According to Koreans and waygooks alike, Andong Mask Festival is reputed to be one of the better cultural events on Korea’s jam-packed festival calendar. It had taken me over a year to visit Andong. There was no better time to go than during the festival at the end of September.
Korea has no shortage of festivals with seemingly everything in the country deemed worthy of a day or three of worship in a budget-busting display of ridiculous proportions.
Many rural towns find the time and effort to roll out hundreds of stalls and stands, all hawking the same offerings of banal and mediocre, no different in quality or price to the competitors to their left and right.
In my early weeks in the country, I attended the glorious apple festival in Mungyeong.
It was there that I witnessed Koreans posing with trays of stacked apples, making the common Asian pose (aka: two-finger peace sign) next to this modern marvel. Who would have thought it possible to stack apples on top of each other in a pyramid-like formation? And look, apples so big you would almost need a second hand to hold them. Astounding.
We had hoped that there would be apple desserts, perhaps some apple pie or even some yummy homemade apple cider. Surely there would be apple soju?
Alas, we were to be disappointed as the village and the sprawling lanes of the markets only had room for apples in their natural form. Hundreds of stalls of hundreds of apples. Fantastic stuff. Who needs variety in a festival when you have several types of apple?
In Bonghwa, the most famous festival is the sweet fish festival, wherein the townspeople, plus many outside visitors, flock to the river in the town center and attempt to catch the specially-imported fish with their bare hands. Due to over-fishing, each year the fish have to be shipped in and released in the water, before being swept downstream by huge rotary fans where they meet their demise.
Upon being plucked from the water, they will be killed and fried up on one of the ubiquitous pop-up restaurants lining the riverbank markets that take over Bonghwa for the week. This festival is rivaled only by the pine mushroom festival – a local delicacy in Bonghwa, as glorified by the many mushroom statues and monuments around the area.
On the last weekend of September, we enjoyed a few hours at the mushroom fest, which unfortunately was not the psychedelic event one may think.
The day before the Wolf Pack attended the famous Andong Mask Festival – or Andong Mask Dance Festival to be exact.
This was the final hurrah for our good friend Carlos before he left for China. As far as festivals go, it was probably one of the better ones I’ve been to.
Without rambling on any longer, I’ll give you three good reasons to go to the Andong Mask Festival.
1 – Andong Jjimdak (안동찜닭)
Andong Jjimdak, which means ‘steamed chicken of Andong’, is a hearty dish of chicken and vegetables in a sweet, slightly spicy sauce.
I tried this amazing dish once before in a shopping mall in Seoul and although it was probably a poor imitation, I immediately knew it was the best thing I had tried in Korea. Admittedly, it did take me a long time to warm to Korean food so there weren’t a lot of competitors.
When we decided to do the festival, this was on my mind and to get it from the source was great. Don’t miss out on this traditional fare when you come to Andong Mask Festival. That sweet and spicy gravy is just too good to skip!
2 – Andong Soju
There’s soju you can buy for less than two bucks in the convenience stores and then there’s high quality, super-strength that comes from Andong.
With our meal we decided to sample the strongest, which was about 45% strength. While it wasn’t the sweetest nectar, it complimented the spicy jjimdak and left us wobbling back to the festival grounds in high spirits.
The evening became a little blurry after just a few shots and it was only logical to drop $50 on novelty bottles of the strong stuff, that would later adorn our bookshelves, gathering dust in wait for a special occasion.
3 – Feel for Korean Culture
While the fruit or vegetable celebrations may indeed have been very Korean, there is something about those festivals and indeed Korea as a whole, that is inescapably homogeneous.
Every city looks to have been built from the same blueprint and sometimes it’s easy to confuse the streets of one city with the next.
Living the routine of an ESL teacher in such an environment can sometimes become bland so to experience a festival that is very unique and a little kooky helps to remind you just how different the culture in Korea is.
Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to explore the traditional hanok village on the far side of the city. Andong Mask Festival did a good enough job of entertaining us for the day and we left with full guts and great, albeit slightly fuzzy, memories.