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Market adds variety to Jeju’s old townThe Seomun Market Global Festival mixed the old with the new for an authentic Jeju experience
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승인 2015.09.11  09:20:42
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▲ Photo by Yoki S. Jeong (Yoki Photography)

Click here for more images from Yoki Photography.

We arrived at the Seomun Market Global Festival on Saturday, Sept 5, expecting a buzz of activity. Instead, we found a quiet market full of greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers.

Seomun (“west gate”) sits at the edge of the old city walls (which no longer exist here) and is one of the oldest markets in Jeju City along with Dongmun (“east gate”) and the five-day market.

The festival marked the market’s 61st anniversary, and it was nice to see the traders starting its seventh decade much as the previous six.

▲ Photo by Yoki S. Jeong (Yoki Photography)

My girlfriend, Jess, and I arrived early not only to soak up the atmosphere — which included deafening drum and bass music — but also to attend a cooking class with a renowned local chef, Yang Yong-jin.

After finding our way into the inner market, an unlikely corner upstairs turned out to be the kitchen. To our surprise, we were sharing it with mainland "power bloggers" and even a film crew.

With the surfaces glistening brand new, we felt like we were on a TV cooking show. The round glasses and trilby hat of the celebrity-of-sorts chef even added some extra coolness to the room.

Jess and I shared a worktop and began with “dotgeogijeok,” strips of skewered braised pork usually served up on the ceremonial table at ancestral rites, or “jesa.”

Being vegetarian, Jess left the hard labor to me, although this didn’t stop her shouting out orders and scolding me for cutting the boiled pork too thinly, and then too thickly.

To be fair, my efforts looked more like something that had been chewed on by a dog than filially passed down the generations. The chef gasped, before cutting them for me. I then seasoned them with sesame seeds, leek and salt and pepper.

Once the meat and fat had been skewered (odd numbers for the ancestors, even for the living), and then sauteed, I quickly wrapped them away so no one could get a look!

▲ Photo by Yoki S. Jeong (Yoki Photography)

Next up was “bingtteok,” buckwheat pancakes filled with boiled and seasoned radish. This one was vegetarian, so Jess took full charge, ladling the thin batter into the pan and gently circling it. After the pork debacle, I was quite jealous of her expert flipping skills.

She placed her perfect pancake on the cutting board and filled it with boiled radish strips before gently rolling it. Voila! A simple meal perfect for a day in the fields.

Finally, we made “jireumtteok” for sweet, a small Korean rice cake made with rice flour, sesame oil and sugar. (Jireum is the local term for gireum, or oil.)

▲ Photo by Yoki S. Jeong (Yoki Photography)

We had mixed and kneaded the dough earlier, so we now cut it into round shapes and fried it. When golden brown they were removed from the pan and sprinkled with sugar.

They turned out to be our best dish of the day, and this was evident when the women cooking next to us tried one saying “very good” and “beautiful.” We both thought we had made it as professional chefs at this point.

After clearing up, we made our way back down to the market — which had been transformed in about 90 minutes or so upstairs. It was now a hub of activity with vendors lined up on either side of the tight lane.

We bought a handmade card from a Bulgarian selling arts, crafts and even some food and snacks. We also spoke to a French woman selling hand-knitted handbags. The market had started to live up to its “global” billing.

▲ Photo by Yoki S. Jeong (Yoki Photography)

We strolled on further and spoke to Yoki in front of her stall selling photographs of Cuba, pictures she had taken herself on a visit there. It was an unexpected find, and we bought an image of two cigar-smoking Cuban men wearing cowboy hats.

Combining traditional facets of market life with a touch of Jeju’s globalizing community was the essence of the festival.The established elders sat at their familiar stalls while looking on at the events running through the heart of the market. It was a nice contrast to see, and there was that feeling of Jeju togetherness that I had experienced elsewhere on the island.

And this is what makes markets so special: They transport me back to a bygone era so easily lost in the modern world. A market seems to protest against modernity and technology, providing a simpler existence and essentials like food and clothing.

Such experiences are the true lessons of being part of a community, trying out local food and walking around the heart of Jeju’s old town.

Photo by Yoki S. Jeong (Yoki Photography)

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