- Posted November 9, 2010 by
Jeju, South Korea
South Korean Food: Island Style
While far from being a true connoisseur (I’m from Michigan after all), after years of traveling and experimenting, I think I can honestly say that I know my seafood. Granted, different places have different specialties. A good cut of tuna sashimi in Tokyo is essentially unequaled virtually everywhere else in the world, just as nobody is going to dispute the unparalleled reign of the lobster in Massachusetts. Korea has it’s own specialties as well, and at a small, unassuming restaurant in a quiet corner of Jeju Island, we chanced upon what I feel justified in calling the seafood experience of a lifetime.
The fact that locals of any given area generally know best is undisputed, however the average vacationer tends to ignore this idea and will often favor more established and well known locations for accommodations and entertainment. On this trip we opted for a more spontaneous vacation, entrusting most of our accommodations and some restaurants to taxi driver’s recommendations. Our second night we ended up at small fishing village named Pyo-Seon (표선) famous more for its (slightly tacky) nearby ‘folk village’ than anything else. After setting up shop at a beautiful pension next to the ocean with a perpetually smiling old sea dog owner, we were in dire need of some food so we took a stroll around town.
The town itself consisted mostly of a number of small houses, two pensions, a dozen fishing boats (more than half dedicated to a Korean favorite, squid), and about a dozen restaurants. Most of these restaurants were located within a stone’s throw from the folk village, and seemed to be catering to the tourists leaving the representation of Korean village life a few centuries ago. One of the restaurants in this tiny area (the entire village was walk-able in about five minutes at a leisurely pace) simply had a slightly worn looking sign on the main road, and a small path leading around back where the restaurant was set up to overlook the beach.
In truly typical Korean style, there were a number of fish tanks by the entrance of the restaurant with a wide variety of dinner choices swimming around inside (This brought back memories of my childhood, when I would see a customer choose their favored crustacean from the tank at Red Lobster and wait for it to appear cooked on their plate). The restaurant itself was also more or less what I had come to expect from a relatively nice joint in Korea – clean, a bit noisy, and no chairs for those like myself whose legs tend to fall asleep when sitting on the ground.
Looking at the menu, we were a bit disappointed. There was a good variety of options, however the cheapest sashimi platter, a range of different cuts of the fish of the day (모듬회) was, in our opinion, at 80,000 won (about 70$ US) a bit on the expensive side. We decided to take a gamble and hope for the best.
What followed was an extraordinary array of fresh (often raw) appetizers, the sashimi, and a seemingly endless train of other dishes, all elegantly served and delectable. The entire meal lasted over two hours. Combined with the amazingly friendly 아줌마 (middle aged women) staff and the homemade 막걸리 (rice wine) for desert, this was a meal that neither of us will ever forget. If you are ever in Jeju, get in a taxi and go visit 금데기횟집 064-787-1575. I promise you will not be disappointed.