봄이 왔내요 (Spring is here!)

April 23, 2016


One of the things I love most about Korea is the pride that each region takes in its specialty products and crops. When we lived on Geoje Island, yuja - the bewitching, citrus fruit known as yuzu in Japanese - was everywhere. When you travel through Korea on bus, you will notice that many stations sell local and regional products outside of their ticket offices. Gwangyang, our current home, is famous for bulgogi and maesil. Maesil has a few different names in English, including Japanese apricot and Chinese plum. It has a sour flavor, various health-promoting properties, and is used to make pickles, tea, even flavored soju, all of which I made last year with the help of my friend Mary, some older Korean ladies, and a friendly couple of farmers. I've got a big plastic jug of homemade maesil ju (liquor) sitting in our home office right now. In case you're curious, it's delicious.

Last month, before I was hit by the insanity of late-term wedding planning, I went to the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival in a nearby village with three friends. Maehwa is the blossom of the maesil tree, and their blooming signals the arrival of spring in this region. They arrived a few weeks before the cherry blossoms, and people traveled from all around Korea to attend the festival; there was plenty of traffic to prove it. It was gorgeous, albeit crowded. Vendors sold their wares and what appeared to be thousands of stoneware crocks sat in the sun fermenting maesil into sweet pickles. The pickles go great with everything, but are especially good at cutting the fat of a nice big slab of grilled samgyeopsal (pork belly). Given that two of the four in our group were foreign and blonde, inevitably we were approached about doing an interview with the local news. The reporter never followed up, and the interview didn't happen. Instead, we devised to order some pajeon (scallion pancakes) at a small restaurant in a grove of maesil trees, but walked away when we saw the prices: 25,000 won for one order of pajeon? That's about $21 USD, and they usually cost less than half that. Location, location. 

Personally, I have always preferred autumn; the crisp, nipping air; apples and squash; slowing down and turning inward. That being said, in Korea, spring is my time. After a long winter of walking through dark, cold hallways at school, looking out onto bare grey mountains, and never quite getting warm inside, the arrival of spring is the happiest, most carefree moment in the year. Shortly after we first moved to Korea, we went to the cherry blossom festival in Jinhae. I had the same feelings then that I did this year, watching happy couples dressed to the nines scout the best gatherings of blossoms under which to take selcas.* Groups of teenage girls staging photo shoots. Grandmothers and grandfathers slowly strolling up incredibly steep walkways lined with murals. 

After the Maehwa Festival, we drove to nearby Hadong and enjoyed a completely local, organic meal of bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables) and deulkkae kalguksu (handmade noodles with perilla seed broth, one of the finest Korean dishes there ever was) with delicately sweet maesil pickles, extremely fermented kimchi, and a number of other delicious side dishes. On the ride home, we got stuck in traffic and passed the time by watching Youtube videos of British people reading words in English. Nothing is cuter than my eonni** Eun Jeong practicing a British accent. Nothing.

If you're thinking of visiting us in Korea, might I suggest springtime?

*selca (셀카) is the Korean term for selfie. Self + camera = selca.
**eonni (언니) means "older sister" and is used by females to describe their older sisters and other females who are a few years older than them.

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2 comments

  1. Gorgeous. I love the attention you give to the smallest details. Those are the things I notice when I'm taking in my surroundings. Thank you for sharing!

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