The small island of Ulleung is located 120 km from the north-east coast of South Korea and is reached by taking a three-hour ferry ride from Gangneun (Gangwon province) or from Pohang (Gyeongsang province). The rocks seen along the coast continue inland, with a landscape of mountains, steep slopes and winding streets that climb up and down the cliffs. In winter, waves can reach up to ten meters in height, flooding the only road that runs along the perimeter of the island. In spring the countryside is lush and green, the scent of wild plants intoxicating the air.
Due to a political strategy adopted during the reign of Joseon (1392-1897), the island remained uninhabited until 1882. The first settlers only arrived 130 years ago. As a result, the natural ecosystems stayed intact, with the temperate oceanic climate contributing to the development of many native plant varieties. Until a few decades ago, the island’s economy was extremely poor, based on the cultivation of corn and potatoes (the climate is not suitable for rice), and fishing of cuttlefish and mussels. To supplement the daily diet, the women of Ulleung would climb the surrounding mountains and gather different wild herbs (sanchae in Korean). The wild herbs were prepared differently, depending on the type: cooked fresh, dried or fermented. In recent years knowledge of the local flora has become an important economic resource. In fact, almost all families have now begun to cultivate these herbs, which were formerly only found in the wild. Cooperatives for processing, packaging and selling have also been developed. The most common plant is the myungyi, mountain garlic, which is now sold nationally.
Some herbs – the most rare – are only grown on this island. Seommalnari, also called the Hanson Lily or seong-in bong nari, is a magnificent flower yellow with a reddish tint, flecked with dark amber specks. The edible part of the plant is the bulb: white, sweet and doughy. They are eaten boiled and have a flavor vaguely reminiscent of chestnuts. Dumebuchu is reminiscent of chives and has sticky leaves and a flavor similar to leek. It can be eaten raw (sliced) or fermented (in soy sauce or sugar). Samnamul takes its name from the word insam (ginseng) because of its similarity in shape. Collected in spring, the young leaves of the plants are eaten fresh or dried. The consistency is similar to that of meat, as is the taste. It is for this reason that the locals call it gogyuinamul (gogyui meaning “meat”, namul meaning “wild plant”). Samnamul is delicious blanched or in soups, and is often served at special events or holidays. Chamgobi is similar to a fern, growing best in shady areas. It is mainly used dry as it has a bitter taste when fresh.
Almost all households cultivate mountain garlic, along with other types of plants that were once wild. Some of these are very rare. The Presidium involves five producers who have small plots and offer the herbs in their family restaurants. The goal is to promote the four herbs that grow only on this island: Seommalnari, Dumebuchu, Samnamul and Chamgobi.
Ulleunggun Agriculture Technology Center
Sanmaeul Farmhouse restaurant 136-2, Nari, Buk-myeon,
tel. +82 547914643/1047444643
Kim Do Soon
Narichon Farmhouse restaurant
6, Nari, Buk-myeon, Ulleung-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do
tel. +82 547916082/168215808
Lee Deok Joon
(Slow Food Ulleung representative)
tel. +82 1035088833
Lee Tae Sook
Capo del villaggio di Pyoungri
66-16, Pyoungri 2gil, Buk-myeon, Ulleung-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do
tel. +82 115204389
537-20, Na-ri gil, Buk-Myeon
Kim Sung Hoon
Tel. +82 315557070