Posted : 2014-06-08 17:57
Updated : 2014-06-08 17:57

Slow food takes on individual touch

Strings of coin-shaped Jangheung "don" tea at a weekend food market in Hyeri Art Village in Paju. Don tea is listed in the Ark of Taste, an international catalogue of endangered heritage foods. The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity produces the catalogue.
/ Korea Times photos by Kim Ji-soo

Small-scale Korean producers continue with slow food movement

By Kim Ji-soo

HYERI ARTVILLAGE, Paju —Huh In-sook was just setting up her booth of "doncha" or "don" tea, which she hauled up from South Jeolla Province to customers at this village north of Seoul on a recent Sunday.

She hasn't made her tea yet.

"Come back in 15 minutes or so," Huh said.

The strings of coin-shaped tea blocks and a self-made congratulatory pink note in front of her booth "Presidia" and "Ark of Taste" are interesting enough to lure visitors back. The "don" in Korean means coin, hence the name of the tea.

The final products of soybean paste made with the "pureun kong" or the green beans native to Jeju Island are on display at a weekend food market in Hyeri Art Village in Paju. They are listed in the Ark of Taste.

After a while, the tea has been made, and visitors readily sipped the tea. The first one, fermented for one year, was light both on the mouth and stomach. The second one, fermented for three years, had a stronger flavor.

"But you can drink this tea all day, cold as well, because it's naturally fermented," Huh said.

Don tea is a type of a green tea from the county of Jangheung in South Jeolla Province. It's also known as "Jangheung doncha cheongtaejeon," made in the old-fashioned way as in the Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1910) kingdoms when the region was the hub of tea. The tea dates back to the Borim Temple, which was established in 821. The don tea culture, no longer exists in its originator country China and was slowly fading in Korea too.

Participants at the Slow Food market, which focused on fermented food, prepare dishes for tasting. / Courtesy of Slow Food Korea

"But I really want to share this culture of making and enjoying tea with leaves from the wild," she said.

That's why she took part in the two-day farmers' market. The farmers' market was the first of its kind since the founding of Slow Food Korea in May. It's the eighth country in the world recognized by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, a nonprofit international organization.

Slow Food was founded in 1986 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life. Essentially, the movement is about good, clean and fair food. While interest in slow food has ebbed and flowed, in Korea, it is another face of consciousness in well-being and preserving traditional foods and their methods.

"These producers here today, it's very difficult to get them in one place at the time," said Sarah Lee, an assistant administrator of communication at Slow Food Korea. The market was hosted by the Slow FoodKorea, and organized by the Slow Food Culture Center and theSsamji Farmers.

"We hope to hold more of these markets this year," she added.

But amid the market that brought small-scale farmers, Huh looked especially elated. The don tea was one of the recent additions to the Presidia, which is designated by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.

The Presidia is an international project designed to protect small-scale farmers and their indigenous and eco-friendly products. Basically, it allows a more interactive preservation and nurturing of the foods via the network of producer, consumer and experts. The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity supports marketing for these items.

To date, four Korean foods or produce have been selected as Presidia. They are the don tea, pureun kong soybean paste, Yeonsan ogye (a rare breed of chicken) and herbs from Ulleung Island, which are also listed on the Ark of Taste.

The Presidia are usually selected from the Ark of Taste list, to preserve the biodiversity of products or foods that are part of the cultures and tradition of the area but at the risk of disappearing. Korea has eight Ark of Taste items and the other four are the Jinju native wheat , Korean tiger cattle, Jayeom salt and Jeju native black cattle.

Currently, about 1,500 seeds or foods of 76 nations are listed as Ark of Taste, with 400 of them from 60 nations selected as Presidia.

Huh makes her don tea the time-tested way. Huh said that she and other women in the community collect the wild tea leaves from the mountain.

The leaves are dried a day in sunlight and then steamed in iron pots. She then crushes and grinds them in a mortar and form into circular shape. They are then dried, after which they become solid and are then hung to dry in wind. They are then put in a pot to ferment.

"We don't make much. I don't know what I would do without the older customers," said Huh. "But we will be very busy this year to find a new taste, to overcome similarity to puer tea," she said.

Across the plaza from Huh' s booth, Kim Min-soo was tending to soybean paste made with his hometown's unique beans —Jeju's "pureun kong." Green and smaller than the common soybean, the beans that were selected as Ark of Taste and Presidia are sweeter and stickier when boiled. Also, "nuruk" or fermented grain made from barley or wheat, is used along with malt powder and salt to yield a dusty and sweet taste.

"As the world becomes standardized,we need to preserve things that are special to us," said Kim.He added that when a traditional bean like the green bean from Jeju disappears, it means the loss of the not only diversity but also a way of life, a spirit and sentiment.

Lee of Slow FoodKorea seconded that opinion.

"What we are trying to do is to preserve things at the risk of disappearing, because when and if they disappear, the culture that's surrounding it will also fade away," she said.

So Slow Food Korea hopes to increase the eight current Ark of Taste listings to 20 by the end of the year, Lee said.

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