Andong is More than Andong Jjimdak

[2018.11.03]

Mention Andong 안동 and the quintessential dish most associated with the city must certainly come to mind. Sure, Andong Jjimdak 안동찜닭 (braised chicken) is truly delicious yet there are other hidden gems to be discovered in this city, and that was what our two Korean Language teachers set out to show us on the first day of our study trip.

Andong, the capital city of North Gyeongsang Province, is located close to the eastern coast of South Korea, almost right at the mid-length of the southern peninsula. With a population close to two hundred thousand, Andong is now a widely popular tourist and cultural centre.

1. VIEW FROM BUYONGDAE CLIFF

Our first stop after convening in Seoul was Buyongdae Cliff 부용대, a small hill of about 65m. A short 10-15 minutes of easy climb from the foot of the hill was this gorgeous sight that greeted us. Well yes, the whole purpose of getting up to the cliffside is for this splendid view of Andong Hahoe Folk Village 안동 하회마을, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010.

If you understand Chinese characters, you would have probably guessed that Buyongdae translates directly into 芙蓉台 (roughly translated as ‘lotus viewpoint’) and the basis for this name is attributed to the fact that Hahoe Folk Village is configured like the shape of a lotus flower. The shape, in addition to its geographical location (with a mountain range in the back and water in front) is all based on Pungsu 풍수 (the Korean version of Fengshui), which I concluded is not so much different from the Chinese’s version after all. I only have very rudimentary knowledge of Fengshui, but this much I know: having a mountain at your back assures of a strong, stable foundation and water in front assures of prospertity and wealth.

Our teachers arrange for a knowledgeable guide hailing from the area to give us a day tour of Andong, and I have to say she was instrumental in getting us to appreciate Andong more. Although I have to confess that half the time I was rather distracted because I found her Andong satoori 사투리 (accent) very cute. 😀

(Disclaimer: all group pictures on this trip were not taken by me)

This is officially the first (of many more to come!) group pictures taken during the 4d3n trip. The largest group to date that our two Korean teachers had ever managed; the school’s annual study trip has somehow morphed from an intimate group of about 10 to this in just a few years. Goes to show how popular these study trips are.

And here are my two very beautiful, kind and patient Korean teachers. During the course of my study of the Korean Language (for a total of 7 years), I’ve been taught by both teachers at some point or another. These study trips are pretty thankless to organise since they do not benefit from it at all but they persist in doing it anyway, simple because they believe their students would benefit.

2. ANDONG SALTED GRILLED MACKEREL

We were curious as to what was hidden under this traditional Korean fabric, and were surprised to find that our table for lunch had been set, replete with all the banchan 반찬 (side dishes) when we lifted it.

Now, apart from Jjimdak, Andong has another very famous delicacy – salted grilled mackerel 간고등어. How this dish became well-know for being delicious happened quite by accident. Since Andong is located far away from the seas, their seafood products had to be preserved in the olden days to prevent them from going bad, and the only method then was by salting. Somehow, the preserved fishes were seasoned just right when they arrived in Andong and… as the old adage goes, the rest is history.

The lunch was nothing short of awesome. The mackerel didn’t feel savoury at all, at least not to the extent that it was unsavoury to our palate. And the portion was generous, with two persons to one mackerel! On top of that, Andong somewhat serves different side dishes compared to Seoul. All in all, the four of us enjoyed our lunch tremendously. I’m not sure about our other travel mates, but since the four of us have hearty appetites, we cleaned out the plates at our table.

After lunch, we were given some minutes to walk about and we came across this hut-like eating area near our restaurant. If we take away all the modern contraptions we could see in this picture, and dress the Koreans in their traditional garb, this scene could totally come out of a Korean period drama.

3. HAHOE MASK DANCE

A short walk away was the Hahoe Mask Museum 하회세계탈박물관. If it were up to me, I could have spent up to an hour admiring all the masks on display, but unfortunately we were running on a tight schedule and had only about 30minutes to go before we had to proceed to watch the mask dance performance. Times like this, I really appreciate travelling free-and-easy with the mister where we have absolute control over our schedules.

Just across the street, we arrived at the theatre where the 800-year old Hahoe Mask Dance Drama Performance was held. It being a Sunday, the theatre was full with spectators, mostly local visitors and only one pair of Caucasian couple (who were frequently picked to be volunteers).

My travel party and I sat on the benches at the back, not knowing they were reserved for elderly so when we were eventually told to vacate the seats, the better seats on the floor were already taken up. It still wasn’t too bad; at least we were in the shade.

The whole performance was made up of several short folk tales, with the projector screen in the centre of the arena telling the story in detail. The performances were very entertaining, but a little too crude for my personal taste (think: Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. My A-Level textbook, by the way).

For example this story about a monk who came by a young lady pissing in the wild, and after smelling her pee, got excited and decided to return to secular life. Note that I have used very mild words to quickly tell the story but the performance was a lot more explicit. There were young children in the audience there with their parents, and it made me wonder how much they understood.

That said, a lot of the stories took a dig at the stratified system of Joseon Korea and since the intended audience were meant to be the common folk, I can totally understand why the bawdy tales to reach out to them.

After the performance, we had some time with the current troupe leader to learn some mask dances. Let’s just say this whole group of us possessed no dancing bones, so we were mostly laughing at each other most of the time. It was an enriching experience though, especially when we had the opportunity to done the masks, and realised it was such a skill to move the mouthpiece. Kudos to the troupe performers!

4. HAHOE FOLK VILLAGE

Technically speaking, we were already within the folk village since lunch but the proper introduction to the UNESCO World Heritage Site only began after watching the mask dance performance. Being the birthplace of several renown scholars from the Joseon dynasty, Hahoe folk village is preserved fairly well and comprises entirely of Hanok 한옥 (traditional Korean houses). What is even more amazing, is that descendants of the Ryu clan of the Pungsan still live in these hanok and very much retain the traditional living habits like their ancestors did before them. That said, the local villagers kept very much to themselves; we only met visitors along the way.

The whole Hahoe Folk Village is extensive and is divided into the Namchon 남촌 (the South Village) and Bukchon 분촌 (the North Village), with each village having a manor of significance. If you find the distance to cover a little daunting, there are these mini rental bikes for rental; we did see several families with young children riding in them as we explored the village.

This is probably Chunghyodang Manor 충효당, located in Namchon. I’m not sure because I really don’t do very well in large guided group tours; my attention tends to wander and I don’t listen intently and somehow … I find myself always at the back of the group milling about.

Alright, I paid a little more attention when we came to this important 600-year old Zelkova Tree located at the highest point in the centre of the village. Known as the Goddess Samshin Tree 삼신당신목, the villages believe Goddess Samshin (the goddess of fertility and childbirth) reside in the tree. Women in need make their way to this shrine to pray for children, as can be seen from the many slips of white cloth tied on the lines. Unlike what happens at Japanese Shinto Shrines (where worshippers tie up and leave their bad predictions on the lines), believers here simply all leave their wishes behind. It can be confusing like that, since the slips of paper/cloth used in both instances are in white.

And a shoefie with my two other travel mates, featuring a rather tattered maple leaf. Erm… we could have picked a better leaf lol.

We wrapped up our tour of Hahoe Folk Village at Yangjindang Manor 양진당 the head house of the Pungsan Ryu clan located in Bukchon, the oldest house in the whole village dating back to the 15th century and apparently one of the finest example of early Joseon domestic architecture.

We ended our tour of Hahoe Folk Village close to sunset and were greeted with a pretty view of the sky with interesting cloud formations.

5. ANDONG JJIMDAK VALLEY

Andong Jjimdak, the quintessential famous dish originating from Andong. And of course we have to eat it while in Andong, right?

Yea, damn right. We were brought to the Jjimdak Alley 찜닭골목 (didn’t even know it exists) where rows of eateries serving this delicacy cluster together. I would presume they probably all taste equally good and are priced competitively so thank goodness I weren’t the one making the decision (as to which eatery to patronise) since I would have agonised a good half hour before deciding. 😀

This is really my first time trying Andong Jjimdak because I refused to taste it in Seoul or Singapore, preferring to leave my virgin experience with this food to when I visit Andong. And I loved it! It was a good balance of savoury and sweet, and had my favourite ingredients like chives, carrots, chicken, potatoes and starch noodles. Suffice it to say that it was a very fulfilling meal.

We walked to a famous bakery from the alley after dinner – a much needed exercise really, after the hearty dinner. I forgot the name of the bakery or what it was famous for, but it was close to shutting for the day so we very quickly bought some bread for breakfast and left.

6. WORYEONGGYO BRIDGE

Our final stop for the day was Woryeongyo Bridge 월영교, the longest footbridge in Korea that opened in 2003, running across Andong Dam. There is apparently a very tragic love story about this bridge, about how a widow who used her hair to make a pair of traditional hemp shoes (known as Mituri 미두리 in Korean) for the late husband that she missed. To commemorate her undying love, the bridge is apparently fashioned after a Mituri. How so, I’m not certain. Perhaps the shape?

What we were told instead, by our guide, was that if we wanted to remain good friends with the person we were walking across the bridge with, we must walk to the end of the bridge. Not sure about the basis of that saying but we didn’t have the time to walk to the end, so…

Andong Hanok are famous for being authentic and is a must for a night’s stay in the city. Unfortunately we were travelling with a large group this round, and it proved difficult for our teachers to find hanok accommodation that could fit all of us, and still have a reasonable number of restrooms and bathrooms for us to get ready the next morning. Hence we passed up the opportunity and went for a modern hotel stay instead. My two other travel companions and myself were not so gutted since we would still be living in a traditional hanok in Jeonju. Not sure how the rest of the group felt though.