By Somrouthai Sapsomboon
SWEET… sweet strawberries! One of the best ways to enjoy Korea’s romantic winter scenes is to experience strawberry picking at the farms and taste some of the delicious desserts featuring the seductive strawberry as the star.
During a trip to Seoul last month, I took time out to visit Gapyeong, a popular weekend getaway from Seoul and tourist destination. A gateway to Nami island, which is best known as the setting of the much-loved Korean drama “Winter Sonata” and home to Petite France, a theme park featuring small European-style buildings surrounded by mountains and a lake, the area is also attracting both local and foreign visitors eager to pick – and nibble on – strawberries
Gapyeong native Ji Won Bae, 39, left his engineering job with an automobile company in Seoul two years ago to set up the Gapyeong Strawberry Experience Farm. He has three greenhouses where he grows organic strawberries in long plots and elevated trays.
Bae greets visitors personally and after sharing some facts about strawberries, shows you how to find the best ones. You then take your basket – thoughtfully provided by the farm – and make your way round the greenhouse picking those that are deliciously ripe. Visitors tend to prefer the elevated trays, as they are easier to reach and have the advantage of enabling you to sample the goodies without cleaning them first.
Unlike many farmers, Bae does not supply his fruit to retail distributors such as markets, department stores and discount stores. He prefers to meet his consumers in person and spend time with them as they enjoy the fruits of his labour.
Gapyeong Strawberry Experience Farm is understandably a popular destination for students as well as tourists. Kindergartens often take their young charges along for the day, not least because the entrance fee is a very reasonable 10,000 won (Bt300). Adults and children over the age of seven pay 15,000 won while groups of 20 pay 12,000 won. Kids under three get in free.
Adjacent to the province of Gangwon-do, the city of Gapyeong in Gyeonggi-do is surrounded by mountains and a river. It’s easily accessible from Seoul via the Gyeongchunseon Subway Line 7 from Sangbong Station. Exiting at Cheongnyangni Station, visitors can board the ITX Cheongchun train, which arrives in Gapyeong 40 minutes later.
Another strawberry farm easily accessible from Seoul is Seng Seng in Yangpyeong county owned by Kim Gi Chun. Five years ago, Chun, 52, and her husband decided to transform their vegetable plots into a strawberry farm in the hope of generating more income. It seems to have worked, with the number of Korean and foreign visitors growing steadily each year.
Here you can do more than just pick the fruit. The friendly staff are happy to demonstrate how to make a tasty strawberry cake while offering a variety of dishes and drinks including a strawberry smoothie, Bingsu strawberry (shaved ice with strawberries), strawberry fondue, and even strawberry pizza.
Just one hour by car from Seoul, Yangpyeong is largely undeveloped. Well on its way to becoming an eco-city, it is also referred to as Greentopia and offers breathtaking scenery, cycling along the Bukhan River and a chance to explore the rich farming land that produces safe and eco-friendly foods.
The number of strawberry farms in South Korea has grown significantly in recent years, says Calvin Oh, president of the Korean Strawberry Association, and strawberry-picking tours are particularly popular with tourists as they offer the chance to sample organic fruit. This has a knock-on effect when they return to their home countries as they will make a point of buying South Korean strawberries.
Locally known as dal-ki, the country produces two species, namely Mae-Kyang and Seoul-Hyang. Today Korea is among the top five strawberry-producing countries in the world with total exports valued at US$33 million in 2015.
And visitors who time their trips for April can visit the Nonsan Strawberry Festival. The town, located in Chungcheongnam-do, is the largest strawberry producer in Korea and is accessible by train from Seoul.
In Thailand, Korean strawberries are available at Tops, The Mall’s Gourmet markets and Villa Market.
IF YOU GO
Strawberry picking is available from December through June. Farm admission fees vary from 12,000 to 25,000 won.