Salt or sun for prawns makes fall festival funWith the turning of the autumn leaves, the annual prawn harvest has arrived. Prawn festivals in port towns on Korea’s western shore will continue throughout October. Some festivals have already begun and the port towns are bustling with prawn sellers and buyers as well as tourists, who arrive in search of the tastiest specimens.
Prawns are usually roasted on a bed of salt or they are fried - after being coated with breadcrumbs. The fresher the prawns, the more delicious they are when roasted. The prawns caught on the day of consumption can be eaten raw as sashimi. Of course, these fresh gems are twice the price of frozen ones.
“The fresh harvested prawns are crispy, unlike the imported ones that are frozen for a long time,” said Yeom Dong-il, the chief organizer of the Prawn Festival on Anmyeon island. “Now is the time when prawns are fully grown. They lay eggs in spring and finish their one-year life span in the spring,” Mr. Yeom said.
Prawns from the Yellow Sea lay eggs in spring and live along the shorelines till fall. They spend the winter in the deep sea southeast of Jeju Island and return to the western shores in spring to lay eggs. The fully grown prawns are 22 centimeters (8.6 inches) to 30 centimeters long. Their bodies are transparent light gray while their tails are dark brown.
Prawns are a good source of protein and they are very low in fat and calories, making them a healthy choice of food. Although prawns are high in cholesterol content, they are low in saturated fat, the compound that raises cholesterol levels in the human body.
One of the most popular destinations for the Korean prawn festivals is Anmyeon, which is located on the southern end of the Taean peninsula, in South Chungeong province. It is connected to the mainland by the Anmyeon bridge.
During the festival prawns can be eaten at the many restaurants that line the main street of the Baeksajang (white sand) beach area and in large tents set up to house temporary restaurants near the beach. The restauranteurs serve one kilogram (2.2 pounds) portions of prawns. This is usually fewer than 30 prawns, which is enough for two to three persons. Each serving costs 30,000 won ($31). When customers come in, waiters bring out a large roasting pot containing unrefined salt, and a portable gas stove. Prawns are placed on the salt and roasted until they turn pink. There is little need for extra seasoning because the salt gives the shrimp a perfect taste.
Restaurants also serve a popular noodle soup, called Kalguksu, which is full of prawns. Walking along the main street, visitors can see large cylinder-shaped fish tanks. These contain thousands of prawns which swim around in an endless circle as they wait for their turn to become a tasty meal.
There is a small market called Suhyeop on Baeksajang beach. This is the place where harvested prawns are auctioned to fishery merchants and restaurants. The fishing boats usually leave port in the morning to sail across the Yellow Sea and return full of large prawns in the afternoon. At the market, 1 kilogram of fresh prawns is sold for 35,000 won to 40,000 won. The market also sells frozen prawns, which are sometimes flown in from other fishing grounds, and may have been on ice for one or two days. For roasting or frying, merchants say frozen shrimp are good enough. There are other fish products sold in the market, including blue crabs and gizzard shad; the latter of these also has its peak season in the fall.
Anmyeon is famous for beaches. It has more than 10, including Kkotji beach and Baeksajang beach. Kkotji beach, the most popular beach here, has two large rocks nearby: Halmi (grandmother) and Harabi (grandfather). The rocks are connected to the beach through a path made of pebbles. Many tourists walk these paths to reach the rocks. There are merchants selling various fresh sea food, which is cooked or sold raw on the site.
The island has 18 kilometers of beaches and most are 200 to 300 meters wide. The sand is clean and, in summer, the water temperature is appropriate for swimming. Recently, many hotels have been built on the island and bed and breakfasts have opened near the beaches.
One of the biggest attractions, beside prawns and sunbathing is the Aqua World spa in the Ocean Castle resort whic has 13 outdoor spa pools where visitors can watch the Yellow Sea and bathe at the same time. The outdoor spas are open throughout the year.
There are also indoor family spas. Using a family spa and sauna costs 30,000 won for two persons. Using an outdoor spa cost 20,000 won per person. The outdoor spas open at 9 a.m. and close at 8 p.m., and the indoor saunas open at 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. The Ocean Castle resort has overnight accommodation. Call (041)-671-7070 or visit www.oceancastle.com for more information.
Away from the sea is splendid Anmyeondo Natural Forest. Full of pines, the forest is located in the middle of the island. It has four different walking paths, and the longest takes one hour to complete. The pine forest has an observatory arbor and a traditional Korean garden. Pine trees in Chungcheong provinces were called Anmyeonsong (song means pine tree) and, because of their supreme quality as lumber, they were used in building palaces during the Joseon Dynasty.
For information, telephone (041)-674-5019 or go to the Web site at www.anmyonhuyang.go.kr. The forest opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. Entrance costs 400 won to 1,000 won per person. Parking costs 3,000 won.
On the eastern side of the Taean peninsula is a modern Buddhist temple called Anmyeonam, which is famous for a floating bridge that connects the temple and Yeou rocks on the shore. The floating bridge, called Bugyo, consists of plastic barrels and wooden panels. The barrels float and support the bridge. Tourists should aim to walk on the bridge in the morning when the tide is low; visitors arriving in the afternoon will only see a dry flat with the barrels stuck in the mud.
Although the festivals end in October, prawns are harvested until mid-December, and frozen prawns are sold throughout the year. To get to the island, take the west coast freeway through Seosan Interchange or Haemi Interchange to Taean peninsula. Another way is to take the Gyeongbu (Seoul-Busan) freeway, through Pyeongtaek, Dangjin and Seosan to the Taean peninsula. There are express buses from Nambu Bus Terminal, located at Nambu Bus Terminal station on line No. 3, exit No. 5.
by Limb Jae-un