▲ Aruyo in Sin Jeju is run by MasterChef Korea winner Kim Seungmin. Photo by Jenie Hahn
When I first came to Jeju there was absolutely no choice to make in terms of dining out. I mean, it was mostly Korean and, oh yeah, Korean again underneath all the Chinese, Japanese and Western façade and labeling at the luxury hotels.
Don’t get me wrong, I love authentic Korean food and indigenous Jeju food. It’s just that I am used to having a lot of choices when it comes to real ethnic foods. Growing up in Singapore, living in Boston, dining in places like San Francisco and Chicago, as well as across Europe, probably spoiled me for choice. It seemed the concept of affordable high-end dining was an elusive dream and that was that.
The good news is that that was almost a decade ago. Now, it’s a different story. I look around and I see vast improvements in terms of literally having your cake and eating it! There are now affordable authentic Indian, Thai (a little iffy here), and Vietnamese (even though it’s a chain) restaurants that offer bona fide international flavors for insatiable palates. And now there is yet another ace in the pack.
You might have watched an episode or two of a very famous cooking reality show called ‘Master Chef.’ It originated in England in 1990 but has since been franchised to 40 countries and around 200 territories worldwide including Korea. The very first MasterChef Korea was produced in 2012 and Season 3 began in May this year on cable channel O’Live.
▲ MasterChef Korea winner and Jeju resident Kim Seungmin at work in the kitchen. Photo by Jenie Hahn
The very first winner of MasterChef Korea was none other than Jeju resident Kim Seungmin who came to settle from the mainland due to his wife’s illness. He had been running his tiny Japanese bar-like restaurant in Yusuam-ri before deciding to participate in the program. Not unlike Paul Potts, a winner on the reality show ‘Britain’s Got Talent,’ the TV show was Kim Seungmin’s last shot at his dream before giving it up all together.
I was fortunate enough to have watched him perform his artistry in the season finale when he seized the title of the very first MasterChef Korea. At the time, I was drooling over all the dishes that he was making and could only dream of what the dishes actually tasted like.
Well, it’s no dream any more. I got wind of the fact that he had actually opened a new restaurant called “Aruyo” in Sin Jeju last month. I had visited his previous restaurant called ‘Aruyo’ (considered to be his first branch, but he doesn’t work there anymore) in Yusuam many times and had always been impressed with the food but not with the line of people waiting outside for their turn. Now that he is more local – although I am certain I will still have to fight off the same loyal food-sniffing hounds as before – I have no doubt that I will be making my way to the restaurant more often than I actually ought to.
▲ The “sammadon,” which is a Japanese dish of mackerel pike nestled on top of a bed of rice. Photo by Jenie Hahn
I have already been there twice since he opened and would like to recommend some of the food I have tried so far. I most recently tried the “sammadon,” which is a Japanese dish of mackerel pike nestled on top of a bed of rice for 7,000 won. It was the best-tasting thing I’ve had in a long time and was also recommended by the chef himself. I also had the salmon “tenshoku” (10,000 won) which was novel in serving the salmon with an egg. I think this is almost a signature on the part of the chef as it is depicted on the sign outside.
The chef I am told does his own grocery shopping and has been reported to say that he loves the fresh produce that he can get in Jeju. This has led to his personal concoction of food including the “butamen” (pork noodles/10,000 won) which he says tastes better because the pork is from Jeju. I am not exactly a fan of pork but people have vouched for it.
There are several other options that I have yet to try and I have to say my mouth salivates just thinking about them. If you’re an authentic Japanese food aficionado and would like a cuisine that has a chef’s personal touch, don’t waste any time and get yourself down there soon. Jeju definitely seems to be on the verge of becoming a culinary richland, at last.
▲ The salmon “tenshoku” (10,000 won) which is served with an egg. Photo by Jenie Hahn
(Yeondong) 22 Singwang-ro 10-gil, Jeju-si
11:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. (No breaks and no reservations.)
*There are few tables so arrive early and avoid peak hours.*
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