For Koreans, spring evokes a sense of revival with spring flowers like cherry blossoms bursting onto the scene after the often cold and bitter Korean winters. The same vividness is also found on the dining tables of the locals who make use of in-season ingredients and goods associated with this spring season. And what better way to experience the season than through your taste buds?
Spring vegetables and roots are particularly beloved by Koreans. Naengee also known as shepherd’s purse, dallae or wild chives, dureup or shoots of the fatsia plant are all just a few varieties favored this time of the year. One fantastic way to try seasonal roots and vegetables are at the various Korean Buddhist temple restaurants in Seoul. You can find many near Jogyesa Temple or in Insadong which not only regularly makes use of seasonal ingredients but provides filling yet healthy meals that even non-vegetarians can enjoy.
You can also experience spring in the form of traditional Korean teas. You can find various traditional teahouses in popular areas such as Insadong, Samcheongdong, or Bukchon and enjoy the numerous benefits of in-season ingredients made into refreshing teas. One example is ueong, also known as burdock, is a root that you may be more familiar as going into tasty kimbap rolls. But this hardy root is good for your kidneys and also your digestive system with its high fiber content and drinking ueong tea is especially popular with dieters.
Another popular tea in spring is the variety made from maeshil or the Japanese apricot. You may see boxes of these small bright green fruit on sale at the grocery markets during this time of the year when they are at their peak. They can be pickled or extracted for its juices but it can also be made into a tea. Its sweet and slightly tart taste is a favorite of all ages and a cup of maeshil tea is commonly said to be one of the best natural remedies for indigestion.
Various seafood are highly sought after in spring too when they are considered to be in their prime. Among the best associated with spring is jjukkumi, the small webfoot octopus. Even fully-grown, these octopuses measure only about 10-12 cm but they are known for being good for the circulatory system and reinvigorating one’s stamina. One favorite way to enjoy them is in a spicy stir fry or grilled over barbecue. Yongdudong near Jegi Station, has a jjukkumi alley with many restaurants specializing in this dish.
Other seafood dishes that are at their prime this time of the year include shellfish like razor clams, manila clams, and conch shells. You can get particularly fresh varieties from the Noryangjin Fish Market where you can pick and choose from the many vendors for the freshest and at some of the lowest price. The Garak Market in eastern Seoul also has a fresh seafood section at wholesale prices that are worth checking out. Other popular ways of eating shellfish is in kalguksu, or knife cut noodles and you can search online for a range of haemul kalguksu or seafood kalguksu to satisfy your craving. Prefer them grilled? Try searching online for the many shellfish barbecue restaurants around the city where you can grill fresh seafood at your table.
Korean strawberries are known for their delicate, natural sweetness and are increasingly being exported due to their growing popularity abroad. Pick them up during this time at local grocery markets to enjoy them naturally on their own. If you’re strawberry obsessed though, you may want to consider splurging at one of the many strawberry buffet specials that pop up around time of the year at the many major hotel restaurants. Strawberry desserts, treats, and drinks of all varieties- both well-known and unusual- are offered unlimitedly to diners but only during the early spring season!