A look at Pyeongchang’s heartwarming cuisine

As a middle schooler growing up in South Korea, I still vividly remember the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. At the time, the country was a burgeoning democracy, and South Koreans were proud of hosting an international mega event.

I’ve since become a hospitality professor and researcher in the U.S. And thanks to the growing popularity of Korean culture (dubbed the “Hallyu” or “Korean Wave”), I tend to get asked a lot about Korean food.

Now, 30 years later, South Korea’s second Olympic Games – and its first Winter Games – are being held in Pyeongchang in Gangwon province (or Gangwon-do). Coincidentally, I recently received a message from a former student who was planning to visit Pyeongchang because her cousin, Jacqueline Wiles, will be competing for the U.S. alpine ski team.

She wanted to know more about the foods she should try.

“Lucky you,” I thought, “because there are almost too many to name.”

The ingredients of ‘the potato valley’

With its beautiful landscapes and relaxed beach towns, Gangwon-do is known as one of the best and most convenient winter escapes for many Seoulites.

Located along the eastern coast of the peninsula in northeast South Korea, the region faces the East Sea. But about three-quarters of the province is covered by mountainous forest, which means there’s very little farmland. The province is divided into two regions: Yeongseo in the west and Yeongdong in the east, where Pyeongchang is located.

Such an environment – surrounded by mountains but bordering the sea – creates the conditions for cuisine that’s unique to the region.

Dishes tend to include some combination of potato, corn, buckwheat or seafood. (In Korea, people from Gangwon-do are actually called “folks from Potato Valley.”)

In the Yeongdong region, seafood is a main fare. At the Jumunjin Fish Market, the largest fish market on South Korea’s east coast, vendors sell red snow crab, octopus, mackerel, sole, flounder and a whole medley of sashimi. Nearby restaurants will cook seafood by request, either steaming, boiling, grilling, frying, or even including it in a soup or stew.