It was innocent enough: we visited the home of Fran’s friend in Jeju and her mother, caught unprepared by the sight of foreign visitors, gave us chocolate to placate us. Poor woman. We just wanted to meet her because she was a friend’s mother. Having been on both the visited and the visitor in these situations, I felt a bit embarrassed and helpless.
Anyway, Fran and I ate the chocolate, that cure-all and ultimate soothing salve to all embarrassed and helpless feelings engendered by awkward cultural dances.
And the trouble began.
Everyone knows I love chocolate, but I’ve actually been consuming less of it lately. My tastebuds have changed and I no longer enjoy the crazed sweetness of Hershey’s like I used to as a child.
But these Jeju chocolates.
Oh, granted. They don’t have the over-the-top sweetness of Hershey’s. These are properly dark chocolates designed to highlight whatever Jeju-grown flavor they wanted to highlight. And there is a healthy variety for all stripes of chocolate lovers.
Jeju has some of the normal flavors you’ve met before, like 감귤/gamgyeul (Jeju’s famous mandarin oranges/tangerines) and raspberries.
Then there’s the hallabong which you would think would be essentially the same as the mandarins but would be wrong about.
There’s green tea which I’ve had in previous chocolates and have never liked… but somehow here? It’s just something else.
And then there’s the cactus chocolate which like WHAT. How is that even possible? How is that even a good idea? What does 100 years (백년) have to do with these things anyway? So many questions and yet I just don’t care because IT ALL TASTES SO GOOD.
At the home of Fran’s friend, we were fed the Jeju Island brand chocolates. They are adorable squares of dark chocolate with the flavoring stamped in the middle as a tiny replica of the island. It even says “Jeju” in English on it. Typical Korea, getting all cute and minimalist on us. But it matters that we started with the Jeju Island brand because there’s a ton of other brands (one lady said there were 20 chocolate companies in Jeju) and they are not all made equal.
For instance, stay away from the Crunch Choco. I mean, what is that? Does that really count as chocolate? It’s flavoring in a bar shape covered in rice krispies. No thanks, I think I’ll pass.
We first ran across the different chocolate companies conundrum on a visit to Emart. The Jeju Island chocolates I knew I could trust were not present. We bought a few to try, with the promise that we’d come back and buy more if they didn’t measure up.
Later that night, while partying with a crew of Koreans at our hostel, we tried our loot.
We had bought two kinds, one of which reminded me of the Jeju Island brand with its square shape. Except, instead of the Jeju Island stamp on top, the flavoring was squished between two squares of chocolate like an Andes. These, we concluded, were off on their ratio of chocolate to flavoring. Not bad, still worth buying, but…
Compared to the JeKiss chocolates, inferior. This was the other brand we tried and it was a surprise. I thought the square shaped ones were more sophisticated, designed to be more luxe. JeKiss uses these molds that make the chocolates look like Dol Hareubangs, the Easter Island-reminiscent statues also of Jeju fame. It’s back to that typical Korea cute, and totally looks like the type of thing you would give to children. Which is to say, not luxe at all.
The JeKiss chocolates are so badass. A slim core of flavoring encased in luscious dark chocolate. The Koreans at the party told us that Dongmun Market was the place to buy chocolates and we went the next day. I made sure to buy another box of JeKiss chocolates. Even at 10,000won (USD$10) a pop, they were completely worth it.
Everywhere you turned in Dongmun Market, there were stacks and stacks of local chocolates. I managed to find a box of the Jeju Island brand chocolates at the market as well as another brand to try and these fun little bread balls. They’re like buns with flavoring on the inside and nuts on the outside. Delicious.
(Here we have prickly pear/cactus, blueberry and mandarin flavors)
Most of the chocolates stayed the same price across the board (even at the airport), but I recommend buying them at the market. Because then the ladies will shower you with 서비스 or “service” which means free chocolate samples to go with your purchase. My friend and I bought three boxes of JeKiss chocolates between the two of us and the stand owner stuffed our bags full of extra tangerines in thanks. It was great.
It may have made our luggage situation at the airport a little dicey with too many bags and not enough arms, but my God they are worth it.
[This post was originally published on February 13, 2015. It has been backdated for the sake of tidier, chronological organization.]