I’ve spent three days on Jeju-do (Jeju island) and I’m really glad that I did because it’s truly magnificent.
Jeju-do is like the Eden of South Korea – pristine air and waters, beautiful landscapes and wholesome produce. It’s hard not to fall in love with the place.
For me, I fell in love with Jeju with my very first bite. It was a smallish, brightly orange tangerine right from the garden where we stayed. The rind of the tangerine was really thin and it peeled off easily to give way to a fruit so juicy and so beautifully sweet, easily the sweetest one that I’ve eaten. It was nearly impossible to stop at one.
Jeju is blessed with the perfect climate for growing tangerines and there’s no shortage of tangerine farms in Jeju’s countryside from Seongsan to Seogwipo. I would definitely want to pick my own tangerines on a farm during harvest season the next time I visit Jeju.
Heading eastwards, we were driven through winding coastal roads and we spotted Seongsan Ilchubong (Sunrise Peak) from a distance. We saw glistening waters, and a emerald green shape that seem to stand out from the bluest sky. When we got to the Sunrise Peak itself, I could feel the bellowing wind against my face. It was just a wonderful feeling and even the hoards of tourists milling around were unable to dampen my spirits. Seongsan Ilchubong is formed naturally by hydrovolcanic eruptions a few thousand years ago. After hiking to its peak, 182m high, I stood there for more than a couple of minutes to take in a deep breath and to behold a crown like crater surrounded by just clear blue waters, that was indeed surreal.
The next day, we pushed westwards. The sky was grey and the colours looks a little washed-out as we got to the Yongmeori Coast (also called the Dragon’s head coast). Due to high tides, the coastal walk was closed off to visitors for the morning and late evening, leaving a three hour window period to visit it. Before heading off, we were warned by the coastal guards by his continuing whistles to stay close to the cliff and not to the waters. Before I could stop to question, huge waves crashed against those rocks that I was on before. Definitely a exciting way to begin the walk. I enjoyed listening to the sounds of the rhythmic ways, feeling the sea breeze against my face, seeing the crystal blue waters make its way to the dramatic looking cliffs just right next to us. The grey and cloudy day made the coast even more mysterious and mystical.
After walking so much during the day, I’m so glad to be able to replenish the fuel for my body and soul. While I love the variety and vibrancy of the food in Seoul, Jeju won over with its simple but pure, wholesome produce.
Being so close to waters, Jeju is abundant with the freshest seafood. I can still remember devouring every single drop of that ginseng chicken with abalone soup. The broth was light, clear, flavourful and cooked to perfection.
Then we have Jeonbokjuk (porridge with abalone). Its appearance was downright deceiving; it looked like the most unappetizing green goo. I took a very hesitant spoonful and the rest is history. The abalone imparts a subtle seafood sweetness to the rice. That is beautiful goo indeed.
Okdom-Gui is a grilled fish that is native to Jeju coast. It is salted and brushed on with sesame oil before being grilled to perfection. This is possibly one of my favourite dish on Jeju-do! The texture of the fish is delicate and the flavour is sweet. Served with a bowl of rice and a bowl of clear seaweed soup, I was one happy camper.
While I’m still at seafood, how can I miss out on haemul ddukbaegi, which is a Korean-style bouillabaisse. The steaming hot stone pot holds generous amounts of crabs, clams, abalone, prawns, fish swimming in a spicy seafood broth.
But the most memorable one has to be the bowl of seafood noodles we stopped to have enroute the airport. The tiny store was in the middle of nowhere and was run by two good-natured elderly husband-and-wife team. They were already closed for the day at 6pm but after a chat with our driver, they ushered us into their humble restaurant and told us they will prepare noodles for us. This hot bowl of noodles doesn’t seem like anything much but it was simply sublime – big flavours shine from the broth flavoured mainly made with clams, sea squirts, julienned local pumpkin, with a handful of scallions and seaweed. It seemed wrong to say goodbye to Jeju after having that bowl of seafood noodles.
We had to unfortunately. But with us, we brought along our matcha swiss roll that we bought from O’sulluc green tea museum and high spirits as we headed back to Seoul.
Jeje’s top 5 food to try:
1. Ginseng Chicken with abalone
2. Jeonbokguk (전복죽), Abalone porridge
3. Okdom-gui ( 옥돔구이), Grilled local fish
4. Haemul ddukbaegi (해물 뚝배기), seafood in a hot pot
5. Ogyeopsal (오겹살), Jeju black pork fiver layers pork belly
Jeju’s top 5 places to visit:
1. Seongsan Ilchubong (Sunrise Peak)
2. Yongmeori Coast (Dragon’s head coast)
3. Pyoseon haebichi beach (beautiful turquoise waters and a beachfront)
4. Jusangjeolli Cliffs (columns-like cliff formed by volcanic activity that outline Jeju’s southern coast)
5. A drive along the coastal area of Jeju