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Tastes like Jeju: Five days markets, Jeju, South Korea

10 January 2009 3 Comments

Dave Patton helps prepare
A market stall owner (left) looks on while Naomi Stanko samples produce on sale at the O-il Jang
Credit: Brian Miller

There’s nothing like local markets for healthy, fresh produce
Story by Jessica Wallace | Photos by Jessica Wallace and Brian Miller

Although traveling in any direction on Jeju will lead you to a fresh market, the most convenient place to stock up may be the Five Day Markets in Jeju City, Seogwipo and Hallim. The O-il-jang in Jeju City is a maze beneath enormous tents, swarming with locals even during the week. I love wandering the aisles, smelling deep fried snacks and picking up on tiny pieces of buzzing conversation.

Women settle themselves on the ground beside the fruits, vegetables and grains they’ve labored over. Some knit, some shuck peas, nodding and smiling as shoppers pass by. Forget the big box stores, for a true taste of Jeju, go local.

Better for you, better for the planet

The “buying local’ food movement has become quite trendy in Western countries. People increasingly question the food they eat in a different way. We ask, “Where did this come from?” instead of “How many calories?” or “Is this a carb?”

The shifting consciousness benefits us on individual, communal and global scales. Eating locally is one of the simplest ways to make a difference, and Jeju is a prime location to get into the habit of supporting local farmers.

Environmental reasons alone are convincing enough to adopt a local diet. The average North American meal travels 2,400km before it’s eaten. These “food miles” increase pollution, deplete oil and gas and impact climate change. Traveling food most often requires more packaging and must be kept cool during its voyage.

Some eat locally for health reasons. Local produce is allowed to ripen on the vine for longer, comes more packed with nutrients and is tastier to eat.

But what’s most apparent here in Jeju is how eating locally benefits the community. When farmers sell to chain stores, they see very little profit. Most of the price tag covers advertising, transportation and packaging costs. By selling directly to consumers, farmers get a much larger return – at some markets it’s 100% – for their labor, management and entrepreneurship.

Market offerings marks seasonal changes

As the months have passed, I’ve learned useful phrases at the Five Day Market: “How much are the apples?” “Please give me ten.” But, more interestingly, I’ve watched the selection change with the seasons. The watermelon cycle: from 20,000 won per melon to three melons for 5,000 won. Fruits become softer and less expensive and then disappear altogether, making room for new ones. Red apples make way for green apples make way for tangerines.

The changes make it much more apparent that the produce moves directly from farm to market. No advertisers, no large trucks or airplanes filled with fuel and air conditioning need to get involved. Just local islanders with plots of land, selling the fruits and vegetables of their labor.
With four months left for me in Jeju, I can still anticipate new fruits and vegetables to come. Halla Bong oranges are already beginning to make their appearance. And really, marking time with fruit selection is a beautiful way to count the days.

Helpful websites:

Other five day markets on the island:
The first and sixth day of every month | Daejeongin Namjeju-gu, Seongsan.
The second and seventh day of every month| Jeju City, Pyoseon.
The third and eighth day of every month | Jungmun in Seogwipo.
The fourth and ninth day of every month | Local market in Seogwipo City, Hallim, Goseong.
The firth and tenth day of every month | Sehwa.
* An English language leaflet detailing all markets is available from tourist information booths.

“No advertisers, no large trucks or airplanes filled with fuel and air conditioning need to get involved. Just local islanders with plots of land, selling the fruits and vegetables of their labor.”

Ingredients go!
Peppers to buy | Credit: Jessica Wallace

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  • Kevin said:

    I got to the 5-Day Market almost every time it rolls around. I love getting the fresh fruit and vegetables. I rarely, if ever, buy any produce at the convenience stores and E-Mart anymore. You can also get very fresh meat at the butcher’s shop near the bus parking lot on the east side.

  • Naomi said:

    So, I told my kids about the fruit I am eating in the picture; they described it even better than I could!!!

    Apparently, it has a very special place in Jeju’s narrative history.

    Here’s the story: A mother says to her baby “a tiger is coming.” The baby starts crying immediately. The mother responds: “if you continue to cry, the tiger will find us.” So, the mum breaks out a piece of the dried fruit…and the baby stops making noise…The fruit is sweet!

    he he. Great anecdote, eh? I love fresh food!

  • Mike said:

    Great article. Are fresh apples, bananas and other fruits available year around on the island??

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