This month featured writer Steve Miller is taking a closer look at Incheon, Korea’s third largest city and home to almost three million souls. Last week he introduced The Incheon Landing Operation Memorial Hall and h e continues to the series by highlighting another famous landmark: Incheon’s Chinatown.
During the later portion of the nineteenth century, Korea enjoyed a close relationship with China. The open port of Incheon saw the influx of trade, and many internationals settled in the area for work. Immigrants from China formed one of the largest blocks of settlers, thus forming Chinatown.
In its heyday, Incheon Chinatown was a bustling microcosm of Chinese culture with restaurants and shops. However, after the Sino-Japanese War and the establishment of the Daehan Empire, many Chinese left the Korean peninsula. Today, the area serves as a reminder to Korea’s past relationships with China and the important role it played in the country’s economic development. While many of the shops that once featured Chinese goods have closed, there’s no shortage of great Chinese restaurants to be found, as well, as some great sights.
Walking the Streets
If one is looking for a fun day outdoors, then visiting Chinatown is well worth the sometimes long ride to get there. Simply hop on Seoul’s Line Number 1 and ride it all the way end. When exiting Incheon Station, you’ll be greeted with the Paeru. This is the symbol of Chinatown and serves as the main gate entering the area. Its not unlike others you’ll see around the world, but standing tall opposite the subway station gives visitors an excellent photo opp. The gate is seventeen meters wide and inscribed with the phrase “Chinese Avenue.”
Crossing the through the gates, visitors are instantly greeted with a far greater presence of Chinese script (Hanja) than they may be accustomed to seeing. However, this isn’t a problem, as most signs are written in Korean and English as well. Darting back and forth through the alleys, one can find a slue of great restaurants and street stalls to tempt their palates.
Food Not To Miss
Gonggalbbang: Large crispy bread buns that are hollow inside.
Onggibyeong: A baked mandu (dumpling). What makes this interesting is that they are baked in the insides of clay jars. Filings include: meat, pumkin, sweet potatoe, and black sesame.
Jajangmyeon: One of the most popular dishes in Korea, is jajangmyeon, or noodles smothered in black bean sauce. The dish is so popular, there’s even an entire street devoted to the dish. Here you can also find baeknyun jjang, the original Chinese version of jajangmyeon.
There are many places to see, this list only includes a few. For complete information when visiting Incheon’s Chinatown, step inside the Tourist Information Booth, located adjacent to Incheon Station for maps and booklets about the area.
Jayu Park: The park was originally called Manguk Park but later renamed to Jayu, or Freedom Park following the end of the Korean War. The park pays tribute to General Douglas MacArthur and has many amenities for visitors. The best time to visit the park is in the spring and fall.
Qing and Japan Boundary Stairs: The steps leading between the Qing (Chinese) residents and Japanese residents of Incheon are ornately decorated with lanterns. The left side of the steps (going up) is decorated with reliefs related to China, while the right are Japanese. At the top of the causeway is a statue of Confucius. This area was formally knows as the Jogyeji. After the Japanese annexation of Korea, the area was abolished.
Samgukji Mural Street: A colorful display of murals painted along the walls, totally about 150m in length, depicting key moments from China’s Three Kingdoms Period.
Korean-Chinese Cultural Center: A four-story facility focusing on the history of Korea’s Chinatown. In addition to several exhibit halls; there is a performance hall and library. http://english.hanjung.go.kr/ (Closed Mondays)
Incheon Art Platform: A multi-function facility designed to hone and showcase new talent. “The goal of Incheon Art Platform is to engage both the local and international artists practicing various genre of art and facilitate cooperative communication among artist communities. Dreams and wishes of the citizens of Incheon include a realization and a renaissance of their beloved city that will be recognized as a place of international art and culture.” [IAP Website] http://www.inartplatform.kr
Incheon Open Port Museum: Originally established as the Japanese Consulate in 1889, the building was restored and re-opened in 2010 as a museum dedicated to the Open Port era of Incheon’s past. (Closed Mondays)
Incheon Open Port Modern Architectural Exhibition Center: Housed in the former headquarters of Japan’s 18 Bank, the museum focuses on preserving and showcasing Incheon’s diverse architectural history. (Closed Mondays)
Sinpo Market: The market’s origin dates back to late nineteenth century when local vendors bean selling goods to Incheon’s immigrant population. Over time, the market grew to include more than 140 stores. While numerous dishes can be found here, the market’s signature food is dakgangjeong, a crispy friend chicken with a sweet and spicy sauce.
If visiting Incheon’s Chinatown make sure you plan on spending a full day exploring the sights and enjoy its culinary offerings. Next week, Steve continues his series by exploring another iconic Incheon location.