▲ The author tries for the first time a Jeju meal of black pork. Photo courtesy Gareth Bannister
Is the relatively expensive Jeju black pork actually better than standard pork? You can buy regular pork for around half the price (around 15,000 won for two people) of this Jeju specialty (30,000 won for two). Is the quality of black pork as good as I had been told? Or is this yet another shameless marketing exercise by Jeju authorities?
We parked at Geomung restaurant in Shin Jeju: a very large, well-lit building which is unlike most restaurants in Korea. Perhaps it was best summed up by my Korean friend’s observation that it was “too big.” Yet more support for the “tourist attraction” argument?
However, I was much more satisfied when we entered, sat at a table, and were presented with the traditional Korean side dishes of kimchi, bean paste, mixed sweet pumpkin, and more which allowed us to instantly begin to satisfy our hunger. For me, it is this quality of reduced (or literally non-existent) waiting times that makes a restaurant experience in Jeju, and indeed the rest of Korea, that much more enjoyable.
Thankfully, the menu had an English translation below each choice which was certainly helpful. If I was to sit there attempting to go through each option, both reading and looking up a translation, perhaps the waiting times would be even longer than that of a busy restaurant back in the UK or US.
In addition, my Korean friend was present to explain what each option meant and in the end we decided upon the thicker cuts of black pork. I was very much in the mood for a steak at the time and, in my mind at least, I thought that if the meat was thicker, perhaps I could fool myself. The truth is, I didn’t need to fool myself, the meat did that job for me.
So almost as quickly as our waitress brought us the side dishes, a man brought hot coal to put under our grill in the middle of the table and then, maybe two minutes later, our black pork arrived and was being placed on the grill platform to begin the cooking process.
At this point, from the look of the meat, it was very obvious that we were about to eat quality food but the only real hints that this was from a black pig were the odd small black hairs present in the fat of the meat. Off-putting though it may be, it at least provided us evidence that we were being served the real deal and therefore, some justification for the extra money we were spending.
Now was the time to sample the meat. I did not want to be unfair in my judgement so I cast away my desire for steak and my concept of the black pork being a tourist scam. I carefully picked up the first piece of meat with my chopsticks and looked at it for a few seconds, analysing it closely before placing it into my mouth. This first piece was eaten purposely without any side dish so as to get the true sensation of the black pork without masking it with other flavors.
Instantly, I did notice there was a difference. The meat was juicy and much more chewy than the regular pork I would eat back in the UK. Pork of this high quality is rather difficult to get a hold of for this reasonable price in my home country and when it is found, it tends to have an overpowering taste of salt as pork products often do.
I can safely say I didn’t have this problem with the black pork. My desire for steak came rushing back as, in all honesty, it was being satisfied. As the meat was being cooked further, the pork was beginning to get a crisp coating and this added to the experience and superior taste. Then, as I began to mix the flavors with paste, kimchi, lettuce and onion, I felt that I was really enjoying something special and that this, along with the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant, was a perfect way to start or finish an evening in Jeju.
So yes, I was swayed by the taste sensation of Jeju’s black pork. Remember though, if you’re not 100 percent sure that you’re being served real black pork... have a quick look for those hairs.
Geomung black pork restaurant Address: 2737 Nohyeong-dong, Jeju City Phone: 064-748-9285 gajajeju.co.kr/i-map.htm
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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