Wow, it’s already winter! A lovely season, isn’t it? Nothing says winter like a snow-covered Daegwallyeong Pass. Some people think of the animation Frozen at the mention of the word “winter,” but many Koreans go to Pyeongchang to enjoy the fantastic sight of snow-covered Daegwallyeong Pass. Pyeongchang offers another unique specialty that people outside Gangwon-do can hardly see. It’s yellowish dried pollacks. In December, villagers here start hanging strings of pollacks caught in the East Sea on wooden racks placed in deokjang (a wide area filled with wooden racks) to dry in the sun. The fish thus dried reach its highest state in both flavor and taste by the following February. The cold winter weather and the fresh air in Daegwallyeong Pass are said to work together to make them first-rate goods. We had an interview with Kim Sul Lae, a deokjang manager who is a local expert in yellowish dried pollacks.
Q1. “Hi, how are you? Have I come to the right place, deokjang for yellowish dried pollacks, which are known as a local specialty of Pyeongchang?”
A: “Yes, you have. Daegwallyeong Pass is the place where locals started the practice of having pollacks dried in the winter sun earlier than anywhere else in the country.”
Q2. “I had expected to see a vast number of strings of pollacks hung on the racks when I got here. But it’s not there yet. Please tell me how you work on yellowish dried pollacks.”
A: “According to the long-standing tradition, it’s not until the lowest daily temperature drops to 10°C below zero for at least 10 days that we start hanging pollacks on the racks, perhaps around mid-December this year. In the past, such condition was met in November, but it is being delayed due to global warming.
The racks used to dry pollacks are called “deokdae” in Korean. The fish become black-colored ones (called heuktae, “heuk” meaning black) after a week on deokdae, with the moisture in them gone. They are left there for a month, withstanding the severe winter wind of Daegwallyeong Pass. They become pungtae (“pung” meaning wind). After another month there, they become seoltae (“seol” meaning snow). After yet another month there, they become jjolgittae or mattae (“jjolgit” meaning gooey/”mat” meaning tasty). After a little more drying, they finally finish the process of making dried pollacks, which are served on people’s dinner table. That’s 120 days of tremendous hard work.”
Q3. “What has made Pyeongchang the best place in the country to make yellowish dried pollacks?”
A: “Do you know the difference between hwangtae (yellowish dried pollacks) and bugeo (ordinary dried pollacks)? Yellowish dried pollacks refer to those dried in a mountainous area, whereas bugeo are those dried in a seaside area. Pyeongchang is an area 700 ~ 800 m above sea level surrounded by mountains. Daegwallyeong Pass, which is called the roof of the country, is the best place in the country to make first-rate yellowish dried pollacks.
The yellowish dried pollacks made in Pyeongchang repeatedly go through the lowest temperature at midnight and a higher temperature in the day, shrinking at night and spreading during the day for about 120 days. The fish come to taste gooey with deep flavor.
Yellowish dried pollacks are a healthy food rich in protein, iron, vitamins, and amino acid. It’s a high-protein food. They also help detoxify your liver.”
Q4. “I heard that those interested in purchasing yellowish dried pollacks here should mark those they select in advance. Is that right?”
A: “Yes it is. At our deokjang, we run a program inviting purchasers’ participation in the process of making yellowish dried pollacks. In December when we start hanging strings of pollacks on the racks, purchasers come here and mark those they select. We attach nametags to those they select for fun.
After the due process of drying, the fish are handed over to the customers. Many of the customers come to the place to see whether their pollacks are being dried properly, killing two birds (checking the quality of the goods in the making and enjoying a trip to a wonderful location in Daegwallyeong Pass) with one stone. The program drew favorable response from the customers. It has also come a long way in publicizing our yellowish dried pollacks. Needless to say, the customers are satisfied with the arrangement made to enable them to check the quality of the goods they purchased.”
Q5. “Can you recommend a way to enjoy yellowish dried pollacks as the deokjang manager?”
A: “Try eating them at the stage of jjolgittae, tearing them piece by piece with your hand. Customers marking their fish in advance love this method. They taste somewhat sweet, like half-dried squids.
You may put gochujang (red pepper paste) on them, depending on your recipe. Some people prefer barbecuing them.
Parboiled sliced pollacks taste very special right before reaching the stage of jjolgitae. Those of us who have lived here, making a living engaging in the work of yellowish dried pollacks, consider it to be the most delicious food. I mean it.
If you find it hard trying to cook dishes served at restaurants like soup, jeongol (stew), or gimchi jjigae containing pollacks at your home, simply try putting the sauce used for galbi or bulgogi on yellowish dried pollacks and barbecue or stir-fry them. You will like the unique flavor. Children love them. Add some hot pepper or soybean sauce to them, depending on your preference. That’s an easy way to prepare a nice meal.”
Q6. This poem highlights the interview on Pyeongchang’s specialty produce. One poem on Pollack deokjang, please!
A : I really like these poems. I wrote two as one poem cannot do a justice.
Daegwallyeong’s golden dried Pollack gives health, more precious than gold, as well as vitality as shining as the sun.
Deokjang manager offers a bonus of longevity as well for you!
The first words spoken by newly born yellowish dried pollack!
“Deokjang manager, people who eat Daegwallyeong dried Pollack will live long for many, many years!”
We really enjoyed talking to Ms. Kim Sul Lae. We found it surprising that she has so many stories to tell about yellowish dried pollacks. The fish being made at Daegwallyeong Pass must be first-rate health food, particularly the jjolgitae recommended by her. Now, I think I have homework to do this winter. I should mark some yellowish dried pollacks there as my own and visit there to taste jjolgitae.