Jeju, famously known as the “Hawaii of Korea” is a popular destination for honeymooners, foreign and Korean alike. When you’re not canoodling with your loved one on the beach and were wondering what to eat? Try some of the local delicacies in Jeju! I’ll be your guide as we explore the wondrous dishes that make this island so different from the Mainland.
Black Pork (제주 흑돼지) – Jeju Heukdwaeji
First and foremost, one can’t do Jeju without even a bite of black pork – especially in its purest samgyeopsal form. A very fatty and rich flavor to savor, slightly different from that of regular pork. As a result, Jeju Black Pork tends to be more on the pricey side starting at 15,000won. A walk down Black Pork Street (흑돼지 거리) in Jeju City, and you can smell the sizzling scent of this amazing dish.
Abalone Rice Porridge (전복죽) – Jeonbokjuk
Although abalone is abundant in the tropical waters of Jeju Island, it is still one of the most expensive dishes. A Jeju classic using abalone is Jeonbokjuk (abalone rice porridge). It isn’t as fishy as you would think, but you can definitely feel the freshness of the abalone as it melts in your mouth. The best area for abalones on Jeju is in Gujwa-eup (구좌읍) along the northern coast. One bowl of porridge will set you back 10,000won. If you want grilled abalones, expect to pay more than 30,000won.
Spicy Hairtail Stew (갈치조림) – Galchijorim
Though not as abundant as say mackerel in Jeju, there’s no lack of restaurants specializing in Hairtail on the island. Hairtail is a long, slender silver fish with an almost eel-like appearance. The fish is prepared fresh, often grilled or boiled into a spicy stew of vegetables and a kimchi broth. After sitting in a savory spicy-sweet bath (which packs quite a kick) for hours on end, it’s supple meat will have your taste buds dancing with joy. You can find some restaurants serving this delicious dish around Seongsan-eup (성산읍) on the eastern side of the island.
Seafood Hotpot (해물 뚝배기) – Haemul Ddukbaegi
A hotpot bubbling with all kinds of seafood fresh from the sparkling blue waters off Jeju. You’ll find sea urchins, abalones, shrimp, squid, octopus, clams, cuttlefish and many vegetables thrown into the soybean paste mix. Relatively cheap as far as Jeju fare goes, with a bowl costing as low as 8,000won. You’ll find a few restaurants clustered on Chilsimni-ro (칠십리로) in Seogwipo (서귀포) beside the harbor. If you love seafood like I do, then Haemul Ddukbaegi is just for you!
Pheasant (꿩) – Kkwong
Pheasants were originally imported from China to satisfy colonial game hunting on the island. Hikers might catch a quick glimpse of the elusive bird dashing into the brush. As a very energetic bird and high in protein, Koreans believe eating Pheasant will also increase vitality. Tender pheasant meat is used – most commonly as dumplings (꿩만두), buckwheat noodles (꿩메밀 칼국수), or served sashimi-style (꿩회). The dumplings and the buckwheat noodles are roughly 6,000won each. Raw pheasant could be upwards of 15,000won depending on the place.
Horse (말고기) – Malgogi
Horses were brought to the island during the Mongol invasion and had mated with the native horses. You’ll see these majestic steeds roam the grasslands around Hallasan (한라산). Horse meat can be made into various different types of dishes, but it’s best known form would be raw. Most would cringe at the fact, but yukhoe (육회) as its called is chewy and usually well seasoned. The meat is a deep red similar to beef tartare, not at all gamey or fatty, but slippery in texture. Definitely give it a try if you’re brave enough. Full set courses range upward of 30,000 to 50,000won at Malirang Heukdosaegirang (말이랑흑도새기랑) in Jeju City.
Okdom Gui (옥돔구이) is grilled sea bream, a small fish with very soft, tender meat. It’s a fish well known in Jeju, but still more expensive than the standard mackerel.
Seonggeguk (성게국) is simply sea urchin soup. Basically mix in small abalones, fresh seaweed, sesame oil, and the yellow sea urchin flesh/eggs and you get Seonggeguk.
Omegitteok (오메기떡) is a round rice cake covered in azuki beans with even more azuki beans and mugwort for filling.
Bingtteok (빙떡) is a soft thin-rolled rice cake made with buckwheat flour and filled with thin strips of radish. Some may consider this a bland dessert.
From left to right: Okdom Gui, Seonggeguk, Omegitteok, and Bingtteok
And then the drinks…
Milgam-hwachae (밀감화채) is a citrusy punch made of summer oranges which one can be found on the southern Seogwipo side of the island.
Hallasan Soju (한라산 소주) is made from rice grown in Jeju and the water used is filtered through volcanic rocks. What you get is one of the highest alcohol content in Soju (at 21%). It might be the closest Soju can get to vodka.
Omegisul (오메기술) through a process of fermented Omegitteok and yeast, we get this pale yellow alcohol with 15% ABV. Initially, a very strong kick but with a smooth, slightly sweet aftertaste.
Hallabong Makgeolli (한라봉 막걸리) is a sweet milky rice wine infused with the famous Hallabong oranges (at 6% ABV). Just as refreshingly sweet as the fruit and great for summer nights outdoors on the island.
From left to right: Milgam-hwachae, Hallasan Soju, Omegisul, and Hallabong Makgeolli
Now that I’ve brought to your attention the many different foods and drinks that the “Hawaii of Korea” can offer. Where would you find such wonderful dishes and the accompanying beverage? I would say the markets are a safe bet (like the Jeju City Five-Day Folk Market, Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market, and Dongmun Market), especially if you’re on a tight itinerary. For seafood, definitely drive along the coast and explore little niches by the bay.
Once you see Haenyeo (해녀) or elderly freedivers in their full black rubber gear, then you’re not too far off from a Haenyeojip (해녀집) where these ladies cook up their catch for a good price. It definitely supports a local business, an ancient tradition, and you get a really fresh meal out of it. And there’s so much variety to try – like conch, sea squirt, spoon worm, cuttlefish, sea urchin, sea slugs, etc.
So hit the road and get your grub on! I know where I’m going, do you? 제주에 감수다!
If you haven’t already, check out this helpful article on an Introduction to Korean Street Food for more inspiration.