bburi trips: Jangheung, the deep south

Hi, Sonja here. I’ll be blogging about the trips Seoyoung and I take under the tag “trips,” starting with our very first trip: A five-hour bus ride to the far southern coast of Korea.A couple days after agreeing to start this project, Seoyoung called me up: “Let’s go see maesaengi,” she suggested. Within a day, she’d called up a farm to arrange a visit and we were off.

Jangheung is a county in South Jeolla Province, and was the first place in Asia to be listed as a Slow City. The countryside here is relatively undeveloped (Jeolla-do is known for its farmland) but we soon came to realize that there are a lot of wealthy agricultural business owners outside of city. Goes to show what little we city folk know.

We stayed the night in a tiny motel room with red wallpaper and eyelashes on the bedsheets—I think it’s a good sign for the bburi project that we both took this in with a hearty laugh. The next morning, our first stop was the fish market, frequented for the most part by wholesalers and fishers who eyed us curiously. We do kind of stand out: Seoyoung, a young Seoulite professional, and me, a foreigner to most eyes here.

The sajangnim came to pick us up. He’d brought along a friend, and they were both wearing camo, and carried long rifles. “Duck hunting!” he announced cheerfully. Apparently, the ducks that come to steal maesaengi from the farm also taste delicious. On our way to the docks, they pulled over and rolled down the window. “I think they’re going to shoot,” I told Seoyoung. “No, surely n—” BANG. BANGBANG. Did that just happen? Did our hosts just shoot a duck out the car window? Out on the water, a small black duck floundered but floats off before they can hop out of the car and reach it.

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Out on the water, hundreds of tall bamboo sticks rose out of the water like a leafless forest. Here, strung between the bamboo poles and just beneath the surface, the maesaengi grows on floating mats of thin bamboo rods. We peppered them with questions about maesaengi, which you can read all about here. I think they were a little more impressed with us than we expected, or maybe they just enjoyed hosting unusual guests from out of town—either way, Seoyoung and I kept looking at each other guiltily with each gesture of generosity the sajangnim, his friends and family showed us hour after hour.

Lunch was a feast: back at the sajangnim’s home, they carved up a couple of okdom (옥돔), or red tilefish. “This fish sells for a few hundred thousand won up in Seoul,” they laughed. “Here, we eat the freshest and best seafood.” They sliced up the okdom and we ate it raw, wrapped in lettuce with slivers of garlic and a splash of chojang, a red pepper sauce. The best part, though, was the fish head, which they sliced open and placed on a grate in the wood fire stove.

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The sajangnim’s wife taught us her recipe for maesaengi soup, which was thick and oceany, while we hovered around her in the kitchen. Seoyoung and I couldn’t finish our bowls, though we did our best. (The recipe is here.)

Our favorite photo of the day, however, is the one we want to remember our first bburi trip by. It’s the one that has never failed to make us burst into laughter and reminded us of how ridiculous and impromptu and fun this project has been so far.

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