▲ The buffet at ICC Jeju's Sorang Restaurant offers a large selection of traditional Jeju dishes. Photos by Brian Miller
There’s a saying in English I’ve often used, that I’m hungry enough to eat a horse. I never thought I’d actually do so, but when I saw horsebeef steak on the Sorang Restaurant at the International Convention Center Jeju (ICC Jeju), I had to try it for myself. Horsemeat is considered a delicacy in many countries, including France, Italy, Switzerland and the French regions of Canada, as well as Japan and Korea. I’ve noticed many horsemeat restaurants around Jeju Island, which has its own breed of the equine beasts, but until recently never felt the urge to try it.
Horsemeat is known to be lean and protein-rich, although some cuts are considered a little tough. No doubt to counteract this tendency, the meat at ICC had been ground and formed into patties. I couldn’t say whether or not I liked it, as it tasted stronger than beef to my palate, but I was unsure how much of the flavor came from the seasonings and gravy-like sauce and how much from the meat itself.
Horse is just one of many traditional Jeju foods on offer at Sorang’s buffet, some of which may be unusual to Western diners, or even Koreans from the mainland. Dishes included a wide range of seafood as might be expected from an island province, from fresh kelp and sea mustard through crabs, cuttlefish, abalone, salted hairtail and salted anchovies. There was also a good selection of sashimi, shark shish kebab and enough other delicacies from the waters around Jeju to sate any seafood lover. Jeju’s black pork also featured in a variety of guises, as tender steamed pork ribs, roasted or boiled.
A salad bar included an assortment of salad greens, tomatoes, corn salad and potato salad and tangerines were also prevalent, used to flavor salad dressing, in a sweet and sour sauce served with battered broccoli, to complement the duck and atop a custard creme for dessert. Other sweets, in keeping with the Jeju theme, included green tea madeleines, choux pastry cactus puffs and candied tangerines.
Executive chef Park Bong Su said a characteristic of Jeju food was its simple and healthy preparation. “In the past, Jeju women lived really busy lives so they made food with minimal seasoning and minimal cooking time, but that is now a characteristic of healthy food,” he said. “Jeju is well-known as the island of long life and this well-being buffet comes from that.” Everything I tried tasted fresh and the selection was such that it was difficult to sample it all.
Food and beverage manager Oh Ki Jong said the buffet, which opens for dinner only on Fridays and lunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday, attracts mostly tourists in the convention center to shop at the duty-free store. The Friday The Jeju Weekly publisher Song Jung Hee and I dined, there was only one other table, but she said that when she had been there a few weeks earlier, there were more than 10 tables seated.
There is also a performance during the meal, featuring a singer/guitarist, a haenyeo dancer and two women performing a water dance. A saxophonist is also shown on the restaurant brochure but he had not appeared by the time we finished our meals and left. The dancers were a romanticized vision of Jeju’s real women divers and the village women I have seen fetching water, but although the haenyeo in particular was much more ethereal than the solid, down-to-earth diving women I have met, the performances were enjoyable.
For those seeking the traditional food of the island while being entertained, ICC Jeju is worth a visit.
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