▲ One whole rabbit in a pot is this establishment’s specialty. Photo by Steve Oberhauser
Ever had tokki gogi?
If not, Jeju offers the chance. The 2011 Chinese lunar calendar marks this New Year as the year of the white rabbit. Now’s the time to make the old adage “you are what you eat” ring true.
One block off the busy thoroughfare of Inje’s glitz stands a discreet corner restaurant which has been serving the same menu item for 20 years – rabbit soup.
Owner Song Ju Yeop and his wife raise about 250 mixed rabbits each month on their farm in Bonggae, to the east of Jeju City. They go through about two each day at Tokki Sikdang; the rest find their way to health food stores.
The restaurant’s staple is tokki hanmari [one whole rabbit].
In a boiling-hot, large metal communal soup bowl with a saucy sesame oil-vinegar-chili-based broth, sits a collection of chopped potatoes, various spices, garlic, shepherd’s purse – a common weed to Westerner’s, but a supplemental herb in parts of the East – and chunks of rabbit meat, bone and all. There’s even a dollop of wasabi plopped in the middle of soy sauce in a small white dish waiting off to the side. The owner will adjust the soup’s spicy hot factor to suit the individual’s taste.
It’s all natural, earthy and good. On my repeat visit, a good friend and trusty translator agreed.
Rabbit meat is white, finely grained, and extremely lean. Low in cholesterol, fat, and saturated fatty acids, it has the highest protein content of all farm-raised meats.
The medium-sized tokki hanmari, good for two or three people, costs 35,000 won. The large portion is 50,000 won.
If that’s too much, individual servings of standard rabbit soup (tokki tang) can be had for 5,000, fried rabbit with sauce (tokki bokkeum) and rabbit stew (tokki jeongol) round out the menu for 9,000 won. That’s it.
The owner, from Daegu started raising the trickily named, American-in-origin breed of New Zealand white rabbits. Many consultations with his brother and various rabbit and deer-raising corporations led him to pursue his current career choice, Song said. What’s on the dinner table at the restaurant is meat from mixed breeds, he added.
Critics agree with the cooking methods. Proudly displayed near the entrance are various cooking awards and an enlarged picture of his wife accepting one from an esteemed broadcasting company.
The simplicity of Tokki Sikdang’s wood-carved menu, main dish, sides and interior all compliment each other. Standard Korean side dishes of hot green peppers, soybean paste, oblong-sliced radish kimchi, cabbage kimchi, anchovies, and stranded slices of dried radish adorn the table. After, pan-fried rice is a choice option.
Rabbit cuisine hits both ends of the spectrum. For the Average Joe, game rabbit meat may be seen as a Southern American redneck food. On the other hand, domesticated rabbit meat is served in several upscale restaurants in many parts of the world, possibly with “nouvelle” attached to it.
One thing is for sure, eating rabbit is more primal than, say, chicken. Chicken bones are ubiquitous. Gnawing on a rabbit leg bone and separating the meat from small bone shards while picking them from one’s mouth, or more eloquently, spitting, is special.
So, too, is the use of animal characters to welcome patrons in to what type of animal they are about to consume. Tokki Sikdang is no different. Playfully painted on its entrance door, two over-exuberant white rabbits with arms spread high and wide are dressed in blue jeans, and cute, V-neck button-down red sweaters complete with green cuffs.
Is their intended message, “Follow me, hop in and eat the white rabbit”?
Tokki Sikdang Address: 406-14 Ido 2-dong Jeju City Telephone: 064-758-5942 Hours: Every day, noon to 9 p.m.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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