefs and I’m definitely going to include some dishes from Gangwon as one of the courses for them.”

Although visitors can’t actually taste the Gangwon dishes presented at the exhibition, Chef Lee will be holding demonstrations of making surichi-tteok (rice cake made using a wild herb native to the region) next month around Dano, the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

“If the weather becomes hotter, it is difficult to demonstrate many of the dishes because it includes a lot of wild vegetables and seafood that can go bad very quickly,” said Lee. “So I’m trying to come up with other recipes to demonstrate like making hangwa (traditional Korean biscuits and sweets).”

The exhibition, although very small in scale, is divided in three sections - “Scenery,” “Blossom” and “Delicacy.” The exhibition has been curated by Park Ryu-sook of Galerie Park Ryu Sook.

In the Scenery section, there are several photographs and video art that feature the mountains of Gangwon including photographs from photographers Min Byung-hun and Koo Bohn-chang. Then visitors are led to the Blossom section where artifacts and crafts that were used by the people of Gangwon when they went on picnics in the mountains are displayed. There’s also a large painting of spring flowers by artist Kim Jong-hak. Gangwon is also known for its round soban, a small tray-like table that Koreans used as a dining table. In the exhibition, visitors can also see “Round Ban,” a round soban that has been crafted by Ha Ji-hoon, who is also a professor at Kaywon University of Art & Design.

“We’ve displayed about 30 artifacts possessed by the National Folk Museum with numerous modern craftworks by 23 artisans, and they go together so well,” said Park. “We tried to introduce modern crafts that maintain traditional aspects as well.”

It’s the Delicacy section where visitors can see 10 replicas of Chef Lee’s Gangwon delicacies such as gamja-ddeok, memil noodle, baechu jeon and so on. In the Ochondaek, a hanok that’s inside the museum, there are also installation works by Choi Jeong-hwa including a gigantic radish installation planted in the front yard and a napa cabbage pyramid inside one of the rooms.

“I tried to show the unique characteristics of Gangwon in this exhibition,” said Park.

BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [sharon@joongang.co.kr]

The exhibition runs through June 20. Admission is free.