FOOD JEJU ISLAND KOREA

Jeju Island off the Beaten Path | Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

May 27, 2015

JEJU ISLAND

After a full day of last-minute travel frazzling, I stayed up late (as usual) packing, fell asleep on the couch with Max, woke up about four hours later, got ready, finished packing (STILL?), and fed the kitties. We walked to the bus stop, caught the stupid slow bus again, and made our way to the train station with (for once) time to spare.

As I was hauling my little, but heavy, bag up the stairs to the train station, an elderly gentleman reached down and quietly grabbed one side of my bag, He and I carried my bag up two flights of stairs while he asked me in English if I was American and if I was headed home. I replied I was on my way to Jeju. He smiled at the top of the stairs and wished me good luck. This small act of kindness would set the tone for the rest of our trip… but more on that later…

We picked up some food at Paris Baguette, bought a few drinks, then waited on the platform for the Mugunghwa train to Busan. Mugunghwa trains are a class of trains that service the more rural areas of Korea. They are slower than the KTX but a lot cheaper and run more frequently. We chose to ride the Mugunghwa because it left earlier than the KTX and the last thing we needed was to miss our flight.

One bus ride, an hour train ride, and a 15 min cab ride later we were at the airport in Busan, ready for take off.

Given the previous day’s frantic planning I was sort of waiting for something else to go wrong but it never did. The owner and host of the pension we were staying at picked us up at the airport when he found out we didn’t have a car and were unable to rent one. Our room at The Italiano that we weren’t initially so sure about turned out to be lovely and spacious (and yes, still a little bit on the more interesting side) and was located just five minutes walking distance from the beautiful coastline.

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cabbage as far as the eye can see

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Look! we’re in Italy!

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I wonder if these two realize they have been forever immortalized on a hotel room wall in Korea

After checking into our room we walked down the coastal road to a Korean seafood restaurant recommended by our host. There were only three set menus to choose from — all were pretty pricey and included a lot more food than I wanted to eat. The “cheapest” set menu included at least 10 courses, three of which were dishes of whole cooked fish. I didn’t know if I could eat that much but our waitress assured us that two people had ‘no problem’ finishing it.

 

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first course

 What the hell kind of couples ate at this restaurant that could “easily” finish that meal? Sly and I eat more than anyone we know and we were struggling hard. Sly’s logic of, “it’s just fish” backfired as dish after dish after dish came out. Suffice it to say, we skipped dinner that night.

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second course: fish served on top of stones

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Mungae — it’s a very acquired taste. I’ve had some edible mungae and I’ve had some hideous mungae. Eat at your own risk.

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one of the whole fish courses — this was fried and coated in a sweet and sour sauce. very tasty, though I wish I could have just ordered this single dish and some sides instead of the million courses of food we ate.

 

As we sat outside on a picnic table, cool sea air blowing through the plastic windows, sipping on Hite beer and eating fresh seafood our bodies finally begun to unwind. We made it the goal of our trip to spend our time relaxing instead of running around trying to do and see everything in one trip.

We walked home along one of the Olle trails and took a blissfully long afternoon nap.

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When we finally awoke, the skies had turned cloudy and the sun was just starting to set. We changed into warmer clothes and we set out again, walking the short distance from our pension past fields of cabbage and garlic until we reached the coastline’s Olle trails once more. Our nightly walks soon became our evening ritual.

 

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Jungeom Saemul — these lava rock steps led down to a little pool (lower right) that was filled with natural spring water (I think that’s what I read anyway). The sea walls were built in the 1930s because collecting the water when the sea was turbulent proved difficult. 

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Along the coastal trails we stopped to play with a funny little dog that kept tugging on my sweater and bit the straps on my sandals, read about the solar rock salt fields, watched the boats come into the dock by the lighthouse, and searched long and hard for some ice cream. We didn’t find any dessert shops on that outing but we did find the cutest little coffee shop that we determined would be the perfect size and layout for our future off-the-grid cargo container cabin.

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Gueom Dolyeomjeon( rock salt field) — Sea water is boiled down using the sun to create rock salt. The process starts in April and takes about two months. In old times, high quality rock salt could be traded for two boxes of barley. I believe rock salt is still made using these fields, but I’m not sure if it’s more for show these days.

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carved from volcanic rock, hareubangs offer both protection and fertility. the mushroom hat is considered phallic.

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um. do you see what I see?

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Mt. Halla

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We ordered a few iced coffees served in the most adorable little milk jugs (need these) and sat upstairs in what felt like our own private room with a magnificent ocean view.

 

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When it started getting dark we followed the coast back home, past a series of massive hotels under construction, and past an extremely loud and oblivious group of tourists that unfortunately followed us into the GS25 convenience store where we stopped for ice cream and snacks for the next day’s hike. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

While we didn’t really put much thought into choosing our hotel (or planning anything for that matter), it turned out to be the perfect place for us. Located away from the city and from the more resort-y SE part of the island, the town of Aewol-eup was a mix of pastoral and beachy. Unfortunately it looks like developers have caught on to this quiet part of the island and with all the new hotels being built in the area I doubt it will stay that way for long.

But at the time we weren’t thinking about the future of Aewol-eup because we were too caught up in the rhythm of the ocean., the undulating coast line, the salty air, the cool night breeze, and the plastic bag we carried that contained two ice cream macarons, We walked towards the glittering “city” lights on our way home, hand in hand, enjoying it while we could.

 

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The Italiano – our lodging while in Jeju

JEJU ISLANDDETAILS | JEJU ISLAND

The Italiano  |  LOCATION: Sineoman 2-gil, Aewol-eup | COST: $65/night/May — may be higher during summer months. Includes full breakfast of sandwich with homemade bread, yogurt, salad, and a freshly made Americano. // Located about 15-20 min by car and 30-40 min by bus from Jeju City, this part of Jeju is not for those seeking to go clubbing or stay at a 5 star luxury resort. Aewol is a very low key laid back with a few restaurants, shops, and convenience store within walking distance along the coast. We were pleasantly surprised by The Italiano, especially given the price. It’s clean, spacious, close to the water, close to public transportation, and came equipped with all the essentials — AC, hair dryer, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, mini fridge, and en suite bathroom. Our host, Yongtae, even picked us up AND dropped us off at the airport! While I don’t think this is the norm, especially during the busier months, it just goes to show you the type of hosts that run this place. Recommended for those seeking a homey atmosphere on the quieter side of Jeju.

White Castle Wild Sashimi /  하얀성자연산활어회 (I used google to translate the name given to us by our host, we did not actually see an English name on the building, but we also were not looking)  |  LOCATION: 989-2 Sineom-ri, Aewol-eup. If you’re staying at The Italiano, walk down the street towards the water, turn left, and it’s the first restaurant you see on the left-hand side. | CUISINE: Korean style raw fish |  COST: Expensive // There were actually two sides to the restaurant — on the right: Jeju black pork that you could grill at your table. On the left: Korean style sushi. If you’ve never had Korean style sushi you may want to try it first before blowing your cash here because it’s not like Japanese sushi. For one, the cut is different and second, Koreans only eat what seems like three types of raw fish. The raw fish is usually eaten in a lettuce wrap with korean red chili paste and garlic. I’m really big on textures so while i like Korean style sashimi, after a while the chewiness of the fish gets to me. Given this, the meal was really good — simple, fresh, and expensive (Jeju pricing). There were three set dinner menus to choose from, the cheapest was set C, which we chose, ran over $100. I think 4 people could have easily eaten that meal, and in that case it would have been a good deal. With just us it was way too much food and they wouldn’t allow us to order outside of the set menus.

Phomer/ 포메르 |  LOCATION: On Aewolhaean-ro, (the Coastal Road) Southeast of the UFO cafe | COST: Inexpensive // Serves coffee and tea along with a few baked goods. Awesome deck and awesome view of the ocean. You can catch the sunset from here.

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4 Comments

  • Reply Karen May 27, 2015 at 4:26 am

    GORGEOUS!!

    • Reply veronika May 27, 2015 at 11:53 am

      We loved it there! I already want to go back

  • Reply funnelcloud rachel May 28, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    Gorgeous! The ten course fish meal is ridiculous! I had to look up mungae – Wikipedia says it tastes like “rubber dipped in ammonia.” I think I’ll pass!

    • Reply veronika May 29, 2015 at 12:13 am

      I can pretty much eat anything – “weird” flavors don’t bother me as much as textures — but the first time I had mungae I almost I nearly spit it out. It tasted like bleach cleaning fluid! I have tried it again since then and realized it has to be super fresh. When it is, it just tastes really briny and not bad at all.

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