Some of the best food in Korea is found in the mountains!
After a day of traveling to Jiri mountain in South Korea by car, we spent some time looking at the beautiful streams of Daewonsa (대원사).
Before we knew it, the time was around 6:30pm and we were worried that the restaurants would be closing, since many restaurants in the mountains close early. There was a closer restaurant to the stream, but it was already closed so we made our way to the next closest restaurants. There was a street with many restaurants about a five-minute drive from the stream.
After seeing that the sign at Gap Eul restaurant still flashed “open,” we quickly ran inside. The owner, who was just about to close, showed a little bit of reluctance when we asked if we could still order, but luckily allowed us to put in our orders.
The menu consisted of common foods that you would find at mountain restaurants, such as scallion pancakes, gelatinous squares made of acorn powder, chicken stew, and handmade tofu, depending on seasonal availability. Since the restaurant is by a stream, they also had daseulgitang (다슬기탕), which is marsh snail soup. The owner harvested the marsh snails and all other fresh ingredients right from the mountain and stream.
The restaurant has extensive indoor and outdoor dining spaces, and you could probably do take out for some items, but they do not offer delivery as it is located in the mountain.
Since the owner was the only worker, we helped her set the table, and were soon given an array of banchan, side dishes consisting of various marinated vegetables such as garlic flower root, radish, dried persimmon, and mountain herbs.
We ordered one of every dish, except for the chicken stew, which would take at least an hour to make. The owner suggested that next time, we call an hour in advance to order the stew so that we won’t have to wait.
The Pajun (파전), or scallion pancake, was perfectly crunchy on the outside, and filled with chopped scallions, little pieces of squid, and spicy sliced Serrano peppers.
This dish is a staple at any mountain restaurant, and tasted amazing especially with makgeolli (막걸리), Korean rice wine that was made at Jiri mountain.
The handmade tofu was very firm and went well with the fried kimchi on the side.
Bibimbap was also good, as all of the various marinated vegetables complimented each other perfectly and were not too salty.
The muk (도토리묵), gelatinous squares made of acorn powder, was very tasty and interestingly had various marinated vegetables on top. The marinated vegetables was a different touch from any other muk I have had, and I greatly enjoyed it!
I usually am not a huge lover of daseulgitang (다슬기탕), or marsh snail soup, but this soup tasted very clean, with sliced zucchini, scallions, and pieces of round rice cake. The marsh snail had a tender and chewy texture (and was not fishy tasting at all), and the sliced peppers added the perfect spicy kick to the soup.
Overall, I loved how fresh everything tasted since all of the produce was locally sourced from the mountain. All of the food had a home-cooked taste to it, as nothing was overpowering or artificial tasting, and the owner definitely had great cooking skills, or 손맛, as they say in Korea. You could tell that the owner and chef put her soul into her dishes.
From our outdoor dining table, we could see a great view of the stream and mountains, providing the perfect scenery to compliment the delicious meal. My family and I left with our stomachs full and vowing to visit again next time to try the chicken stew.
The restaurant also sells homemade honey and different herbs, depending on availability.
I highly recommend enjoying some quality cooking made from fresh ingredients at Gap Eul restaurant any time you are in the Jiri mountain area!
Address: 24 Yupyeong-ri, Samjang-myeon, Sancheong-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do