Ginseng festival presents a varied feast

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Ginseng festival presents a varied feast

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GEUMSAN, South Chungcheong ― There was farm music, a marketplace, crop harvesting and folk performances, but what really won over the advance visitors to this ginseng town in a mountainous county in the country’s southwest was the vast variety of food items made from ginseng.
Friendly street vendors offered free iced ginseng tea as visitors walked down the herb-lined streets. Small outdoor tables were surrounded by shoppers stopping to rest over a refreshing cup of ginseng rice wine and a bite of ginseng fritters as big and yellow as well-ripened bananas.
“When the actual expo starts, this street will be filled with thousands of wide-eyed tourists eager to buy genuine ginseng roots at amazing prices,” said Kim Sun-kug, a team head of public information on the organizing committee of the World Ginseng Expo.
It is just under a month until the official opening of the 2006 World Ginseng Expo in mid-September ― offering exhibitions, a trade fair tasting and educational activities focused on ginseng.
The town, which has hosted ginseng festivals for the past 25 years, is accustomed to holding the annual fete but this year expects an especially big party, with the ambitious goal of luring 660,000 visitors.
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Of that number, Mr. Kim said, organizers expect at least 13,000 to be foreign buyers interested in importing Korean ginseng.
With the financial help of central and provincial governments, the expo committee spent nearly 13.5 billion won ($14.1 million) this year constructing new facilities and asphalt roads in the rural town to prepare for the upcoming events, seminars and conventions.
The aromatic smell of ginseng dishes was already filling the streets last week as residents prepared to greet a flow of tourists from in and outside the country.
A popular dish sold at local restaurants is ginseng fish stew, a hot chili soup with pieces of dough and steamed ginseng pieces, served in a thick clay bowl. Those who prefer a less spicy taste can opt for a more common ginseng dish, samgyetang, which is a soup made with a whole chicken stuffed with rice and herbs ― and lots of ginseng, of course.
If you want to try something other than down-home rural Korean dishes, the organizers said the expo would offer those as well.
Spurred by the ever-growing popularity of the Korean television drama “Daejanggeum,” or “Jewel in the Palace,” about a female palace chef, sessions will be held where visitors can attempt cooking royal cuisine themselves. For those who aren’t adept at cooking, they can just sample the finished dishes instead, Mr. Kim said.
Dubbed Daejanggeum cuisine, the session menus include steamed pork ribs in ginseng, fig, date and walnut seasoning, ginseng spring rolls and ginseng perilla duck stew.
“Most meat goes very well with ginseng,” said Song Mi-ran, a chef who has studied ginseng cuisine for 17 years. “The roots get rid of the meat smell and leave a nice herbal aroma instead.”
Along with the court cuisine, some 120 kinds of traditional, fusion and processed foods using ginseng will be displayed in a “Ginseng Food Pavilion.” There, Ms. Song said, visitors can learn everything about ginseng-based food, which is considered a stamina-giving food.
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Aside from the food fiesta, the expo will also provide hands-on opportunities for visitors to take part in harvesting ginseng, which involves digging out the roots with a long hoe.
Normally a ginseng farm is off-limits to strangers because unskilled walkers can accidentally spoil land a farmer might have spent three to five years tending. Some farmers who believe in traditional rituals also fear that strangers on their farm can ruin the harvest.
The ginseng farms open to tourists at the expo are government-owned and operated by the county specifically for the annual festival.
Each participant in the ginseng harvest can harvest a total of 30 roots, which takes about an hour. However, they can’t take the roots away unless they purchase them.
The harvested roots that are not sold will be taken to a nearby factory to be processed for food, explained Kim Hyun-sung, assistant manager of the on-the-field program team.
Aside from the Korean experts, ginseng farmers and researchers from 15 countries including Japan, Thailand, Australia, China and the Netherlands will participate in the expo, which will run from Sept. 22 to Oct. 15.
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Among the Korean participants is Jang Seok-yeol, a ginseng farmer and a researcher at the Jang Seok Yeol Laboratory, where he has been producing black ginseng for the last six years.
Black ginseng is red ginseng that has been steamed nine times in a cauldron until it turns black, and is then sun-dried. The entire process takes 50 days, whereas the more widely known red ginseng is steamed only eight hours before its use in Oriental medicines.
Mr. Jang said he “accidentally” came up with black ginseng 16 years ago while making the red variety. Forgetting that he had ginseng still inside the cauldron, he left his house without taking it off the fire. When he came back, he found the ginseng had turned charcoal black. He tested its saponin medical components, and discovered that it was seven times stronger than the red ginseng.
“My family and I have been eating black ginseng for the past 16 years,” said Mr. Jang. “And none of us has been to hospital ever since.”
It was not until six years ago that Mr. Jang had his process patented, and he now hopes to convince visitors to the expo of its superior powers.


by Lee Min-a

International academic and trade conferences being held as part of the festival include the International Ginseng Symposium, co-organized by the Korea Ginseng Academy and the Expo Organizing Committee; the Korean Ginseng Academic Conference, organized by the Korean Society of Medicinal Crop Science; and the International Ginseng Trade Meeting.

How to get to the festival from Seoul.

By car, take the Gyeongbu Expressway and drive toward Daejeon. Get off at Biryong Junction and drive toward Sannae Junction, then take the Daejeon-Tongyeong Expressway and get off at the Geumsan Interchange.

By bus, it is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the Express Bus Terminal in Gangnam to the Geumsan Bus Terminal.

For adults, tickets are 10,000 won. For junior and senior high school students, admission is 8,000 won and for those younger, admission is 5,000 won. Group discounts are available. Admission includes ginseng harvesting at a nearby farm.

For more information, call (042) 824-3321, or visit, www.insamexpo.or.kr
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