Professor Oh Young Joo is author of “Understanding Jeju Food Culture” and “Horsemeat Dishes for Health,” and is a specialist in Jeju local cuisine. He teaches nutrition at Cheju Halla University. — Ed.
Horse farming on Jeju started in 1276 when Yuan Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, occupied the island and brought with him some 160 horses by ship. The horses were put to pasture around the eastern village of Susan. It was a big success.
The Mongolians then built and operated massive ranches for their military horses and ever since then Jeju has been Korea’s largest horse supplier. There is even a Jeju saying: “Send a horse to Jeju, and send a man to Hanyang [Seoul],” meaning that the island’s weather and environment are ideal for raising horses, and its people have outstanding skills breeding them.
Horse meat consumption culture from Mongolia
Historically, Jeju people respected the horse for its many uses. They were used for food, transportation and communication, during wars, and for commerce. To the people of Jeju, its skin, fat, milk, bones, hair, urine, and feces were put to use, whether as food or for military or medicinal applications. But before the Mongolian invasion, Jeju citizens used horses only for transportation. Then, the citizens of Jeju noticed that the Mongolians slaughtered and ate the weak and older horses and from then on, eating horse meat spread throughout the island.
In Mongolian culture, honored guests were treated to horse meat and during weddings the bride and groom may receive the head of a horse as a gift. Horses were offered as sacrifices to the gods.
During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), Koreans held feasts with horse meat to honor the Yuan envoy. Jeju presented horse meat jerky to the palace’s ancestral rites table during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).
When horses were in short supply, King Sejong, well-known for his management of Jeju horses, would restrict the butchering and consumption of horse meat. In fact, he exiled 650 Jeju citizens for eating horse meat to Pyeongan-do, an area in the north of the Korean peninsula known then as the “harsh land.” After that, eating horse meat became one of the great taboos in Korea, reinforced by the saying, “If you eat horse meat you will have bad luck for three years.”
Despite the king’s efforts, he could not stop people from eating horse.
At that time famines were common in Jeju because the island experienced frequent natural disasters. So the people of Jeju risked punishment from their government and ate horse to combat hunger. Along with famine, the Jeju people experienced poverty and many people would pull together to buy a single horse.
Under the Japanese colonial rule, the Japanese built a horse meat processing plant in Hallim and manufactured canned meat as war supplies during the Pacific War.
Horse meat dishes and health
Jeju people love horse meat. There is a saying: “Beef is not enough for a meal but horse meat is enough.”
Horse meat is a tasty, nutritious food, and slightly sweet due to glycogen, a type of sugar the animal creates and stores for energy. Horse meat contains three times the amount of glycogen than beef or pork.
Horse meat is high in protein but low in fat. Horses are active animals and consume lots of energy. Their meat — unlike the double-edged sword that is the combination of protein and fat in pork and beef — contains one-third the fat of beef.
Horse fat quickly dissolves in the human body because the meat contains high levels of unsaturated fatty acids. It is especially rich in linolenic acid and omega-3 fatty acids like DHA, which prevents arteriosclerosis.
Horse meat is good for those who suffer from anemia because it contains high levels of iron. Its color is redder than other meats because it is full of myoglobin, a type of iron which colors muscle, and is why horse meat is called a fountain of iron. It has four times the amount of iron of pork and twice that of beef.
In addition, the iron in horse meat is absorbed quickly and efficiently into the body. Horse meat is highly recommended for children and pregnant women.
Spicy horse meat stew
Ingredients horse sirloin 600g, dried red pepper 20g, cinnamon 10g, fennel (spice) 10g, small green onion 15g, ginger 15g, clear rice wine 20g
1. Dice the meat into big pieces. Add the diced meat to clear rice wine, ginger, small green onion mix. Refrigerate for 12 hours. 2. Deep fry the meat in oil at 180°C. 3. Add 500 ml of water, ginger, dried red pepper, onion, cinnamon, fennel, salt, and soy sauce to the frying pan and boil. 4. Simmer for 90 minutes.
1. Mix clear rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, and soybean paste and set to boil to create the sauce. 2. Cut the Chinese cabbage leaf into 7 by 4 centimeters. Cut onion, green onion, and shiitake mushroom. 3. Soak the crown daisy in cold water. 4. Dice tofu into 3 by 4 centimeters and fry. Blanch the shredded devil’s tongue jelly. 5. Slice the meat. 6. Fry the vegetables and the meat. When cooked, pour the sauce from step 1 on top and let simmer.
(Translation by Yang Young Jae)
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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