Traditional Jeju Island Foods
Jeju’s cuisine is unlike anything you’ll find in Korea. If you’re a meat-lover, there is no place better for Korean BBQ than Jeju Island. If seafood is more your thing, you can find a variety of delicious, fresh seafood anywhere you go.
- Traditional Jeju Foods
Food is a huge part of any trip, and Jeju’s cuisine is unlike anything you’ll find in Korea. If you’re a meat-lover, there is no place better for Korean BBQ than Jeju Island, as the island boasts the best pork in the country. If seafood is more your thing, you’ll be happy to know that you can find a variety of delicious, fresh seafood anywhere you go.
As an island, Jeju is disconnected from the mainland in more ways than one, and its traditional foods have been cultivated by the landscape and the people’s unique history. As you enjoy the native foods the island has to offer, prepare to take a scrumptious bite out of the local Jeju experience.
Koreans love to eat, and Jeju islanders are no exception. Historically, Jeju food tended to be on the bland side, but modern Korean restaurants on the island serve dishes that are packed with flavor. Korean meals are served in a communal style, so don’t be surprised if certain dishes are served in a single pot and you’re expected to share.
Although most local restaurants have tables and chairs, some do have a combination of both tables and floor seating. If you’re visiting Jeju during the winter, we recommend skipping the tables and trying the floors. Koreans use a floor heating system called ondol, and it feels wonderful during the frigid winters.
Restaurant culture differs all around the world, so we’ll walk you step-by-step on what to expect when you go to a Korean restaurant. Larger restaurants that have a high volume of customers or are popular with tourists will offer a different experience, but if you plan on getting the full local experience by patronizing a mom-and-pop shop, here’s what you need to know.
Unless otherwise stated, meals are paid for when you leave, so the first thing is to be seated. Upon entering the restaurant, there will be no host or hostess to seat you, and you’re pretty much allowed to sit wherever you want.
Menu books are not common and meal choices are not extensive, so you’ll find the menu on a banner or display on the wall. If any dish says you must order a minimum of 2 orders, that typically means it will be served in a single pot or plate and must be shared.
Most dishes come with rice, but if not, you can order extra rice for about ₩1,000.
After ordering and before your meal arrives, your server will place several side dishes on your table. The beautiful thing about side dishes in Korea is that they’re not only free, but you can ask for more! Although you can enjoy them as you please, they’re not meant to be appetizers, and it is typical to wait to eat the side dishes with your meal.
Water will also be served to you, but if neither arrives, it usually means the restaurant offers self-serve side dishes and water, buffet-style.
The basic staples of side dishes are at least a couple of different types of kimchi, seasoned greens or sprouts, and some sort of soy-vinegar pickled vegetable. Some restaurants have a larger spread and offer a wider variety of side dishes, including fried fish, soup, and even congee.
Once the meals start to arrive, don’t be surprised if some meals come before others. Smaller restaurants usually only have one person in the kitchen, so it’s very normal to have some people in a group get their food before others.
PRO TIP: If you’re very hungry or in a hurry, have everybody order the same thing! You’ll get your food a lot quicker.
If you are sharing, you can ask for small plates or bowls called apjeobsi (앞접시) for convenience. If you’re done eating and have a lot of food left over, most restaurants will pack it up for you if possible.
Another great thing to know is you can get pretty much anything packaged to go, so if you plan on eating at your accommodations or anywhere else, you can order takeout. Now that you know how to order, let’s get into what to order!
Of all the foods that are unique to Jeju, black pork is probably the most well-known and popular. The black pig is a native breed to Jeju, distinguishable by its small size and black fur. Koreans consider Jeju’s black pork to be the best in the nation, and it’s loved for its hearty flavor and chewiness. It’s said to taste best grilled over a live fire, and locals like to dip the meat in a salted and fermented anchovy sauce called meljeot (멜젓).
Being premium pork, the price point is much higher than other varieties, but those who try it say it’s worth it! The Black Pork Street on Chilseong Road in old Jeju City is a great place to go to find some famous black pork restaurants.
Historically, pork was a delicacy saved only for special occasions like festivals and weddings, and dombe gogi was amongst the most prized dishes.
Much like its mainland counterpart, suyuk, dombe gogi is pork that has been boiled and cut for serving. However, the traditional dombe gogi was boiled in a different recipe than that of the mainland, and the pig was boiled in its entirety. It was then placed directly on a wooden cutting board called “dombe” in the Jeju dialect, which is how it got its name. The hot and steaming pork was then sliced and served immediately.
These days, restaurants typically serve a pork belly cut for dombe gogi to make for a hearty, savory meal.
Best enjoyed in the winter, pheasant meat was traditionally reserved for special occasions. Served in a variety of different dishes, it is typically enjoyed in a warm broth like pheasant dumpling soup and pheasant knife-cut buckwheat noodles, which is akin to the West’s chicken noodle soup. A warm bowl of pheasant soup is said to have healing properties and be good for stamina.
If you’re feeling adventurous, raw pheasant is a delicacy you’ll have to try!
Historically reserved for the royal family, the Jeju abalone is hailed as the “emperor of shellfish”. Abalone that comes from Jeju is the most coveted in the nation, and they are traditionally harvested by the island’s haenyeo, or women sea divers. The nutrient-rich abalone is considered a top-tier health food and is commonly consumed by the elderly and pregnant women, or gifted to people with ailing health.
Abalone is cooked in a variety of different ways, but because of its delicate flavor, many abalone dishes are mild-flavored. One of the most popular dishes is abalone porridge, but you can also enjoy it grilled, in soup, in gimbap, and even raw! Much of the abalone on the island is now raised on farms, but if you want to try fresh, wild abalone, you can find them at Haenyeo Houses around the island.
Momguk is a seaweed soup made from pork bone broth that is unique to Jeju Island. The word “mom” is Jeju dialect for the gulfweed that is used to make the soup, and it is unlike any soup that you’ll find in mainland Korea. The defining characteristic is the pork bone broth, which is made from pig bones and intestines and gives the soup its distinct flavor.
In the spring when it is bracken season, the gulfweed is replaced with bracken, or “gosari” in Korean, to make gosari yukgaejang (고사리 육개장).
Omegi tteok, or rice cakes, are unique to Jeju Island and are often purchased as gifts or souvenirs by tourists. It is made of glutinous millet and shaped into balls stuffed with sweet red bean paste. The most traditional method covers the rice balls with red beans, but you can also enjoy a variety of flavors that comes with the cakes covered in bean powder, nuts, or ground sesame seeds.
Pork noodle soup is a widely popular dish on Jeju Island but unless you’re from here or you’ve done some food research, you’ve probably never heard of it. The broth, made from slow-boiled pork, is unique to Jeju. Yellow noodles are added to a savory, milky white soup, which you can season with spring onions and crushed red pepper flakes. Flavors may differ slightly from restaurant to restaurant, as chefs put their own twist on this traditional dish.
Rice is a main staple food in Korean cuisine, but the Jeju terrain has never been suitable for rice farming. To substitute, buckwheat has been traditionally grown in large quantities. Jeju is the largest producer of buckwheat in the nation, and much of the island’s traditional foods are made from the grain.
Bingtteok is made by rolling up cooked slices of white radish in a thin buckwheat pancake. While Korean food tends to be packed with flavor, bingtteok is a simple dish that many people would consider bland. Although not typically served at restaurants, you can find these goodies at traditional markets across the island.
mulhoe (물회). Raw seafood is served in a sweet and spicy cold broth that is typically enjoyed during the hot summer days.
The two most popular types of mulhoe are jari mulhoe, which is made with damselfish, and hanchi mulhoe, made from cuttlefish. Grilled fish is another common food in Korea, but when visiting the island, tourists love trying Jeju’s galchi, or beltfish, and okdom, the red tilefish.
If you’re looking to try some of Jeju’s delicious seafood, there are plenty of seafood restaurants around. Of them, Haenyeo Houses are quite popular, as they serve the freshest seafood that has been harvested by haenyeo, or women sea divers, themselves.
- ※ The above information was written on 2022-01-04. Please confirm the information prior to your trip.
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