▲ These Jeju fisherwomen are all smiles after catching Hanchi, a delicacy that is best eaten fresh – and raw. Photo courtesy I Love Jeju.
Hanchi, or cuttlefish, are the long thin squid-like cephalopods you can see dancing in the tanks outside seafood restaurants all over Jeju. A relative of the squid and octopus, the hanchi are prized by all Koreans as a delicacy and are only available fresh on Jeju.
Tourists from the mainland often seek it out as one of Jeju's attractions. The season starts in late June, peaks in August, and by September the meat is tough. Now is the perfect time to try this delicious gift from the sea.
Hanchi, in Jeju dialect, are transparent and colored in deep red speckles, while squid are opaque white. The hanchi at most local restaurants are caught each night at sea and brought into port at Iho Beach. They are then purchased and transported to the restaurant tanks at 5 a.m. They can survive there for up to three days, but with the limited season and popularity of this local favorite, they rarely make it past the first night.
The flesh is served raw, the best choice while it's fresh, in two ways: hanchi-hweh (raw hanchi) or hanchi-mul-hweh (raw hanchi in water). The dishes both begin preparation by turning the hanchi inside out and removing all the internal organs. They are scrubbed, skinned, and the eyes and beak removed. The thinly sliced flesh is then served, just minutes after swimming in the tank.
The flesh is pulsating with life; the tentacles curling around your chopsticks and the coloration still changing on the skin. Don't be alarmed if a tentacle sticks to the top of your mouth!
Hanchi-hweh is simply sliced hanchi with red pepper sauce for dipping. The flavor is delicate and surprisingly not fishy, but the texture is the real star, so tender it melts in your mouth.
Hanchi-mul-hweh is the same sliced hanchi in a liquid sauce of red pepper, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, sesame leaf, black sesame seeds, sliced chili peppers and green onions. The heat of the sauce complements the buttery texture of the hanchi well, creating a revitalizing summer dish.
▲ An artistically-prepared plate of Hanchi-hweh, or raw hanchi, is presented as a treat for diners during the short Hanchi fishing season. Photo by Song Han-Nim
Like most seafood, hanchi is low in calories and high in protein, but is also especially high in calcium and carotene. If you would like to try hanchi but are not a raw seafood lover, it is also available deep fried or dried. Unlike dried squid which has a strong scent and flavor, dried hanchi is tender and almost scentless, but consequently costs nearly three times as much. However you try it, don't miss out on this Jeju treat.
Hanchi is available at many local restaurants including Mae-ra-do Restaurant, on the street bordering the south side of the Grand Hotel in Shin Jeju, which specializes in hanchi dishes.
In August you may want to visit the Beob-Hwan port in Seogwipo where the annual month-long Hanchi Festival takes place. The festival offers hanchi cuisine and night fishing, displays of local marine products, and a haenyeo photo exhibit. You can get there by taking the airport limousine bus from Jeju International Airport to New Kyung-Nam hotel and then a bus or taxi to Beob-Hwan (Gang-Jeong). Enjoy the celebration of the hanchi and experience a unique cultural event of Jeju Island.
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