The eastern coast of Gyeongsanbuk-do is my favorite kind of coast. It’s windy and rocky, and the ocean that laps the shore is filled with a thousand different shades of blue. It’s a working ocean, with fishing boats crowding every port, and fish and squid drying on lines along the road. The rocks are dotted with solitary fishermen looking out to sea. It’s the kind of shore that draws people who want to be alone.
But to eat the best of what the Gyeonsanbuk-do shore has to offer, it’s best to be with a crowd, and the kind of crowd you’re comfortable with. There’s no attractive, delicate way to crack open crab legs. And when the crabs taste as good as the famed king crabs of Youngduk, I promise you will end up with bits of crab meat and juice all over your face, your hands, and maybe even your hair.
The crabs are steamed. Nothing else, and yet they were the sweetest, most succulent crabs I’d ever had. I normally find crabs to be more trouble than they’re worth—all that work for so little—but I could feel myself getting almost maniacal as I ate. I wanted more and more, and it didn’t matter how much I had to wrestle with the giant red scissors. They’re not enormous and they’re not cheap, since they range from 10,000-70,000 won (~$7-$45) for a single crab. But, oh, it’s worth the drive up that beautiful shore to come eat them at 대게원조 삼광호, Daegae Whunjo Samgwangho.
The fame of the crabs has led the larger town just south of 축산 1-리, Chuksan-1, to turn their home into a crab amusement park. Giant plastic crabs look down at you from the bridges, from the tallest buildings, from the larger restaurants, anywhere you can affix a giant crab. There are dozens of restaurants, with nothing to distinguish one from the other, especially since each one has someone shouting at you to come in.
The restaurant we ate at, in contrast, is in Chuksan-1, a quiet but prosperous-looking fishing village. You can see the fishing boats right next to the restaurant, and when the woman working at the restaurant smiles her infectious smile at you and says the crabs came straight from those boats, you have to believe her.
At the end, we were served bowls of rice sprinkled liberally with roasted sesame seeds and roasted seaweed, kimchi, and a simple crab stew. We took the crab shells, filled with roe and crab juice and mixed our rice right in the shells. Diane took the task very seriously.
As she should. This is food that deserves all your attention.