Jeju’s black pig still tasty on the table

Feb 15,2007
With the snout of the golden pig looming just ahead of us, I wish all readers a happy new year. But before I continue, a word of caution.
If you have a weak stomach, or are of an otherwise delicate disposition, I urge you to cease reading now.
For the rest of you: You have probably heard of corn-fed beef and force-fed geese, right? How about manure-fed pork?

cabin on the ground
I shi― er, I kid you not: Porkers in Korea were traditionally raised below village outhouses where they banqueted upon, well, exactly the material one would expect to find in such facilities. As you may imagine, numerous stories have grown out of this tradition.
For example, a pal of mine who was a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in rural Gangwon in the 1960s, likes to recall the panicked departure of a female colleague following her first visit to one of said outhouses.
“She ran out of the outhouse, got on a bus to Seoul, then on a plane to the States ― we never saw her again,” he said. “She was snuffled.”
Some people have no sense of humor.
Some years back, I sampled this type of pork when I and some colleagues dined on Jeju Island, the last holdout of this tradition. My-then boss, an Englishman, was so shocked by the thought of this manner of raising pigs that he refused to eat anything at the restaurant.
It was his loss because it was superb pork. I was looking forward to trying it again on a recent trip to the fair isle.
Alas, it was not to be.
Jeju’s porcine population, it seems, no longer dines in lavatories, but is raised on normal feed ― pretty much like pigs everywhere else. It is my sad duty to inform you that yet another cultural tradition has gone the way of the dodo.
This tragedy was a major disappointment to me, and my hosts must have realized the depths of my misery. Jeju’s black pigs, I was informed by my hosts, still make excellent eating. “I will be the judge of that,” I declared and demanded to be taken to a restaurant. This brings us to “Swineun Pang Garden” (Garden Bench of Relaxation).
The first thing you see when you pull into the parking area is a tree-lined lawn. At the edge of the lawn is a house. Under a grey tiled roof, creepers crawl up the stone walls, past curtained windows, and a wagon wheel leans against one wall.
Were it not for the kimchi pots, this could be a home in the depths of the English countryside.
The restaurant proper is in an adjacent building. This features a glassed-in, atrium-like dining room with rough wooden floors and tables overlooking the garden. There are also semi-private rooms in the back. We are fortunate to get a seat: By early Friday evening, the place is packed to the limit.
Having plonked ourselves down in one of the rooms, we order the specialty of the house.

inside By Andrew Salmon
Before it arrives, though, come the side dishes. These include seaweed sprinkled with sesame seeds, sliced dried squid, spring onion in spicy sauce, and ― a little incongruously ― plates of mashed potatoes with dried egg. There are also, inevitably, a couple of kimchis.
But the main event, of course, is the black pork, which costs a reasonable 9,000 won for 200 grams. First, a large, black iron skillet is placed over the heater. Then the pork arrives: thick, pink slabs of belly, run through with veins of clean, white fat.
This is hearty stuff compared to the scrappy slices of samgyeopsal, grilling pork similar in appearance to thick slices of bacon, one customarily encounters.
The fat, particularly bears mention: It still has vestiges of bristly hair on the outside rind, and it crisps and crackles most pleasingly in the skillet. Not much of an odor to it, but in the mouth, it proves chewier and more textured than your average pork. And with the addition of fried garlic, it proves quite a feast.
Of course, you can’t dine anywhere in Korea without sampling the local firewater.
Halla San Soju (5,000 won) is sweeter and slightly fruitier than most sojus I have tried.
I know soju contains no fruit, but I wonder if whisps of Jeju’s famed tangerines have not, somehow, influenced the distillers.
Anyway, it has a very pleasant smell, preferable, in my opinion, to the Seoul variants.

I don’t recall much about the service, but we did not have to wait long for anything, so it must have been efficient and unobtrusive
Verdict: Tasty stuff, highly appropriate for the upcoming new year, and the price is right. But (sigh) it ain’t what it used to be. Modernization is all very well, but some things should be preserved for their own sakes.

Swineun Pang Garden
English: No English
Tel: (064) 738-5833
Address: 1765-1 Sangyeo Dong, Seogwipo City, Jeju Island
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed first Wednesday of every month
Parking: Available
Dress: Casual

By Andrew Salmon Contributing Writer [andrewcsalmon@yahoo.co.uk]

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