Lunch on our second day in Gangneung was an unexpected one. Unlike other coastal cities, Gangneung’s signature dish is not of a seafood but the simple, handmade tofu. There’s a small village on the beach that is dedicated to making this special tofu and it is known as Chodang Tofu Village. Just a brief research pointed us to head towards this destination so indeed the lunch menu was an easy choice. But I had doubts even as we were on our way. After all, tofu is just tofu. How special can it get?
The tofu village greeted us with rows of tall, skinny pine trees looking much like a scene from an oriental painting. The story behind tofu village is related to father of Heo Gyun, a Gangneung-born scholar and politician of Chosun Dynasty who is famous for being the author of the novel Honggildongjeon (The Story of Hong Gildong).
Heo Yeop, the father of Heo Gyun, was also a scholar and a politician who was sent to Gangneung when he was demoted during shift of political power. It is told that during this time, Heo Yeop used water from local well to make tofu which became popular by word of mouth. From the 70’s, number of restaurants began to follow his traditional method to make handmade tofu which earned the entire village its national fame as tofu town.
There are only three things on the menu: firm tofu, soft tofu, and spicy soft tofu hot pot with clams. The soft lumps of handmade tofu was accompanied by soy sauce dip but wasn’t necessary. The tofu was naturally seasoned with saltwater and the subtle taste of the sea was perfect without any sauce. Still, I tried various ways using side dishes. I wrapped the firm tofu with kimchi or sesame leaf. I also dipped the tofu in salty soybean paste soup.
After all, tofu was just tofu but this one was REAL tofu. Unlike prepackaged, manufactured products that we are now unfortunately family of, the tofu at Gangneung Chodang Village looked, tasted, and felt like homemade. The enjoyed the distinctive flavour soybean that is difficult to taste from commercialized tofu. I really missed my vegan friends as I was having probably the most healthy meal I will have this week. I hope to one day bring them to Gangneung to have them try the delicious meal at one of the most beautiful beach towns in Korea.