Garlic! The Festival


Namhae, Korea knows how to celebrate one of nature’s most delicious offerenings, festival style.

Photo by Michael Johnstone

Photo by Michael Johnstone

It’s a sweltering Sunday in Namhae, in the far south of the Korean peninsula. Crowds are gathering under white tents seeking relief from the heat, while large open barbecues slowly grill fish in the open air. It seems that all of Namhae has come out for the garlic festival that celebrates their largest crop.

The region is one of three in Korea that is famous for its garlic products.  Across the relentless mountains ranges that form the geography of most of the country, scores of garlic fields, more than most will see in a lifetime. On a tangential note, Namhae happens to be the home of Lost character Jin Soo-Kwon, who was one of the best characters on the series.

Straight off the bus we are directed to the Namhae Garlic Research Institute. At first there is some chuckling at the very notion of such a facility. Rather quickly we realize how serious Namhae is about garlic. From cancer treatment research to beauty productions, to male stamina products to garlic stem beverages, garlic is revered in this region. We’re introduced to the director of the institute, and are greeted by the mayor of Namhae, who takes takes advantage of a rare photo op: four buses comprising of 170 foreigners, all here to learn about the pride of his town.

We are led out of the institute into the sprawling fields of rice, cactus, and of course, garlic. We’ve been given the opportunity to harvest our own garlic; as much as we wish to take home and share with friends. And the swarm of eager foreigners descend upon the field, nearly picking an entire section clean in a 20 minute period. The horde emerges, each with a large, bulging bag of fresh garlic bulbs over their shoulder.

Photo by Michael Johnstone

Photo by Michael Johnstone

The festival is lively, the rows of tents being perused by families, each one displaying a remarkable variety of garlic products. Jellies, candies, beverages–all of which are surprisingly delicious. Not far from the tents, in the bay, children and parents ride what appear to be makeshift paddle-boats through the water under the comical gaze of a garlic family.

It’s another weekend in Namhae, the quiet island chain by the sea. It’s the perfect escape from the capital’s traffic and noise. And all in the praise of the small bulb that has found a solid home in the Korean palate.

 

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