The wild edible greens that saved Ulleungdo

Originally published in 2009 when I was living in South Korea working as an English teacher on an island called Ulleungdo.

In my experience, most of the time when I try some unusual food in Asia it tastes strange and takes awhile to get used to. However, in Korea I have discovered a delicious exception to this norm in Ulleungdo’s wild edible green called Myeongi or in English, mountain garlic. Myeongi looks like spinach but tastes like a pickled leafy green. Its sour tanginess is a perfect combination to the fatty Samgyeopsal (Korean pork barbecue).


In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Joseon Dynasty had an empty island policy due to security concerns from previous invasions. This proved unsustainable and this policy was abandoned in 1881. When Koreans returned to the island, they initially struggled to find food. The dependable myeongi, which even grows through snow, saved the islanders from malnutrition. Korean tourists leave Ulleungdo with boxes of the stuff. If I could get away with taking it on the plane I would buy some to take home too – it’s that good.

Korean pork belly barbecue (Samgyeopsal)

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