• Updated : 2019.5.23 목 16:33
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Beolgyo Cockles[남도향토음식]벌교 꼬막요리: The Flavor of the Mud Flats
김성영 기자  |  peacemelody@naver.com
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승인 2013.11.12  14:28:01
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▲ Seasoned cockles with red pepper and vinegar
As the cold wind blows, cockles are getting better tasting because they fatten over the winter and bear eggs. It is the best time to eat cockles named “ggomak” in Korean. Beolgyo is famous for cockles. Most cockles in Korea are produced from that region and they taste the best. The coastal water of the region is optimal for inhabitation of cockles because the mudflats of the Yeojaman Gulf is not mixed with sand and is not polluted. Also, Jo Jung-rae’s epic novel ”Taebaek Mountain Range” examines a few generations and ideological conflicts in the modern history of Korea and how this made Beolgyo famous for cockles. This novel’s background is Beolgyo and the author Jo describes the taste of cockles. ”Boiled cockles without any seasoning are a good side dish. The taste, salty, chewy and somewhat fishy, is cut out for a snack with drinks.”
Cockles are considered as a nutrient-dense food because they have high protein but relatively low fat, and also contain vitamins, calcium, taurine, betaine and many minerals which are well-known energy boosters and aid in liver detoxification. People living in the region have used cockles in various dishes. If you visit Beolgyo, you can find the Cockle Street on which many restaurants are selling cockle foods. The area is famous for “ggomak jungsik” which consists of a variety of cockle foods and side dishes. This reporter was surprised there are so many kinds of foods with cockles. The basic foods are boiled cockles, boiled cockles with soy sauce, seasoned cockles with red pepper paste and vinegar, and bibimbap with vegetables and seasoned cockles. Grilled cockles, fried cockles, and sweet and sour cockles are also delicacies. If you want to taste them, it is better to go there when cockles are in season, like right now.
Most ggomak dishes are based on boiled cockles, whose taste depends on the ways to boil them. So boiling cockles is an important process.I learned how to cook cockles from a woman who has lived in Beolgyo for her whole life. Cockles must be cleaned prior to cooking because they live in mud flats. To get rid of the mud, rub the cockles, rinse several times in clean water and soak them in salted water several times. Then, boil them for a short while, being careful not to over boil them, which causes them to become tough. In this process, stir them in one direction to make sure their shells do not open. After that, put the lid on the pan and wait for about two minutes. The key point is parboiling them. People living in South Jeolla regions including Beolgyo prefer parboiling cockles to boiling ones.
 As cockles are specialty in Beolgyo, there are many people working in foreshore. I met one woman who has worked to dig out cockles for 50 years and I learned how to dig cockles and her stories related to cockles. “Before a machine was invented, we just went into mud flats just wearing rubber shoes. Someone who was weak suffered from frostbite. In addition to cold weather, it was also quite hard to pull “nulbae”. I had to put my chest on it to push it with my feet. That gave me many aches and pains.” Nulbae is a kind of transportation to move in mud flats for digging cockles, it looks like a ski for mud flats. “Although it is really hard to dig cockles, I cannot help but continue doing it. I brought up my children by digging cockles. Cockles are the life and business of people in Beolgyo.”
By Kim Sung-young, Tribune Reporter


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