The small city of JEONJU (전주) is a place of considerable appeal; though finally starting to attract domestic tourists in the numbers it richly deserves, it remains largely off the radar of international visitors. This is ironic, since it’s possibly the best place in the land in which to get a handle on Korean customs. Most visitors make a beeline for the city’s splendid hanok village of traditional wooden housing, which contains more than enough for a full day of sightseeing, as well as being a good introduction to Korea’s indigenous arts and crafts. In addition, spring sees Jeonju hosting JIFF (w), by far the most eclectic major film festival in the country.
However, it’s food that Koreans most readily associate with Jeonju. Many of the differences are too subtle to be noticed by foreigners – and in the cheapest places, nonexistent – but you’re likely to find a greater and more lovingly prepared number of banchan (반찬; side dishes) here, and a slightly greater emphasis on herbal seasoning than on the somewhat less cultivated tastebud-tinglers of salt and red pepper paste. Particularly notable is the city’s take on the tasty Korean staple, bibimbap. The only downside is that Korean food just won’t taste as good when you’ve moved on elsewhere.
Jeonju’s ginkgo-lined streets help to create an ambience notably relaxed for a Korean city, but this disguises a hidden historical pedigree – this unassuming city marked the beginning of one of the longest lines of kings that the world has seen. It was here in the fourteenth century that the first kings of the Joseon kingdom were born, and the dynasty went on to rule Korea for over five centuries. Overlooked as the dynastic capital in favour of Seoul, today’s Jeonju is not brimming with historical riches, but it has its charms, and is well worth a visit.