I’ll be blunt, Sokcho is an odd city.
Where else would you find graffiti on household walls celebrating the almighty squid?
The residents of Sokcho go mad for the stuff, with stall after stall after stall absolutely chockers with squid and other seafood products. Dried, fermented, raw, cooked…you want it, they’ve got it!
Before the holiday began, Karen and I had been researching the various types of traditional Korean food that we might come across in our travels, and one that stood out as being a ‘must try’ was the dish known as sundae. You would be forgiven for thinking icecream, chocolate sauce, nuts etc…but a Korean sundae is about as different to a western sundae as you can get.
Take a pig intestine and stuff it full of pig’s blood, barley, cellophane noodles and other goodies, boil it up and you’ve got yourself one hot sundae! We’re not normally big offal eaters, but the general consensus from other travellers seemed to be that sundae tasted great, so of course we put it on the list.
When it came to Sokcho, one thing we noticed in our planning was that they seemed to offer a variant on the traditional sundae recipe. In particular, instead of using pig’s intestine, the version for which Sokcho is renowned (known as ojingeo sundae) actually uses a whole squid as the tube into which the ingredients are stuffed. Now stay with me here folks, it’s going to get a little bit more complicated…on arriving in Sokcho we learnt that there was a further variant on the ojingeo sundae and was known as the abai sundae, where the filling was changed to include noodles, chopped squid, tofu and vegetables. Of course, we couldn’t resist adding that one to the list as well!
We spent half a day or so wandering the streets and suburbs of Sokcho, and eventually ended the day sitting in a small restaurant in the middle of Abai Village, perusing a menu that not only contained sundae, but also gave the option of abai sundae as well.
The Abai Village is a small group of houses and shops located on what used to be a sand bar off shore from the main city of Sokcho. As the North Korean army retreated from South Korea in 1950, a large number of North Koreans ended up trapped on the southern side of the newly established border between the two nations. With nowhere else to go, what began as temporary accommodation eventually became permanent.
While many of the Abai have left the village in recent years, the traditions and foods of their northern homeland are still maintained and provided within the numerous restaurants peppered throughout the tiny village.
We ended up choosing one totally at random, but mostly because of the extremely friendly and vocal proprietor that tried every trick in the book to lure us into her establishment. The clincher was when she made it clear that she had an English menu!
As I mentioned, offal isn’t our favourite type of cuisine, so we were both a little apprehensive. But it only took one bite for us both to realise that we had nothing at all to worry about! The conditions were rudimentary, the dish was simple, but this was one of the best ‘sausages’ I think I’ve ever tasted!
The traditional ojingeo was hearty and rich, without any of the irony undertones that often accompany offal. And then there were the exquisite flavours of the lightly barbecued squid casing of the abai sundae…such authentic, honest cooking that can’t be beaten.
It may sound a little strange, but the meal was so good that we both resolved to not eat another sundae in our time in Korea, as we didn’t want to tarnish the fantastic memories of that one warm night in Sokcho’s Abai Village.
Will we ever see such a dish served up in onme of Hobart’s restaurants? I doubt it, but I really hope I’m proven wrong!