How often do you sit down at your restaurant of your choice and know that you can accurately identify the specific origin of each dish you are putting into your mouth? Usually you have a general idea—if you are in Korea, well, you assume, this is Korean.
A reporter from Seoul recently visited Jeju with the notion that few people living on the island know when they are dining on traditional Jeju food instead of Korean dishes in general. In a collaborative effort to market the island’s specialties KBS and the Shilla Hotel organized a sit down dinner for a group of six foreigners. The food was prepared by Chef Lee Dong Hoon at The Korean Restaurant located within the hotel.
Cassie Jacinto, from Hawaii, arrived on the island in February of this year and admitted she had no idea what food on the island was specific to Jeju. Chef Lee said he could help as he and his staff graciously carried out a meal prepared with skill and forethought.
Before coming to the island I was well aware of the “black pig.” I was told by my friend Carolyn who has a brother in Hong Kong that the pork from the black pig was infamous in its previous latrine occupation and glorified in taste all across Asia. The practice of housing the pigs outside below latrines where they fed on human excrement was common until the 1960s, now the pigs are reportedly fed by more conventional methods.
In most restaurants around the island you know you are eating black pork because the rind of the meat usually contains remnants of black hair. So, when Chef Lee brought out these delicately looking grilled patties of pork we weren’t sure of its origin until informed. Chef Lee said he believed this was an easier way for us to enjoy the meat, and he was correct, it was delicious.
Accompanying the black pork were traditional sides of Seaweed Soup, which tasted more and more like the ocean with each spoonful, but better in comparison to other restaurants I had eaten the soup previously. Gosari, or as referred to by The Jeju Weekly in an earlier article the fiddlehead fern, was another side dish.
According to the article the plant is traditionally used for Jaesa, a traditional rites ceremony to commemorate the death of family. This is actually one of my favorite side dishes. Its texture reminds me of well steamed asparagus and tastes a bit similar only saltier and chewier, and it’s purple.
What Korean meal isn’t complete without its side of kimchi. Chef Lee had decided on mul kimchi for the evening, or water/white kimchi. Chef Lee said it was his experience that foreigners prefer this style over others. Mul kimchi is less dramatic in flavor and has a cooling effect on the pallet easing the spice of most Korean dishes.
Japchae is my second favorite, Korean glass noodles. The noodles are stir fried in sesame oil with various vegetables. Our noodles were accompanied by onion, mushrooms and slivers of carrots, served cold.
The most interesting part of the meal, and Jeju specific besides the black pork, was perhaps the wild ginseng. Mainly because we were told it was more than six years old and picked from Mt. Halla. Many of us at the table had tasted ginseng tea, but few of us had actually gnawed on the actual root. It was surprisingly good at first and then tapered off to a numbing wood like flavor towards the end. We were told that Mt. Halla ginseng is supposed to contain special healing powers, including the ability to provide eternal life.
We chewed our root and smiled. The meal was delicious and informative. I would recommend the restaurant to any foreigner. The staff was amazing, the food was divinely prepared, and where else can you find a side dish of the fountain of youth.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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