Just behind Seogwipo’s intercity bus terminal is one of the city’s true food gems, San Arae, a new restaurant that serves traditional Jeju cuisine at fantastic price in a convenient location for both locals and travelers. Customers are greeted with a smile from restaurant owners Lee Seung Boo, the server, and Kim Ok Hee, the chef, as they’re shown to their seats.
The menu at San Arae offers fresh and nutritious options, all family recipes from Kim, such as their healthy porridge with Jeju crab caught by local haenyeo, Jeju’s iconic women divers. Kim grinds the crab used for this porridge by hand, so this dish takes about 30 minutes to prepare but it is worth the wait because it’s fresh, delicious and filling. The porridge is supposed to be particularly beneficial for the elderly or those recovering from an illness or a broken bone.
The menu includes a scrumptious seaweed soup with locally caught bomal (shellfish soup) served with side dishes and rice. This is one of the restaurant’s most popular items that prepares hikers for Mt. Halla and acts as a natural remedy for a soju hangover. The noodle soup is very much like the seaweed soup except it includes homemade noodles instead of rice and is one of the most popular dishes among foreigners.
Other menu items include the pork cutlet with rice, and a spicy octopus and vegetable stir fry with rice with the option to customize the degree of spiciness. Lee says that the side dishes differ from day to day and are chosen to compliment the entrée. Drink options are soju, beer, cola and cider.
Opening its doors on April 5, San Arae is a new restaurant but the product of years of experience from two previous restaurants. Taeheung natives, Lee and Kim left their jobs as a mandarin farmer and kindergarten teacher, respectively, and relocated to Seogwipo 13 years ago to be closer to their church. They saw their move as a fresh opportunity to open a restaurant, one of Kim’s dreams, and their first restaurant became popular for its Jeju Island pork cutlets and fruity sauce. These pork cutlets are available at San Arae, and they are so tasty that regular customers, such as Ron Noseworthy, a Seogwipo resident, exclaims, “It's a friendly place with excellent food. The pork cutlet is the best in the city!”
Lee and Kim’s second restaurant, a small octopus restaurant that was located in Jeju City, had a short but successful run where they became experts in octopus stir fry dishes. An octopus stir fry dish and the pork cutlet from these restaurants are available at San Arae as well as healthy, traditional Jeju entrées. Lee and Kim believe that healthy and nutritious food can cure illnesses, and their mission is to provide healthy food to do just that.
"I use to wonder about where to eat,” says Kim Hansu, a Seogwipo local. “Now I don't have to because the first place that comes to mind is this place. My favorite dish is the mild spicy pork and chopped up octopus with a lot of vegetables. It also comes with fried rice.”
San Arae’s customer base is primarily local Koreans and foreigners from the United States, Canada and the Philippines. Lee, having traveled Southeast Asia extensively, said that he knows what it is like to travel and need a place to relax for a while. He usually feels uncomfortable in other restaurants because he feels rushed to eat and leave. Lee said he hopes his restaurant will be a safe haven for travelers and locals to relax, and, if it’s not busy, take a nap if needed.
“The most important thing, though, is that customers enjoy our food. We always cook food with the mindset that we would only serve what we would eat ourselves,” he said.
San Arae (산아래, Under the Mountain) 3 Jungang-ro 79-gil, Seogwipo City (297-3, Seogwi-dong) 064-763-0092 Hours: 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily Closed Sunday
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