▲ A serving of modakchigi. Photos by Kimberly Comeau
When I think of comfort food in Korea the first things that come to my mind are kimbap, mandu and tteokbokki and maybe some kimchi pancake (jeon). But what if you could have it all in one dish?
There is a special place in the Seogwipo City Everyday Market, the Saerona Restaurant, that serves a dish called modakchigi, which is a combination of kimbap (a seaweed wrap), mandu (dumplings), tteokbokki (rice and fish cakes in a spicy red pepper sauce) and kimchi jeon served with loads of spicy red paste. The dish’s name comes from a Jeju dialect word meaning “gathering together.” While modakchigi is not a Korean traditional food, it has evolved into a Seogwipo favorite.
Saerona Restaurant’s nickname is “Eonni Ne,” which means “elder sister’s restaurant.” It is a family-run business that has been operating for over 30 years. The mother and owner, Han I Soon, has two daughters, Kim Mi Hyang (eldest) and Kim Won Ryang, who act as managers. Han's son and her sister also work in the restaurant.
Han makes all the ingredients herself with the exception of the mandu. She has a special recipe for the red pepper sauce that she would not share with us — try as we might to convince her.
Thirty years ago, when Eonni Ne was first established, they served sundae (a blood sausage dish) and makgeolli (a traditional rice wine); both very popular among Koreans.
Then about 10 years later, they introduced tteokbokki, kimbap, and jeon, onto the menu. Having introduced these dishes, they decided to try something a bit different, a decision that has had a great impact on their business. They introduced a combination jeon (Korean pancake) with red pepper sauce and two pieces of tteok (rice cake) on top. People raved about the dish, which evolved to having the other ingredients. They added it to the menu, and curious customers began ordering. It became so popular that word of this myste-rious delight spread to the mainland, and tourists would come to find this small restaurant that served this unique dish.
Today the seats are always full of customers and people waiting in line for takeout. This small restaurant seats 40 people — although it may be a tight squeeze. We went at 12 p.m. and it was jam packed. A grandmother with two of her grandchildren, an older gentleman sitting alone, two adult men enjoying their meal and four high school students.
As we sat and ate our lunch I heard a chopping sound from one of the high school students. We turned around and noticed that she had finished her modakchigi except for the boiled eggs and was chopping them into the red pepper paste. This, we found, is a common thing for people to do once they have finished their meal.
We had a chance to briefly interview one of the girls who came all the way from Jungmun to enjoy her modakchigi. Eighteen-year-old Byeon Hyeong Mi replied, “I have been coming here for six years now and I come all the way from Jungmun High School with my friends two or three times a month. We love the unique flavors of this great dish and all at a great price.”
A “not so” small serving of modakchigi, costs 5,000 won. A generous, large serving will set you back 7,000 won. The dish is served with pickled radish and soup.
(Interpretation by Kim Jung Lim)
Saerona Restaurant 273-5 Jungang-dong, Seogwipo City in the Everyday Market Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Phone: 064-762-3657
▲ Saerona open for business. Photos by Kimberly Comeau
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