North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
Schisandra chinensis. Yes, difficult to pronounce but as one can guess, it has its roots in China. The viny-plant produces a rich berry that is beloved for its five different taste sensations and its herbal/medicinal properties. With various practical uses including its use in teas and even wine, it has a modern day application that you can enjoy today if you know where to look. I had such an opportunity in the remote city of Myungyeong, nestled amid lush green forests spanning rolling mountains and hills that make this a spectacular visual landscape in North Gyeongsang Province.
On my way to visit some tourist sights, I came across this tiny cafe at the base of the town site before the long trek up past some re-created rural villages that were even used for present day movies and television sets, and up into some of the nearby hills. It was a brutally hot and humid day so a rest was needed even before the hour long journey that I was about to embark on. Spotting several people lined outside, I knew I had to check it out and find out what the commotion was all about. So here I present to you, the Omija Cafe.
Omija, is the Korean word for these particular berries. Most often, it is made into a hot tea, accompanied by some pine nuts to give it some added nutty flavor. But as it was summer, this cafe offered it as a straight up juice. Pictured above, you can see right away how vibrant in color this product is. How does it taste you ask? Well, I’d say its somewhat similar to a cranberry juice, though less tart and perhaps a faint touch of spiciness. Overall, sweet in flavor but not overwhelmingly sugary. Smooth in texture, not pulpy at all, it was very easy to drink especially ice cold.
There was a mini museum and gift shop next door as well, that had other products made from this berry, as well as some displays describing the history of the region and its omija agricultural industry.
As I’d mentioned, this stop was just the beginning of my visit. I even ventured into the cool river that flowed up into the hills and took in an instant fast flowing natural river jetbath, which was amazingly refreshing! Good thing I had brought my swim trunks. I felt like a wild bear sitting in the middle of a streaming natural stream, cooling off. The nearby replicated ancient villages were also quite the sight to take in. You could see how the people of that era might have lived, with all the different areas representing various trades and functions. An outdoor theme park in a way, without any fake costumed performers. If it were not for the incredible heat, I might have stayed around longer, before heading back to Seoul…