▲ Oakdom is a popular dish among natives and tourists and can be enjoyed raw, grilled or fried in many of Jeju’s seafood restaurants. Left: Photo by Kim Gyongho. Right: Photo courtesy Jeju Provincial Government
A tour guide was discussing the eating habits of older foreign visitors and commented that while many don't like spicy food or raw fish, fatty pork or seaweed, they all love oakdom fish, one of Jeju's specialty foods. Oakdom, commonly known as tilefish, is a staple of the traditional Jeju diet. It is a mandatory dish for festival feasts, shamanic and ancestral rites, and special occasions. Although available all year, the flavor is especially good from November to March. This Jeju fish is a delicious part of island life.
Oakdom is served fried as oakdom gu-ee, in porridge as oakdom juk, in seaweed soup as oakdom meeyuk-gook, or raw as oakdom hweh. The fish is generally about 15cm long and served whole. The white flesh, firm and dense, is more like red meat than fish in texture; it also has no fishy flavor or scent. When deep fried, every part of the fish is edible as you can easily crunch the bones and head. It is tastes surprisingly similar to fried chicken. The eyes are considered especially nutritious; although be prepared for a crunchy outer layer and a hard core- not for the faint of heart.
Oakdom, which lives deep in the ocean, is caught in two different ways. You won't find oakdom in the tanks outside a restaurant as it dies immediately upon being caught. Fishermen who go out for one day bring the fresh fish back to be sold as dong-il badi, or 'same-day caught,' for a premium price. The fresh oakdom are cleaned and dried in the shade if not sold for immediate use. Other fishermen go out to sea for several days and put their catch on ice. They call this arum badi, or 'iced catch' and it fetches a lower price. Either way, Jeju oakdom stills cost more than imported Chinese oakdom, which accounts for over half the oakdom consumed in Jeju. Ask for Jeju fresh to get the best quality.
When preparing oakdom, it is best to let the natural flavor of the fish emerge. It is never seasoned heavily or spiced with peppers, but simply cooked thoroughly and lightly salted. Fresh fish is best for grilling, lightly seasoned with sesame oil and salt. The frozen fish is best deep fried or cooked in a soup.
Oakdom is sometimes called a ‘cradle-to-grave’ food, referring to its prevalence in the diet of Jeju people. After giving birth, a woman is supposed to eat oakdom seaweed soup regularly for two months to replenish lost blood and increase circulation. In fact, it is common to remark to a new mother who looks weak: "What's wrong? Didn't you have oakdom soup?" Everyone can benefit from eating oakdom as it is high in protein and, when eaten whole, calcium.
When the 2009 ASEAN summit served dinner for the delegates, the most famous chef in Jeju chose to serve oakdom to represent Jeju cuisine. Don't let this delicious local specialty go un-tasted. Oakdom can be found at most traditional Korean restaurants. Sura Sang, or ‘Royal Food’ Restaurant in Shin Jeju serves delicious fried oakdom accompanied by a delightful eggplant side dish.
From Shin Jeju Lotte Mart, walk up to the crest of the hill, turn left, and find the Hawaii Hotel. Sura-Sang restaurant is half a block West from the hotel on the left-hand side of the road.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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