Yeon Wu Nae vegetarian restaurant, Jeju, South Korea
Story and photos by Jessica Wallace | Lead photo: A bowl full of sujaebi
I don’t think many foreigners would necessarily equate a traditional Korean meal with comfort food. However, the perfect combination does exist: a delicious Korean soup that warms your belly on those frigid -10 days and it’s only 5,000 won.
Sujaebi is made from green tea noodles and a creamy broth of peeled perilla seed powder. Even the name sounds soothing. Soojeeeaaaabeee. Mmmm.
Yeon Wu Nae restaurant has been offering healthy, affordable vegetarian comfort foods since Ahn Jeong-Sook opened it in 2003. It’s easy to find – directly across from the turnoff to the Halla Arboretum; maybe a 20 minute walk up the hill from Lotte Mart, or tell the cab driver “Su mok wan pandae cho ka chusayo.”
As a “natural foods restaurant,” all ingredients have been naturally grown and no MSG or other chemicals have been added to any of the dishes. Other menu options include a mugwort pancake for 4,000 won and the vegetarian bibimbap, which comes with a steamy soup for only 6,000 won.
|Owner Ahn Jeong Sook
Photo: Jessica Wallace
However, it’s the sujaebi I must call attention to, and mostly because it’s a hard dish to find. Sujaebi is usually made at home – perhaps that adds to the comfort factor – but luckily the cooks at Yeon Wu Nae can whip up the tasty dish for those of us who wouldn’t know where to begin.
Each time I visit, the restaurant is buzzing but the service continues to be both quick and friendly. Buckwheat tea (doong geul le cha) is promptly brought to our table, served in ceramic mugs from a matching pitcher (included in the price.)
Next come the side dishes, which are always plentiful and quite tasty. There are six in all, some regulars, but worthy of note are the soy beans, garden salad in perilla seed dressing and fried tofu. An excellent assortment of appetizers.
After a short wait, our main course arrives. A perfect antidote for the biting wind outside the window, the soup always steams as it’s placed in front of me. It’s an enormous portion – the elegantly crafted bowl is filled nearly to the brim with warm, tasty goodness. This is a dinner-sized soup, and I always leave feeling full.
The reason for the ceramic cups and bowls, I learn later, is far from aesthetic. Ahn believes artificial materials such as plastics aren’t fit to contain food. She chooses the naturally crafted serving dishes for their integral role in healthy eating, and has them available for sale in the adjacent tea room.
It also isn’t until recently that I discovered how healthy sujaebi is. Apparently, perilla plants boast a wealth of health benefits, being rich in vitamins, antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids. The oil is used, amongst other things, to enhance the immune system.
That’s definitely good news for those of us who often succumb to the circulating “child germs” at work. And so, sujaebi certainly seems to be the perfect Korean comfort food, providing a healthy and filling boost to get us through to another beach season.
Jin Lee tries some bibimbap | Credit: Jessica Wallace