Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Jeju Dongmun Traditional Market

Dongmun Market in mid-June. Stopped by several times on visiting my parents.The most famous open market in Jeju Island, and perhaps all of Korea, Jeju Dongmun Market boasts some of the freshest local foodstuffs, from prized native Jeju seafoods like red tilefish, abalone, and hairtail fish to black pork, tangerines, and dried Mt. Halla black mushrooms, to clothing, shoes, and all kinds of gadgets and souvenirs. This sprawling market opened in 1945 in the aftermath of Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule. It was the island's center for everyday shopping until large-scale corporate stores and mega-supermarket franchises like E-Mart opened a decade ago. 

Still, many residents remain loyal to the vendors they've known for years and insist on shopping for all their needs at the Dongmun Market. My mother is one of them. My parents live literally within a stone's throw of the market and my mother shops there everyday for the freshest produce, seafood and meat. When I was in grade school I fell in love with Dongmun's ddeok bokki (spicy stir-fried rice cakes). The combination of the chewy rice cake, explosive fermented chili sauce, sugar, and spices is unforgettable. I always return to my favorite stall whenever I visit Jeju. Still the same yummy goodness after all these years!

(The famed Jeju hairtail fish)

It's glistening silver hue is simply dazzling. Never have I seen such fresh hairtail fish anywhere else in the world. I just love the taste of hairtail fish (think of a mix between sardine and snapper) and am always eager to get my hands on the fish when it's fresh. The big Korean supermarket nearby carries it frequently. But compared to what I am used to in Jeju, it's all invariably blueish and limpid. I would tell my husband about the super-fresh kind readily available in Jeju, and he, having never seen it with his own eyes, would say, "This looks pretty fresh to me." Well, never again! He was simply amazed by the freshness of the Jeju variety and exclaimed that henceforth we can never be satisfied with what's on the market back in the US!

                                                                    (Red Tilefish of Jeju)

Also known as red horsehead in Europe (the head of the fish resembles that of a horse), it's a type of sea bream or sea bass. Also known as Japanese tilefish, the glistening scales on the fish are reminiscent of shiny new reddish tile. The fish is usually sold dried. It retains its unique flavors when it's dried. The deep flavors of this delicacy are hard to describe. They remind me of Stilton cheese and black mushroom tempered by the freshest kind of cod. And they are not inexpensive! While red tilefish from China sell for about $10 per fish, the Jeju variety sells for $70! Connoisseurs claim that the native Jeju fish has incomparably deeper flavors. To all fish-lovers, I would highly recommend you try it on your next visit to Jeju.

                        Recordings of Korean "trot" music, much loved by middle-aged Koreans

                         Steamed whole pig head, Korean blood sausage, and pig's feet on display

Fresh live sea cucumber at Dongmun Market. One of my our favorite seafoods. My husband and I just love to eat it raw, sashimi-style. We were able to take care of our craving on this trip. On can find the freshest live abalone at several stalls in the market. Live, raw abalone is one of my favorite foods in the whole world. With each chewy bite you can taste the briny wholesome goodness of the sea.

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