From the morass of Korean restaurants serving similar fare and side dishes, there emerges something so unique to Jeju it is only found in one place.
Sure, there are many reasons to visit Samyang — the black sand beach, the temples and five-storied pagoda at Wondangbong, the prehistoric ruins, the well-known sauna. This is old hat.
Be uber cool and step into Momaejon Garden just east and around the bend from the Samyang police station.
Here you will find hobakhunjeori, a platter of baked sweet pumpkin, slabs of smoked duck roughly the size of half a business card and thickness of your passport, mixed in with skinny mushrooms, hidden, peeled whole garlic cloves, all drizzled in a mysterious brown sauce.
The family-run business, according to owner and chef Lee Jin Ro, has been running strong for six years at its present location. On any given day, the owner, his wife, two sisters-in-law and son may be there daily to serve Chungcheong province-style food to 50 or 60 customers each week. Of these, he sees about two groups of foreigners weekly.
The son explained after his parents married, they moved from Chungcheong province to Jeju and ran a chicken restaurant in Seongsan. After, they put down roots in Samyang.
The ducks, known as “Gayang Ori” are from a mainland farm, Lee said. They are fed green tea leaves. Also, the duck is smoked prior to arrival at the restaurant. Once there, it is baked, along with the pumpkin, before serving.
The side dishes and green wrap leaves seemed a bit tastier than found at regular restaurants. Yes, on the table there was water kimchi, cabbage kimchi, onion slices, more peeled garlic, pepper paste, thin, hot green peppers and mustard. There was also baby shrimp and three different kinds of sea grass.
Ordering this delectable meal will set you back either 40,000 won, good for 2 to 3 people, or 58,000 won, serves 4 to 5. Having been here twice, the reviewer left stuffed both times. This is no small feat, as several friends have attached “The Eliminator” label when the reviewer sits down to eat.
The meal is not over yet. Duck soup is the last thing to be offered. This too, proved to be a cut above the rest.
Typically, duck meat served at a Jeju restaurant is cut into small pieces and placed on a grill. After, a soup is served many times with the neck bone intact, much like it is at the wildly popular Samyang Jangwon restaurant kitty corner from the police station.
Momaejon Garden’s duck soup, or “oritang” is entirely different. With powdered bone, hunks of flour paste, and a variety of vegetables including shards of potatoes, carrots and mushrooms, collectively this blends well with a patron’s choice for the degree of spiciness and hotness.
The owner’s son finished the meal by pouring rice tea.
He soon explained the restaurant’s philosophy of the perfect combination of sweet pumpkin as being “suitable” for duck. He added: “It’s good for the body.”
The reviewer’s sidekick for the evening concurred. A native of the island and university lecturer, SiHo said it has been 20 years since Jeju took to embracing duck on a larger scale at various restaurants.
The local experts agree about the health benefits of eating duck. So too, does the famed Duck Research Laboratory of Cornell University. It states on its Web site, www.duckhealth.com: “Like other meats, duck is an excellent source of high quality protein containing a well-balanced array of amino acids.” It provides a laundry list of benefits.
Rest assured, these ducks in Samyang are here to stay, and be eaten.
Momaejon Garden restaurant Samyang 1-dong Just east of the police station Hours: Everyday 9 a.m., to 10 p.m. Hobakhunjeori: 40,000 won, serves 2 to 3; 58,000 won, serves 4 to 5
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