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Golbaengi-Muchim (Spicy Whelks with Noodles) #LitHappens #FoodieReads

If I had to pick a favorite genre, historical fiction is it. And I decided to pick The Island of Sea Women: A Novel by Lisa See* for our March selection in our online book group, Lit Happens. I have read the book before, but was happy to re-read it when another gal suggested it for the group.

On the Page

This is the story of two friends' lives erected on the framework of the historical matriarchal society where the women in Korea work as haenyeo divers. These women free-dive and harvest the ocean's treasures including abalone, urchin, and octopus. You see how their bodies have adapted to withstand the cold and the hardship when they are medically studied and tracked.

The men stay home and watch the children. However, despite the matrifocal structure of the divers, property is still in the man's name. And husbans often take the women's wages and squander it through gambling and drinking.

Young-sook and Mi-ja are haeneyo. They grew up together, became divers together, then their paths diverged after their respective marriages. This story is tragic and heart-breaking. And, a word of warning, there is violence, but it's temporally appropriate violence if that makes a difference to you. It's not gratuitous violence. I don't care for books like that.

Beyond the exposition of human psychology on forgiveness and love, See also weaves in the mysticism of the island landscape of Jeju. The folklore and superstitions are characters of their own. From the village to the caves, you are pulled into the Jeju world from the 1930s to 2008, from Japanese occupation to Los Angeles.

This is another stunner from See. I think I might need to re-read The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane* next. And I need to see if she has published anything else recently. But I devoured this book in just two days. Now I am ready to lend it to someone. Jenn? Denise?

On the Plate

Food, for the haeneyo, is both functional and ceremonial. They always share a meal before they head out on the boats; and they make special dishes to honor their gods.

"'I call on all the gods and goddesses of Jeju,' Shaman Kim beckoned. 'We welcome Yeongdeung, the goddess of the wind. We welcome all ancestors and spirits who accompany her. ...Embrace the beauty of our island. ...Offerings of fruit, bowls of rice, dried fish and squid, bottles of homemade liquor, and hard-boiled eggs spilled across the makeshift altar" (pg. 268).

"When Dr. Park finally came to my house, I invited him to sit and poured him a bowl of rice wine. The low table was already set with side dishes: kimchee, pickled beans, lotus root, boiled squash, sliced black pig,  salted damselfish, spiced bracken, and boiled, seasoned, and slivered sea cucumber" (pg. 288).

I thought about tracking down some lotus root as I did when I made Ling Ngau Tong (Lotus Root and Nut Soup) a  couple of years ago.

"I found her in the kitchen preparing Joon-lee's welcome-home meal. A wall was stacked with earthenware jars, filled with homemade pickled radishes, sauces, and pastes.  To me, those jars were like stacks of gold bars, representing how far I'd brought my family" (pg. 323).

Pickled radishes and kimchee come out of my kitchen I wanted to make something new to us. I stopped at a local-to-me Korean market and saw canned whelk. What?!? Okay, I am always up for a culinary adventure. I bought that can and did some research as to how to use it. I did have lots of Korean banchan on-hand, so I didn't really cook anything for this; I just assembled this delicious, hearty salad.

Ingredients serves 4
  • 1 can canned whelk, drained and rinsed
  • 1 Tablespoon red pepper chile paste
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup kimchee, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup pickled bean sprouts
  • 1/4 cup pickled julienned daikon
  • 1/4 cup pickled julienned carrots
  • 1/2 cup seaweed salad
  • 2 cups rice noodles, soaked according to package directions
  • sesame oil


You can chop the whelks into smaller pieces, but I left them whole for the effect!

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together red pepper chile paste, brown sugar, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. Stir in the pickled bean sprouts, kimchee, and whelks. Toss to combine with the sauce.

In another bowl, toss the prepared noodles with sesame oil to coat. Divide the noodles between 4 individual serving dishes. Top with the whelk mixture.

Garnish each bowl with seaweed salad and pickled daikon and carrots. Serve immediately.

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in March 2021: here.


  1. Great recipe. I can't believe you found canned whelk. I am just starting the book. Hope to get into it more this weekend.

  2. OK---that is adventurous! Loved this book. I doubt I get a foodie angle post up for it but I do have a recipe for kimchi pancakes that I am dying to try.


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