UMAMI MART MATSURI FESTIVAL


By Vanessa Lee

Jeju is a volcanic island approximately 240 miles south of Seoul. It is otherwise known as the Hawaii of Korea, as well as Korea's capital for unusual theme parks -- including Love Land, which closely resembled a Good Vibrations shop on steroids. It is considered a destination of choice for Korean honeymooners, and families looking for a weekend getaway from the big city.

The population of 500,000 include older ladies in their 70s and 80s who are skilled divers known as haenyo, literally meaning "sea women" in Korean. They enter into the ocean each morning enduring dangerous jellyfish and sharks in search for sea cucumbers, octopus, and snail-like creatures to sell raw on the sidewalk for locals to eat. The haenyo dive to the depths of 20 meters, and are able to hold their breath under water for up to two minutes. This is absolutely impressive -- I last an entire 45 seconds before turning purple.



Pat and I thought these seaside snacks were strangely crunchy, and a bit bland and cartilage-like; while most locals seemed to consider this a delectable way of life. The haenyo broke the shellfish open, and we had to suck out the guts and pick the flesh out with our fingers. Gochujiang sauce was served on the side, but it really didn't enhance the overall flavor of the clam since it was all about the texture.



Sadly, this is a dying occupation so getting these seaside creatures prepared the haenyo way will likely not be an option in the far future. But for now, Jeju is definitely an island not to miss!

*Based in Seattle, Vanessa loves the city for its trendy food trucks, excellent fine dining establishments, beautiful mountains, Lake Washington boats, and lifetime memberships for fleeces at REI.