Gochang County is located 290 kilometres south of Seoul perched on Korea's west coast overlooking the Yellow Sea. I attended the Bokbunja Festival two years ago, enjoying greenhouse berry-picking and the black raspberry or bokbunja (복분자) products for which the region is famed, including bokbunjaju (복분자주) or black raspberry wine. While Gochang prides itself for its bokbunja, a sweet berry revered for its healthful antioxidant properties, the area is also known for its eel and watermelon exports.
At the festival you will find an array of tents offering a multitude of tasty snacks, treats, activities, and entertainment, most with a bokbunja twist, of course. The main event to try is the live eel-catching contest. Interested contestants enter a large inflatable pool filled knee-high with black-raspberry-infused water. Opaque and dark, the coloured water adds an element of surprise and difficulty to what is already a challenging task. When ready, the organizers empty bags of live eels into the tub, and contestants scramble to catch as many as they can using only their bare hands. I took part in the foreigners' competition and after what seemed an eternity, I caught an eel! I took my prize to one of the festival's many tented restaurants where my eel was cleaned and barbecued for 4,000 won. Eel has a salmon-like texture, and a fatty buttery taste, perfect for the barbecue.
|Moments after I caught my live eel!|
|Bokbunja makgeolli, beer, and wine|
While you are visiting the festival make sure to enjoy some of the other popular tourist attractions in the region, such as the Gochang dolmens, erected in the 7th century and now recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. Seonunsa (선운사), a Buddhist temple built in the 6th century is also popular and it is belived that the healing properties of bokbunja were discovered ered by a monk who cared for a sick child there. Finally, the Haejeon mud activity village offers the unique opportunity for locals and tourists to dig for shellfish in the mudflats caused by low tide. In addition to these, there are many other activities to enjoy in this region. With my tour group, we played tuho (투호), where players throw long sticks or spears and attempt to land them upright in a large canister or jar, and tried our hand at steering a traditional bamboo raft across the river. We also took a covered tractor ride along some rice paddies while enjoying bokbunja slushies and smoothies prepared by the locals.
The festival officials are proud to share that most programs are free of charge and that bokbunja products from the region can be purchased at a 10 to 20% discount. So come enjoy the savings and the friendly atmsophere that Gochang has to offer, and make your way to the Gochang Bokbunja Festival!