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Dried pollacks, Hwangtae

Posted February. 10, 2018 07:34,   

Updated February. 10, 2018 07:34


Endless rows of dried pollacks covered with snow are a truly magnificent sight you can see around this season. Pollacks, after being caught, are placed to be frozen and thawed repeatedly for over three to four months during the frigid winter winds in the temperature of below 10 degrees Celsius. When they are thoroughly dried and turn yellowish, they can be finally called “Hwangtae.” It may sound simple, but earning the name of “Hwangtae” is never easy. If exposed to too strong winds, they often go rotten, getting themselves a name “Jjintae.” Those with white, frozen skins are called “Baektae,” while those with dark skins are “Meoktae.” “Patae” are the ones with scratches and flaws on their body, and “Mudutae” are those without a head.

Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province, is the hometown of “Hwangtae.” Hoenggye in Daegwallyeong, Pyeongchang is known for its place to dry pollacks along with Yongdae, Inje County. In fact, the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies of the winter games are to be held, had served as a place to dry pollacks a long time ago. The residents of Pyeongchang have greeted every December by setting up logs at a windy place and beginning to dry pollacks from January to April. As pollacks are almost non-existent in the East sea these days, those hanging in Hoenggye are mostly Russian, handled at Sokcho and Goseong ports.

There is a saying that “the taste of Hwangtae is sent from heaven.” This means that the golden, yellowish Hwangtae is produced only when the three elements, namely snow, wind, and cold, are all in place. Thanks to the severe cold with the mercury dropping below 20 degrees Celsius this year, pollacks are being well dried in Hoenggye. Low-fat, high-protein Hwangtae is used for a variety of dishes in Korean cuisine, by either steamed, grilled, or added in hangover soup, hot pot, or seasoned beef. The dried pollack was also chosen as one of the special dishes for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, and Pyeongchang County presented chopped noodles made of Hwangtae as a delicacy.

Pollacks endure wintry snow, wind, and cold to become golden Hwangtae. There is even a poem about them. “With my bare skin frozen and thawed/ I traverse this season, as tough as tendon/ Bone-chilling winds blow from the East sea/ Though I no longer feel any pain” (excerpt from “Hwangtae-Deokjang” by Park Il-man). The story of willingly persevering in hardships for a glorious moment may resonate with athletes taking part in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Kwang-Pyo Lee kplee@donga.com