Jeju, The Hawaii of Korea

Jeju Island, from Seongsan Ilchulbong

This is part 2 of a 3-part series on my trip to Korea. Find part 1 here and part 3 here

Date of trip: 26/Jan/2019 – 17/Feb/2019

Single question pop quiz: what’s the busiest flight route in the world? If you answered Sydney to Melbourne, I applaud you for being so close. But at the same time, not at all: SYD<->MEL does hold the record for the world’s second busiest flight route with ~54,000 flights a year (that is a number alright), but it’s more than 25,000 flights short of #1.

That the Seoul<->Jeju flight corridor, with nearly 80,000 flights a year, is by far the world’s busiest says a lot about the popularity of Jeju Island (Jeju-do in Korean) as a year-round destination. There is so much to do, see and eat here – it’s not just the volcanic remnants, teddy bear museums (yes) and Jeju black pork. And I know that these are hollow words – a first-time visitor can say them for just about any popular destination – but Jeju is an island that really punches above its weight. While I concluded more time in Seoul is a must in the first post, the fact that we allocated more time to Jeju was not lamented.

If Tokyo, Fuji, Kyoto & Osaka is the golden route for tourists visiting Japan, then Jeju is a non-negotiable component of the South Korean equivalent.

Better make some time for it.

This post contains affiliate links. Purchases made by clicking on an affiliate link may earn a small commission for me, but never at extra cost for you. Please go here for more information.

All expenses incurred on this trip were paid out of my own pocket. There were no sponsored arrangements.

All Currency conversions were carried out during drafting (May 2019) and should not be relied upon other than as approximations.

Table of Contents

As usual, items in italics refer to food-related activities.

Day 1 [Seogwipo] – Getting to Jeju / Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market / Cheonjiyeon Falls / Meogkkaebi

Day 2 – [South-West Jeju] Jusangjeollidae / Cheonjeyeon Waterfall / Teddy Bear Museum / Chunsimine / Jeju Chocolate Museum / Osulloc Tea Museum / Maesdolttugbaegi / Jeongbang Waterfall

Day 3 [Jeju City] – Guksu Geori / Dongmun Traditional Market / Antoinette / Cooking Nanta Show

Day 4 – [South-East Jeju] Seongeup Folk Village / Sunrise Lands / Soranejip / Seongsan Ilchulbong / Yongdam Batdam Black Pork

Day 5 – Chongrim Haejangguk / Off to Jeonju!

Trip Map

Day 1 [Seogwipo] – Getting to Jeju / Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market / Cheonjiyeon Falls / Meogkkaebi

Getting to Jeju

You’d think with 200+ flights a day, getting to Jeju from Seoul is pretty easy.

Nah, no twist there: you’d be right. With that frequency, this is pretty much the least risky flight you’ll ever have to take. Miss one? Whatever, there’s at least eight in the next hour. Do note that flights to Jeju Airport (CJU) depart from Seoul’s Gimpo Airport (GMP), not Incheon (ICN). And while it sounds obvious, even this seasoned traveller has mixed up Paris’ Orly Airport (ORY) with its better-known Charles de Gaulle (CDG) sibling during #ISHRTW.

Don’t make that mistake.

If you’re staying near Seoul Station, a quick subway ride on lines 5 or 9 will get you to Gimpo in less than 25 minutes. This is exactly why I recommended the Millenium Hilton as accommodation. At that point, you should already have a T-money card (the equivalent of Hong Kong’s Octopus, London’s Oyster or Sydney’s Opal) because how else have you been exploring Seoul??? Use this and it’ll get you through the gates to Gimpo.

The flight to Jeju was quick and uneventful: as it should be

With a flight time of 70 minutes, there was absolutely nothing eventful about our journey – the way it should be. We flew with Jeju Air, which seemed kind of appropriate. It’s a budget airline, much like all the other wallet-friendly options that dominate this route, and was a perfectly pleasant (and full!) flight. The cost? $66 per person. Do note that this figure can easily double during peak seasons.

Sure, you could also fly Korean Air on this route, but at 2-3x the price for such a short hop, why oh why?

All flights to Jeju land in Jeju City, to the north of Jeju Island. For logistical reasons, we made the call to hire maxicabs to take us directly to Seogwipo, Jeju’s second largest city on the south side of the island. If you look at the trip map, the reasoning becomes clear – there are real efficiency gains to be had staying in both Seogwipo and Jeju City. We just happened to do the former first.

We stayed at Days Hotel Jeju Seogwipo Ocean, for no particular reason other than its centrally convenient location and cheaper-than-market rates (at the time). $57 per person, per night for a modern room (the hotel is sparkling new as of 2019) with ocean views sounds pretty good to me.

The view from our room, which was actually a suite. It’s pretty sweet, for the price.

Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market – 서귀포매일 올레시장

One of the many entrances to the Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market. Looks empty now, but the place quickly got packed as lunchtime approached

Lack of a proper breakfast and no food provided on the plane meant that pleasing the stomach was priority #1 – especially after the 90min drive from Jeju City to Seogwipo! Seogwipo’s Maeil Olle Market – the city’s biggest – answered the call, and it’s probably the only one you’ll need to visit while there. It has everything. Probably even the kitchen sink somewhere.

Whatever you buy here (and you really should craft a whole meal out of it), do be sure to try the Korean version of the Dekopon mandarin, called Hallabong. Otherwise known as the sumo mandarin, Jeju is one of Korea’s primary producers.

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Cheonjiyeon Falls – 천지연 폭포

The picturesque falls

There are three famous waterfalls in Jeju, with two of them near Seogwipo. Most helpfully, the Koreans of bygone days have named them Cheonjiyeon (this entry), and Cheonjeyeon. Spot the difference. The name is a literal amalgamation of sky (Cheon) and land (ji), so named as it seemingly connects the two. For someone who’s somewhat jaded when it comes to vertical streams of water, it really is quite a lovely sight given its surroundings, even with the hordes of tourists jostling for that perfect K-drama photo.

I’m not even kidding: the couple behind us were romantically posing for a good 5-8 minutes. I guess you do you!

Awhile back, the local government turned the entire area around the falls into a sculpted park, which means there’s more to see than just the falls themselves, with a 2000KRW (~$2.4AUD) entry fee as a result. It’s literally cheaper than chips, so may as well spend it soaking in some of the best greenery (even in winter) Jeju has to offer.

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Meogkkaebi – 먹깨비

Meogkkaebi - 먹깨비
Literally the most random restaurant find of the trip

I’m pretty sure I spent more time trying to find Meogkkaebi on the internet (in order to extract the Hangul and pin it on the trip map) than actually eating there. Such was the reality for many restaurants in Jeju, where you’ll need the Hangul itself (as opposed to its romanised spelling) in order to locate them on a map. Fortunately, doing this in reality is far easier: with convenient positioning right next to one of Maeil Olle Market’s entrances, this mom-and-pop joint was an easy, albeit accidental pick.

Meogkkaebi was merely an okay, if not great introduction with respect to Jeju’s regional cuisine. I’m happy to admit that some of it was challenging – I’m not a fan of fermented seafood, for example – but finding out is half the fun. I’d happily return for the sundubu jjigae (spicy tofu kimchi stew), and fiery duruchigi (spicy pork stir fry) though. The latter was probably one of the best stir fry dishes I’ve had in awhile, actually.

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Day 2 – [South-West Jeju] Jusangjeollidae / Cheonjeyeon Waterfall / Teddy Bear Museum / Chunsimine / Jeju Chocolate Museum / Osulloc Tea Museum / Maesdolttugbaegi / Jeongbang Waterfall

Jusangjeollidae…part of it

There’s no ‘right’ way to explore Jeju, but most people recommend spending a day exploring its western side, with another day for the opposite. Jeju may be small compared to say, Tasmania, but it’s still big enough that you won’t be able to ‘coast-to-coast’ it in one day.

Essential tip: there is no rail infrastructure in Jeju, and getting around quickly adds up if you keep taking individual taxi trips. If you have the numbers, hiring a taxi as a private driver for a day is by far the most efficient way to get around the island. As there were 8 of us, we landed a maxicab for 180,000KRW (~$218AUD/$27pp) from 9am-5pm (though our cabbie was kind enough to extend us to 7pm!). A normal 4-seater cab runs between 120-140k KRW (~$145-$170AUD), which is less value for money, but still not bank-breaking. I can’t recommend this enough.

Or you could just rent a car, I guess. Lol.

Jusangjeollidae – 주상절리대

Pictured: LOTS of columnar stacks

The signs hinting at Jeju’s 2-million-year-old origin story as a violent volcano can be seen all over the island. Mt Halla, the dormant volcano that dominates the Jeju skyline, black sand beaches, the fertile soil perfect for growing fruit, and most spectacularly, basalt columnar jointing or – in less fancy language – volcanic stacks. You can see them all around the island, but Jusangjeollidae is probably where they’re at their best. A definite ‘whoa, mother nature’ moment.

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Cheonjeyeon Waterfalls – 천제연폭포

Cheonjeyeon waterfalls from a distance.

Cheonjeyeon and Cheonjiyeon differ by only a letter, but you definitely don’t want to mix them up with your driver. We made only a quick stop here as the weather on this day was hardly clement, and dare I say *yawn*, another waterfall?

Seonimgyo Bridge ft blue beanie

The nearby Seonimgyo Bridge is perhaps worth checking out – its beautiful arch’s sides are engraved with 14 nymphs playing musical instruments (I only have a front-on photo, sorry!)

In better weather, the nearby Yeomiji Botanical Garden may also be worth your time. For us? Maybe not so much in the face near gale force winds and horizontal rain. This really was a very, very quick stop.

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Teddy Bear Museum – 제주 테디베어뮤지엄

I still can’t believe this is an actual place that exists

I’ll never lose faith in the world as long as places like these still exist. And not only on Jeju: other teddy bear museums can be found in England, Florida, Malaysia and Japan. Okay the last one isn’t so surprising – it is Japan, after all.

But Jeju, of all places! And with three levels, it’s quite likely the largest (and cuddliest) of them all. Of course, there’s also shop that’s literally designed to vacuum up money from adults with dependent children…or just kidults *cough* missus *cough*

It was nowhere near Christmas, and I’m totally okay with that

In hindsight, I’m still shocked that we spent nearly two hours here. If teddies dressed up in all sorts of paraphernalia are your idea furry, fluffy good time, adult tickets at the front desk are available for 10,000KRW (~$12.45AUD) or alternatively, at Klook, where they go for $10.45AUD. The usual undercutting game and all that.

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Chunsimine – 춘심이네

Chunsimine

One of the few must-try dishes in Jeju is galchi gui (grilled whole hairtail). Capable of growing past a metre in length, this tasty, eel-like fish dies very quickly after it’s caught, and thus can’t travel far; while hairtail can be found across restaurants in Korea, its remote fishing zones means that any hairtail destined for the mainland needs to be frozen – losing freshness. Jeju doesn’t have that problem, so go figure. And Chunsimine is – probably – one of the best restaurants serving it.

Even in the winter low season, the restaurant was nearly full by the time we started eating

It’s a large operation, and they have no issues getting that capacity tested even on that day’s infernal weather – or perhaps because of it. Chunsimine specialises in grilled fish, but every table I noticed – without fail – had the galchi gui set, which for 4 people is priced at 130,000KRW ($~167AUD). Considering what you get, it’s a whopper of a deal.

As for the hairtail set itself? Delectable. Yes, the meal would not have been complete without the colourful array of banchan arrayed around the main course, but of course, the fish is the lynch pin. It was grilled very simply, with salt being the only added ingredient, as per tradition. The flesh was close to being buttery in texture, though due to its leanness, it would be unfair to expect ootoro-levels of melt-in-your-mouth. Fun fact: these fish eat pretty much everything, and as such the server will separate out the fish’s belly with a warning that you should take seriously: don’t eat the stomach.

Needless to say, advice followed.

We also ordered a cheaper set featuring grilled mackerel, which came in at a relative bargain of 90,000KRW (~$109AUD) for four people, but included a whole pot of spicy fish cake stew to make up for the lack of a fish you could strangle someone with.

I’m confident when I say that this was the best meal I had on Jeju Island.

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Jeju Chocolate Museum – 초콜릿박물관

Straight up real talk: I wouldn’t bother coming here, even if you had the time.

*yawn*

A chocolate museum should make you feel warm, comforted, and just maybe – like a kid again. Demonstrations, perhaps some interactive elements, and heck, an array of free samples, perhaps? Jeju’s Chocolate Museum – supposedly one of the top ten in the world, failed to satisfy any of these criteria. Well, other than the single, small piece of chocolate we were invited to try at the end at the shop – a sale they weren’t trying to land.

The thing is, if you’re actually a chocolate buff with a vested interest in learning all about cacao and how it’s transformed from an unrecognisable, wrinkly pod into one of the main reasons why there could be a God, then my criticisms are invalidated – Jeju’s chocolate museum has plenty to offer you; truly a museum to the tee.

The problem is that there’s simply not much else. Notwithstanding the unique facade (though uh, it kind of just looks like an undulating ant mound), the interiors are dated, cold & lifeless. Even the cafe was literally deserted, with no staff. Golly, can’t even get a hot chocolate around here. It’s probably a lot better if there was a buzz from more visitors, with everything operational. Alas, not so.

Because I like giving chances, I even shelled out the rather high 50,000KRW (~$70AUD) for a box of 12 chocolates, each made from cacao of a different origin. They were good; at that price? Hmm.

You’re not doing it right if the coolest part of your chocolate museum is the building

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Osulloc Tea Museum – 오설록 뮤지엄

For fear of repetition…this is Osulloc Tea Museum

Which do you like more: tea or chocolate? Trick question: it doesn’t really matter, because Osulluc Tea Museum is the superior experience regardless. A fully functional cafe serving an assortment of tea-based treats, a shop that goes beyond just tea (I brought back 5 boxes of Korean green tea biscuits!), and someone’s somewhere always offering a tea tasting. This is on top of the whole museum aspect of it as well, detailing Osulloc’s history as one of Korea’s key tea plantations.

It’s one to put on the map, even if you’re not much of a tea drinker. After all, you could just stop by for an Instagram photo outside in the tea fields.

Funny. I expected more Instagrammers here

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Maesdolttugbaegi – 맷돌 뚝배기

Maesdolttugbaegi - 맷돌 뚝배기
Gotta love the super random finds!

Another ‘random walk-in’ defying the usual meticulous restaurant planning paid off in crossing off another dish on the Jeju hitlist: haemul ttukbaegi (seafood hotpot). I don’t think this needs much more explanation, except that in Jeju, the one to get is abalone. Hot, spicy, and full of seafood umami, the hearty-yet-clean soup can be had by itself, or with a bowlful of rice dumped in to create a sort of thin porridge.

Did I mention that like Japan, steamed rice in Korea has been excellent each and every time? There’s just something about the firmness of the grain, its flavour, that makes it the perfect canvas for pretty much anything I cared to throw at it.

And of course, abalone stew is as good fodder as any. Unlike the just-okay Meogkkaebi, this was a great find.

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Jeongbang Waterfall – 정방폭포

I am officially waterfall-ed out

The third of Korea’s three waterfalls, we actually visited Jeongbang on the morning of day 3 (below), prior to departing Seogwipo for Jeju City, but I’m putting it here for grouping reasons.

There’s something to be said for a waterfall that feeds almost directly into the sea, with Haenyeo (female divers) working not too far away peddling fresh catches of the day. A very different feel to the Cheonji/eyeon falls.

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Day 3 [Jeju City] – Guksu Geori / Dongmun Traditional Market / Antoinette / Cooking Nanta Show

A 1.5hr drive from Seogwipo took us back to Jeju City. This is Jeju Island’s primary port of civilisation – the difference in size and traffic was palpable.

Hotel Whistle Lark’s ocean views are pretty sweet

Here, we stayed at Hotel Whistle Lark, which is in many ways like Days Hotel back in Seogwipo: coastal views, relatively modern interiors, and a bargain price – and again for only about $60AUD pp/pn. Another easy recommendation as long as you’re not looking for the full suite of luxury appointments.

Guksu Geori – 국수거리

The holy sign

After touchdown, it was straight to noodle street. Literally: that’s how Guksu Geori translates. It’s very much on the money: this is a stretch of road with a high concentration of noodle restaurants, and it is said you could walk into any of them and have some of the best Jeju City has to offer.

We walked into Guksu Madang, a restaurant specialising in egg noodle soups with simmered pork, though they do serve other dishes as well. The bowls are massive & flavourful, befitting of the dish’s lowbrow, working class beginnings. I would sum up the broth as a Korean version of tonkotsu, but a little bit sweeter and nuttier (sesame paste, perhaps?), and with simmered pork instead of chashu. If you want a Korean ‘ramen’ experience, this is it. I downed an entire bowl and then some, soup and all. As you do.

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Dongmun Traditional Market – 동문재래시장

Dongmun Market
Dongmun Traditional Market

We didn’t spend a lot of time at Dongmun Traditional Market, as we were frenetically trying to find a money exchange (ah, the feels). Like all good food markets, there’s plenty of produce peddling, plenty of street dishes and casual eats that I regrettably couldn’t eat (okay, maybe I do regret inhaling that bowl of guksu).

For you then, dear reader? To let you know that it exists, and so you can continue on from where I left off, to atone for my sins, to make up for my failures.

Wew that got dramatic.

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Antoinette – 앙뚜아네트

I love good design: the seating arrangement at the back is peak clever

Trust a baker not to look past a bakery. But at least Antoinette’s a pick, churning out acceptably good pastries in a space that has clearly been commissioned by a talented interior designer. The pastries we bought constituted our breakfast for the next day, while the series of cakes were eaten on the night. Pro-tip: the blueberry one is the one to get.

Cakes from Antoinette. These were actually the best things we got, and I’d recommend trying a slice or two if you can manage it between all the other eating you’re bound to do!

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Cooking Nanta Show – 난타

One of the funniest, most delightful pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen, there is probably no other show in the world like Nanta. It’s a live cooking show, where the performers do actually ‘cook’ with real ingredients, following a hilarious, overly dramatic story line with stunts that absolutely warrant the ‘DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!’ warnings shown at the start. And all this, they do without speaking a single word of any language: the performance rests purely on the, well, performance. I’m not going to go into the details of the story, because you have to see it for yourself.

Put it this way, the fact that I don’t have any photos of the show and yet still wrote about it should say volumes. Go watch the damn show.

FYI: you can also watch it in Seoul, we just happened to watch it in Jeju.

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Day 4 – [South-East Jeju] Seongeup Folk Village / Sunrise Lands / Soranejip / Seongsan Ilchulbong / Yongdam Batdam Black Pork

As with day 2, this was another all-day cab hire shindig. Or you could rent your own car, skid on the snow and crash into a tree – something we saw more than ten times on the drive from Seogwipo to Jeju City.

Just hire a cab man.

Seongeup Folk Village – 성읍민속마을

Seongeup Folk Village

There are several traditional folk villages on Jeju Island which preserve the architecture, showcasing how the inhabitants used to live hundreds of years ago. The Jeju Folk Village is the more famous one, but our driver suggested Seongeup Folk Village, which is purportedly more authentic – with all residents being, well, residents.

Thatched houses, earthen kitchens, a flour mill and an innovative water extraction technique involving a broom-like device attached to a tree. We learnt plenty from our multilingual guide, even if I don’t remember half of it (sometimes I take ‘living in the moment’ a bit too seriously). But nah, it was fun, and genuinely educational.

You see hard labour. I see hard flour

Full disclosure so you’re prepared: we did get a bit of a sell at the end, but we had prior knowledge that horse oil (yes, actually; supposedly with anti-ageing benefits) and omija tea (to me, a delicious sweet drink; to believers, a drink that can diagnose which out of five ailments you have) are two of Jeju’s most well-known exports. As prices were reasonable (I mean, we had already splashed on Korean red ginseng so what’s another $70?), we were totally fine with obliging. My two cents? I see it as giving a bit back to the local community.

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Sunrise Lands – 일출랜드

Sunrise Lands, a beautiful park, though it’s a lot more than that!

I’m very confused about Sunrise Lands (aka Ilchul Land). Is it a theme park? Not quite, there are no rides. But is a park? Not sure on that one either, given the existence of a mock folk village as part of its sights. It doesn’t explain the animals kept in enclosures, either. Most of all, it doesn’t explain the gigantic Micheon Cave that’s undoubtedly the centrepiece of the entire affair.

So it’s part sculpted garden, part park, part zoo, part cave, and part Korean architecture. *phew*, did I catch them all?

And maybe, just maybe, these are enough small reasons to add up to one big reason in visiting. A walk in a park? It ain’t so easy.

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Soranejip – 소라네집

Soranejip

Food research into Jeju Island inevitably yields a restaurant called Myeojin Jeonbok which specialises in abalone – for which Jeju is famous. What’s particularly cool about these abalone and other crustaceans is that they’re harvested day-by-day by female divers called Haenyeo, who then on sell their catch directly to multitude of seaside restaurants dotting the island.

Soranejip is another Myeojin Jeonbok. Fresh abalone, octopus, whelk, you name it. Grilled, served raw, as a porridge, with shin ramyun (strongly recommend the latter), it’s all there.

Abalone porridge (we put the abalone on top). Meaty, umami, and slightly metallic from the liver

Full disclosure: Jeju abalone’s appeal lies in their price, not their taste. A dozen abalone here can be had for less than the price of one high-grade greenlip from say, Japan. This isn’t to say they’re bad; cocktail abalone simply doesn’t play in the same league as the kind you would find at a grand Chinese CNY banquet. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, so please don’t hype yourself up just because I’ve posted several restaurants that specialise in abalone – when in Rome!

Queuing times at Myeojin Jeonbok can approach two hours during busy times, so if your itinerary allows it, consider Soranejip instead. For us, we had little choice given our particular itinerary. Can’t say I’m missing the former!

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Seongsan Ilchulbong – 성산 일출봉

You’d have no idea what the top of Seongsan Ilchulbong is like looking at it from this angle

Google Jeju Island, and it’s more than likely Seongsan Ilchulbong‘s magnificent (sunrise peak) caldera is the first picture you see, and for good reason. The volcanic remnant is quite the breathtaking sight from above, its stature carving out an impressive outline against the backdrop of the wider island. There is no question that everyone that a visit to Jeju Island equals a visit to Seongsan Ilchulbong.

If you have a drone, this is the time to use it – and I would know, because I didn’t have mine with me, with the regret deeper than the crater itself. Seeing the mountain from the ground, or even on it doesn’t impart quite the same rush. But with that said, the 200m+ hike up to the crater’s rim is a worthwhile experience (hope you like stairs!), and the views back to Jeju Island aren’t to be sniffed at either.

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Yongdam Batdam Black Pork – 용담밭담

Yongdam Batdam Black Pork

It’s somewhat poetic that the last full day of our time on Jeju Island was when we had its best-known dish: black pork (BBQ). Japanese foodies would related to this as kurobuta, or pork from the Berkshire Pig – though they are not the same species. In any case, compared to ‘normal’ pork, Jeju’s black fur-coated variant is sweeter, with a much higher fat content. It’s always served with a bit of skin, as the black hairs on top are the only way you know you’re getting the real deal. A bit off-putting, but they get burnt off pretty quick, and you won’t taste them at all. A price paid for authenticity verification.

As someone that generally doesn’t enjoy fatty pork – especially if the fat is chewy – this was an experience that surpassed expectations. It really was quite delicious, and while it’s weird to say it, I could really taste the porkiness of the meat itself. It went especially well when wrapped in a bit of lettuce or Korean shiso with a bit of spicy, crunchy banchan. It really is a quintissential bite of Korea.

For all its merits, black pork still isn’t my go-to BBQ of choice (that’ll be beef, thanks), but I ate a lot more than I expected to. That’s as good as a winner in my books. Fun fact: this was also the only time I had KBBQ on the entire Korea trip!

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Day 5 – Chongrim Haejangguk / Off to Jeonju!

Chongrim Haejangguk청림해장국

Time to cure a non-existent hangover!

Remember when I wrote about seolleongtang back in post #1, and how it’s considered a type of hangover soup?

Haejang-guk (hangover soup) in all its glory

Haejangguk, literally translating to hangover soup, is the real deal. A totally different beast to its elegant but muted cousin, this pot of fiery goodness (spice is optional) holds nothing back, triggering every tastebud, with its potent mix of chilli, kimchi, peppercorns, blood jelly, beansprouts, seaweed and, depending on whether you order meat or vegetarian, beef.

If you’re the type to prefer stronger, spicier and just generally more stereotypically Korean flavours, haejangguk is the one bowl to rule them all.

My hierarchy? Dukbaegi < jiggae < seolleongtang < haejangguk. Don’t @ me, bro.

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Next stop? Jeonju!

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