The temple was lit by thousands of lanterns, each shaped like flowers, and each signifying a wish. They went all the way from the bottom of the complex to the top of the stone Buddha, carved into the cliff and overlooking the festivities. This one was my lantern, carried on a stick of bamboo in a procession to the main temple.
My time at the temple (Golgulsa, named so because caves in the rock made it once appear like a skull) and in the surrounding town was fantastic. Gyeonju is a “museum without walls” and can be likened to a colonial Williamsburg, but without the pagentry.
Later this week, I’ll be posting more recipes from China, descriptions of the temple food ceremony, and Korean farm finds from the Northeast. Until then, I’ll be recovering from some good exploring and gearing up for my next trip in three weeks. How do you say “I’ll have what’s best” in Taiwanese and Mongolian?
Hello everyone…it’s Buddha’s birthday and a national holiday here in Korea. I’m off to a temple far in the south to stay for a few days and experience the celebrations. I’ll come back ready to report on traditional vegetarian Buddhist temple food. Have a good one!
More treats from Jeju-do, before the return home…First we have pheasant from Mt. Halla. Simply serve it grilled, in a marinade of sesame oil, sea salt, and toasted sesame seeds, with some reserved for a dipping sauce. Cook over an open flame and be surprised at how much it does and does not taste like chicken.
If you’re still hungry, try some of the local black-skinned pork. It’s softer and more supple than the mainland pork, supposedly, and has 5 layers — fat to meat to fat to meat to skin — unlike the Seoul pigs with only three layers.
For dessert, grab yourself a young ginseng root. Dip it in local Jeju honey. Chew. Repeat.
Pick up a steamed barley bread and a steamed wormwood (yes, you read that right) bread as a snack after your meal. The wormwood is the same herb that makes the infamous abstinthe. Like the drink, you’ll find a cache of melted sugar on the inside, if you take a bite. The wormwood is diffuse enough so it gives a green herbal taste, but not an anise overload.
Finally, if you’re brave and your stomach is still willing, follow the smell like a damp old Persian rug shop. It should lead you to a simmering pot of silkworm larvae. These are boiled and then served up hot, and are a favorite of many elderly people in Korea.
Jeju is like the Hawaii of Korea. It’s located far down South, and is full of volcanic rocks, palm trees, and wonderful foods that you can’t find anywhere else in Korea. Several specialities, like tilefish, come from Jeju.
The sashimi here is fresh from the sea. My dinner was filled with soft and gooey things I’d never tried before, including several types of unphotogenic sea breams, sea cucumbers, snails, and shellfish. I got a treat, keeping the two beautiful abalone shells once I was done with my meal. After this, I decided to seek out the market where the local people got their fantastic seafood.
At the market, there were rows upon rows of fish. The array I saw included mounds of octopus, squid, and cuttlefish, leaving some tables reminiscent of 1950s horror flicks. These cute little guys left an impression on me. They got me thinking of Sebastian from the Little Mermaid, and may have brought me one step closer to vegetarianism.
Soon I’ll be back in my own kitchen and able to make new recipes…until then, I expect Jeju will keep me happy and full.