You can taste conches nearly anywhere along the coast of South Korea. Interestingly, depends on where you are the species of conches that are commonly available in the area may slightly differ. On the island of Jeju, the conches size of an egg with bumpy shells are known as 뿔소라 (bbul-sora), with “bbul” meaning “horns”. They are consumed raw or cooked in various ways to feed the natives who lacked protein from meat.
As I ride along the coast of Jeju Island I passed by number of restaurants looking fancy and serving conch dishes. I decided to save my opportunity for later to taste the unique marine mollusk. When I was on Udo Island, a tiny island off the coast of eastern Jeju, my two wheels led me to small, humble eateries along the coast that indicate they are run by the haenyos, the local women who dive into the sea to collect food. I parked my bike next to one of the diners that have tables up in front by the road. Across from the double-lane road is the black of the basalt and beyond that is the endless blue of the East Sea. A perfect view served with lunch.
I ordered a bowl of 뿔소라죽, or rice porridge with sliced conch meat. I’d love to call this “Conch Congee” in English as it sounds so much fun. The congee was served along with simple side dishes that included 톳, a type of edible marine plants resemble pine leaves. The congee was surprisingly flavourful. The seafood broth and conch meat produced dark brownish-green colour of the porridge with strong scent of the sea. The meat of the shellfish was soft yet has a bit of chewy texture to it. What could be a little bland is overcome by the side of cabbage and radish kimchi.
The people of Jeju were poor. The volcanic island did not allow much land suitable for farming and the locals were forced to sought food in the mountains, the forests, and the sea. Rice was scarce so boiling with water to make congee was a way to feed many hungry mouth with the little they had. Creatures collected from the sea were added to enhance flavour: conch, clams, crab meat, etc. Nowadays, the peasant food is being shed a new light with its nutritional value and promotion of unique local ingredients. A bowl of conch congee was not cheap but it was worth an experience to taste the traditionally-prepared local cuisine.