The Winding History and Flowing Taste
SEOUL, KOREA — Naju in Jeollanamdo is a city full of history, a city where you feel the spirit of 2,000 years of abundance and prosperity brought to life on the fertile Naju Plain.
The Yeongsangang is a river that originates in Yong-myeon, Damyang-gun, Jeollanamdo (South Jeolla Province), passes by Gwangju, Naju, and Yeongam, and runs through Mokpo, where it empties into the Yellow Sea. Whenever it meets a tributary, the river meanders with even more fluent curves and bears an even greater load of fertile soil to Naju.
In fact, the name of the province, “Jeolla,” is taken from the first syllables of the names of two cities, Jeonju and Naju, with some Korean pronunciation rules applied. This indicates how important the city of Naju has been throughout history. The city was long a commercial center; it attracted specia foods of all kinds from all over the Jeolla and Gyeongsang regions. Every kind of seafood was carried up the Yeongsangang, and grains produced on the Naju Plain filled the granaries and marketplace of Naju.
A wonderful style of cuisine naturally flourished here, and the city became famous for such delicacies as Yeongsanpo hongeo (fermented skate), Naju gomtang (beef bone soup), Naju jangeo-gui (broiled eel), and Songhyeon bulgogi. Hence the old saying, “Jeonju is for beauty; Naju is for flavor.”
Foreign visitors are taking part in the city's cooking event.
Unforgettable, addictive taste by fermentation
Naju is especially renowned for Yeongsanpo hongeo and Naju gomtang. The latter is the premiere meat dish of Jeollanam-do. This soup originated from janggukbap, which was made by simmering beef brawn, intestines, and so forth for a long time. It was served on the day of oiljang, which was a market that opened once every five days. It can be found at many restaurants in downtown Naju. The soup is clear and has a lot of meat. These two dishes are outshined by Yeongsanpo hongeo (fermented skate). Its pungent scent and taste are unmistakable and truly unique. Some people say it has “aesthetics of fermentation” in allusion to this specialty.
The fish contains ten times more urine than other fish, which transforms into ammonia through fermentation, making the fish an extremely alkaline food. The piercing, stimulating scent and taste of ammonia may at first be repulsive to the uninitiated but have a powerful addictive effect. Korea is the only country in the world where skate is served.
2,000 years of history in Naju
Naju has many clusters of tumuli. Some are as old as 2,000 years. A group of ancient tumuli in Bannam dates to Mahan, a confederacy of 54 small chiefdoms that thrived from around the 1st century BCE to the 3rd century CE. The cluster includes tumuli big and small over a vast area and is believed to have been formed over a period of 200 years. Some of the hidden treasures of the tumuli have been excavated. Notably, in Tumulus No. 9 in Sinchon, archeologists discovered a gilt-bronze crown (National Treasure No. 295), gilt-bronze shoes, and a decorated Korean sword called hwandudae-do, among other artifacts. The presence of some 35 tumuli in Bannam and nearby Bogam indicates that the ruling class of the Mahan Confederacy established itself along the Yeongsangang, which was the source of their power.
Naju Eupseong, through which a creek called Najucheon flows, became an important administrative unit called Naju-mok in 983. Numerous remains from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) stand along its banks including many ramparts. Two big gates called Namgomun and Dongjeommun were restored in 1993 and 2006, giving us some insight as to what Naju Eupseong may have looked like as a castle area during the Goryeo period. Back then, Geumseong Gwan was the largest lodging facility in the nation, and Geumhak Heon was the main building of the residence of the chief of Naju-mok. Both are now open as accommodations.
At the center of the campus of Naju Hyanggyo, a government-run provincial academy, stands Daeseong Jeon. It was designated as Treasure No. 394 for its uncommon architectural beauty and historical value.
One of the best ways to enjoy the Yeongsangang is to sail on a Hwangpo dotbae.
The Yeongsangang has long been the lifeblood of the Naju Plain, which is the breadbasket of the Jeolla region. The river has provided livelihoods and a variety of foods and attractions. One of the best ways to enjoy the Yeongsangang is to sail on a hwangpo dotbae, a traditional wooden boat with yellowish sail. The boat plies the waters for about two kilometers between the port of Dahae and Seokgwan Jeong, a breathtakingly beautiful pavilion. The ride takes about 40 minutes, and the full panoply of scenic views of Naju will be yours, including another pavilion named Geumgang Jeong.
*Article from Korea Magazine