Tongyeong is a coastal city located within Hallyeohaesang National Park. For many years, the city has been the center of the marine industry in Korea, and this shows through the main dishes of Tongyeong. The city is often called the Napoli of Korea, with its beautiful landscapes and traditional crafts. It is also near popular travel destinations such as Busan, Geoje, and Namhae, making it a great addition to your itinerary.
Mother-of-pearl inlay products are made in a variety of patterns and designs using the shells of abalone, clam, and turban shell. The city of Tongyeong, being almost completely surrounded by water, is the perfect location for this traditional artform to flourish. However, having an abundance of raw materials is not enough; every craft must have a dedicated craftsman. There are around 25 steps required to make a single mother-of-pearl inlay item, with some items taking up to a year to complete.
Up until recently, because of the difficulty in making these beautiful items, the craft was only applied to large, expensive items, such as cabinets or desks. These days, the same skills are being applied to smaller daily living items. At Jihyang Studio, you can find mother-of-pearl decorated items such as cups, trays, clocks, or picture frames. Each show the skills and artistry of the master craftsmen.
Tongyeong’s Ottchil Art Museum was founded by Mr. Kim Sungsoo as a space to promote the local craft of lacquer ware, called ottchil in Korean. Before the founding of the museum, there was nowhere for tourists to see a collection of lacquer ware art pieces using mother-of-pearl inlay in Korea. The museum showcases how the traditional craft of ottchil can maintain its fundamental elements while being used in contemporary forms.
The museum giftshop has many beautiful items for sale, ranging from dining sets to artistic brooches and accessories. They also sell maesil tea and coffee; imagine enjoying a beverage from a unique, cone-shaped lacquer ware cup while taking in the view of the sea from the museum window!
Most people have a specific brand that comes to mind when they hear the term “luxury good.” This brand usually has a long history of quality work, taking special care of each and every individual detail. There are many outstanding goods created by master craftsmen in Tongyeong, but Tongyeong Nubi (traditional quilting) stands a head above the rest.
Nubi uses many tiny stitches to bond two pieces of fabric together with a quilt batting layer sandwiched inbetween, making the items stronger and warmer. In the past, nubi clothing was worn by many professions for as many reasons; soldiers wore nubi clothing to stop arrows while fishermen wore it to stop the piercing sea winds. Almost everyone used nubi blankets in the winter.
Tongyeong Nubi in particular is made by hand, making sure the tension of the top and bottom threads are perfectly matched for an unbreakable hold. These days nubi is applied to many items, including handbags, pouches, and wallets. Mindeulle Nubi, located within Seoho Market, offers many of these artfully designed items.
The downtown area of Tongyeong has many cute and colorful attractions, foremost of which is Dongpirang Village, located on the hill behind Tongyeong Jungang Market. Each of the houses that make up the village are decorated in unique murals. As you make your way to the peak, you’ll find yourself stopping again and again for photos.
On the other side of Tongyeong Jungang Market is Seopirang Village. In comparison with Dongpirang Village, Seopirang is a calm and quiet village. The park in the center of the village has a well maintained walking path, perfect for a leisure stroll; the view from the peak includes all of Tongyeong and the bustling harbor down below.
Yi Sun-Sin Park was created to celebrate Admiral Yi, who won many naval battles during the Imjin War (1592-1598). The park is located right on the coast, offering beautiful vistas with every step. The park is popluar among family visitors, with the wooden deck making walking here easy for everyone.
Althought the entirety of Tongyeong could be considered a seafood distribution center, at the center of it all is Tongyeong Jungang Market. Located between Dongpirang and Seopirang Villages, the market is a must for any traveler’s itinerary. The vendors sell the freshest seafoods, including live and dried fish, and locally grown vegetables. You’re guaranteed to eat some tasty foods here!
Tongyeong is famous for its coastal scenery; Tongyeong Cable Car is the best way to get unobstructed views of the sea and islands. It is currently the longest general tourist cable car in the nation. Don’t forget to check out the view from the skywalk observation deck.
If you’re looking for a bit more speed, visit Tongyeong Skyline Luge. The skyride takes riders up to the starting point at the top of the hill, giving plenty of time to take in the scenery and the course below. There are two courses to choose from, and the speed of the luge cart can be controlled by the rider. People not wishing to try the luge can always take the skyride back to the base. The luge course is also brightly lit at night, so riders can safely play even after the sun sets. After enjoying the thrilling ride, stop by the giftshop for a souvenier such as a hat, water bottle, or magnet.
Many of the local dishes in Tongyeong use seafood, including the quintessential dish of Tongyeong, Chungmu gimbap! The dish was a common meal prepared by fishermen’s wives at a time when the city of Tongyeong was known as Chungmu.
Due to the nature of their jobs, there was never a set time when fishermen would have lunch. To prevent the dish from going bad, their wives would prepare the laver-wrapped rice and the fillings separately. The fishermen would then eat the two halfs together when they had time. The spicy gabojingeo muchim (octopus salad) goes great with the plain white rice.
Another classic food of Tongyeong is ppaettegi juk, a porridge made from dried sweet potato. The dish started out in a hard time when people had very little money for food. These days, people will search out restaurants selling ppaettegijuk for a taste of their childhood. The porridge has a very light sweet taste that goes great with the added millet and kidney beans.
Some restaurants in Tongyeong operate as dajji dining, where the meal is ordered based on the number of people and served with alcohol. The menu usually focuses on seafood, and can change depending on what ingredients are available and what the chef feels like cooking that day.
Dajji has become so popular that most dajji restaurants require a reservation in order to experience this unique local culture. Try to keep up with the flow of tasty seafood dishes, from juk (porridge) to hoe (sliced raw fish), jeon (pancakes), gejang (marinated crabs), gui (grilled fish), jogae jjim (steamed clams) and more.
Oysters are among the best of all Tongyeong’s specality products. There are many ways to enjoy Tongyeong oysters, from dipping raw oysters in cho gochujang (Korean chili paste with vinegar) to gul jeon (pan-fried oysters), gul muchim (oyster salad), and gul gukbap (rice soup with oysters). Oysters are low in fat and calories, making them great for people on a diet.
Tongyeong’s version of the popular bibimbap dish of rice with mixed vegetables includes a topping of thinly sliced and salted meongge (sea pineapple). Meongge bibimbap can be found in many places, but you can’t get it any fresher than in Tongyeong!
Honey bread is a local specialty that can be found at nearly all the markets in Tongyeong. The sticky, chewy bread covers a red bean filling that counterbalances the sweetness of the honey coating. There are a variety of additional filling, such as sweet potato or cream cheese. Most shops in front of the market offer samples, so be sure to try a variety before making your choice!
There are many cafés in Tongyeong with views of the sea, including J Made, a café with a rooftop to get that one step closer to the sea. It is famous for serving delicious drinks and treats as well, including the signature Noeul, lemonade, and einspanner. Even a simple Americano becomes something special when drinking it on the terrace as you take in the view.
* This column was last updated in May 2019, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details before visiting.