The volcanic island of Jeju is full of life–around 1,800 species of plants and over 4,000 species of animals. As the winter rolls in and you feel the chill in the air, the small animals up on the Mount Halla descend to the foot of the mountain in search of food. For the villagers, the season is their golden opportunity to hunt the pheasants. The birds are another important source of nutrition for the people on island where rice farming is nearly impossible.
Traditionally, the hunting is done in groups and usually with ferocious dogs ready to chase the birds that are unable to fly long distance. Pheasant hunting is called 꿩사농 (ggwong-sa-nong) in Jeju dialect. The captured bird is immediately frozen in snow to be cooked, dried, or even enjoyed as sashimi.
As I was researching the pheasant dishes in Jeju, I got nervous as I thought I may not be able to taste the bird because of the timing. I will be visiting in end of June, in the height of summer with heat and humidity. From what I had learned, the bird tastes the best starting in the fall after their breeding season. As the cold weather begins, the visitors on the island are fortunate enough to try the local delicacies that once enjoyed by the king.
The bowl is served. Here and there, the pieces of pheasant meat are visible. The buckwheat noodles with pheasant broth is nothing like cold, thin buckwheat noodle soup that you can easily find anywhere in Korea. The noodles resemble more like kalguksu, thickly sliced flour noodles, or even sujebi, flour dough roughly shaped by hand. Buckwheat flour, another core ingredient of the island, is used to make the greyish-brown dough and then sliced into thick strips of noodles.
The initial spoonful gave an impression that the soup was a bit bland–quite like many other regional dishes that I had tried in Jeju. The food of Jeju is characterized by lack of strong seasoning and emphasis on the flavour of natural ingredients. The side dishes of kimchi and seasoned soybean sprouts added the extra saltiness that might be needed. However, as I dig in I got more used to somewhat blandness of the soup. It helped to recognize the subtle aroma of buckwheat and indescribable flavour of pheasant broth. By the time I cleared the bowl, I was hooked.
골목식당, located in Dongmun Marketplace in the city of Jeju, has been specialized in pheasant dishes for over forty years. The friendly lady was quite curious of a young solo traveler and was amazed that I finished the entire bowl of noodle soup.
1347-1 Ido 1(il)-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do