Too difficult to choose an appropriate quote to capture the tireless work and dedication of this elderly husband and wife team—both in their 80s—who have been making handmade sesame and perilla seed oil for over 50 years. Like many of the older mom and pop restaurants, they’re also being left behind in a time that pushes modernity over tradition. The pandemic has only exacerbated the situation.
Sensing a defeated voice while talking to the halaboji about his business, I decided to do my small part by not only promoting his little shop near Seodaemun Independence Park, but offering to deliver his set of oils to anyone living in Korea. Gift-wrapped and delivered straight to your doorstep via courier, these are essentials oil in Korean cuisine and would also make a nice gift for the upcoming holidays. For the many who have reached out stateside, I might be able to take on a few double-set orders, but I need to see if domestic orders reach their destinations without issues first. If you’re seriously interested in a double order set, let me know and I’ll pencil you in for a possible future order.
Sesame oil vs Perilla oil: According to the halaboji, sesame oil is usually reserved for stir-frying meats while perilla oil is reserved for vegetables and greens. Sesame oil is the more fragrant of the two, which means it’s a good oil to finish off dishes, including many namul banchan (plant-based side dishes) and salads. Both oils are extracted from toasted seeds, which means it has a relatively low smoke point and must not be used for deep-frying. Keep in a cool, dark place for up to six months (perilla) and one-two years (sesame).
Full transparency: absolutely no money is being made off of these sales. Sesame oil 12,000 won + perilla oil 11,000 won + delivery roughly 5,000 won + packaging/labeling 2,000 won + my time 0 won. Please DM for details or inquiries.
Again, thank you to everyone who has ordered and reached out for support. It really means a lot to the elderly couple who have enjoyed a surprising uptick in business—especially the other day when they sold most of their bottles to me and another regular customer who bought 16 total bottles of sesame and perilla oil.
When asked why she was a long-time customer, she replied, “For people who have never had freshly made sesame and perilla oil, the difference is incomparable to the commercial ones you buy in the store. It’s very aromatic and earthy, making everything it touches that much better. Every time I come here, I let them know in advance because I want it right after it’s pressed. They‘re even kind enough to give me the remaining block of seeds after it’s pressed, which can be used as fertilizer for plants and trees.”
Besides being more and more smitten with Becker with every visit, the halaboji has been educating (and enlightening) me on the history and business aspect of procuring the precious sesame and perilla seeds. In his own words, this will possibly answer some of the messages that have included the word “artisanal” to describe the shop’s freshly-pressed oils—which I believe to be mostly true with the exception of an artisanal price tag.
“Back when we first started over 50 years ago, we only used domestic seeds and gradually, over the years, the supply went down while the prices went up. Even when we tried to order domestic seeds, at the request of customers, they wouldn’t supply any to us and kept it for themselves. For that reason, we had to look at other options to keep business afloat, trying everything from Indian to Pakistani seeds. We eventually settled on seeds from China, which is comparable to domestic seeds. Most people wouldn’t even notice the difference between the two. But, imported seeds have a pronounced nutty and aromatic flavor at the end of tasting while domestic seeds you’ll get that at the beginning. We’d like to get our hands on some domestic seeds, but they’re only available to a few who are willing to pay a lot of money for them. Even with imported seeds to reduce cost, we don’t make much of a profit because seed prices always increase over time but we have to keep our prices constant. This one bag of sesame seed (30 kg) costs about 200,000 won. If the entire bag was pressed, it would result in 40 bottles. When you factor in operating costs and labor and the glass bottles themselves, there’s really not much remaining—especially when we don’t even sell 40 bottles a day. But that’s okay. As long as it’s enough to support me and my wife without being a burden to our kids, we’re fine with it.”
Haedong Gireum Jip 해동기름집
Address: 63-9 Muak-dong Jongro-gu (종로구 무악동 63-9)
Hours: Open every day 9:00 am ~ 9:00 pm except Sundays
Click here for an interactive map: http://naver.me/FyeZ8HKa