Salted Shrimp & The Raucous Good Festival They Deserve
For the past two years on walks in our neighborhood each October I’ve noticed small paper signs denoting a festival in the nearby Peace Park celebrating saeujeot or small salted shrimp. The idea of an entire festival celebrating some tiny fermented seafood was quite humorous to me so this year I was definitely going to save the date to see what this was all about.
Actually, this year I realized that there was a festival going on each weekend for the entire month in the park. The World Cup Parks are very popular in the autumn and this year not only was there the annual Sky Park Festival but there was the Garden Expo the first weekend and then the Salted Shrimp Festival and they just seemed to continue. Saeujeot is a shrimp dish that just doesn’t seem like they warrant an entire festival to celebrate their “greatness”. It’s not even a dish you eat alone, it’s a dip of sorts so why all of the festivities?
I went not expecting much to be honest but assumed I’d get some chuckles because… saeujeot. It turned out great though because it was basically a townie festival in the heart of Seoul where you wouldn’t expect to find one. Local groups performing dances on stage and singing, student groups performing drum routines and other traditional themed performances and a TON of places to sit down and dig in to food that was NOT just saeujeot, to our delight. The fermented shrimp are commonly seen on tables in jokbal (족발) or pig’s feet restaurants in Korea. Of the three sauces the dish is served with, the most important sauce is the saeujeot (새우젓) a salty condiment made with tiny fermented shrimp. “Saeu” (새우) means shrimp and “jeot” (젓) stands for any salty fermented condiment used for pickling or as a seasoning. The shrimp are usually salted and fermented for 2 to 3 months before being served up with dishes like pigs feet or bossam. The park that the festival is set in is rather stunning itself featuring a large pond with a boardwalk on one side and a substantial garden on the other with artistic sculptures sitting among the reeds, flowers and trees. There are even bunnies hopping around that are friendly enough that they’ll eat clovers right from a person’s hand. While the salty fermented shrimp were certainly on hand in large quantities, there were rows of tents lined up selling Korean delicacies like fried fish and shrimp, pajeon and makkoli, noodle soups and more to any foodie’s delight. Fried this and sauteed that served up to be eaten on one of the red or blue table and chairs lined up under the trees of Pyeonghwa Park while music from the nearby stage played on. There were tents with traditional Korean games for the kids to partake in and tents with Korean costumes to be adorned and photographed. Side dishes were for sale to be taken home and photo-op displays for the most avid Instagrammer.
All in all, the event was really a stunner. Just the perfect townie get together in Seoul for an afternoon of simple edible fun in a gorgeous park with some fun performances to take in.Even the simplest of condiments can provide a focal point for a festive treat and I won’t doubt that again!