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Mar 5, 2007 06:35 AM

Korean vs. Japanese sushi [split from L.A. board]

This topic was split from its original location on the Los Angeles board: -The Chowhound Team
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I'm terribly conflicted about Korean sushi places -- O-dae-san sounds marvelous, but I can't get the image of the scrappy Korean restaurant owners waiting until 7am or 8am, hours and hours after the freshest catch has been gobbled up by the better sushi bars, to make a killing ramming down the prices on the scraps.

Tell me it ain't so... ? I genuinely don't know if it's the same out here as in, say, NYC.

Needless to say, places like Sa Rit Gol and Soot Bull Jeep and Yongsusan are among my favorite places in the universe to eat, and yes I have had the good fortune to visit Seoul.

That article by Gold is, in fact, pure gold. I used to refer to it often.

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  1. That is an understandable misconception. Japanese sushi deserves a high level of fastidiousness in its sourcing and preparation. It's an amazing cuisine that I say is best handled by its originators. I've never been to O-dae-san, but my guess is that in addition to Japanese sushi, they serve raw fished prepared the Korean way. My suggestion is that you if you find yourself in a Korean establishment, ask it.

    Korean "sushi" is a bit of a misnomer. The Japanese sushi craze has hit Korea like it has everywhere else, but it is a relatively recent phenomenon. Like in many cultures, Koreans have been enjoying raw fish for a long time. We don't call it sushi, we just call it hwe, which is the word for fish. "Sushi", especially the type served with rice and seaweed, is a very Japanese-type preparation.

    Koreans often serve raw fish in a different manner. They usually take a very large fish (usually a whitefish) sometimes straight from a tank at the restaurant. Wherever it's from, you can be assured that it is fresh, because of the naked way in which it is served. You can also order tuna and yellowtail. The problem with this, however, is that you might run into the problem that ttriche mentioned above. Indeed, when there is only a finite amount of tuna for a given city, you will have to bid for it against all your competitors early in the morning.

    Anyway, i feel the lighter, less fatty fishes are better for the way Koreans eat it. These fish may not be as rare as toro belly meat or a nice yellowtail, but the fact is that these fish, when served just out of a tank, can often taste better than something that's been shipped overseas and seen some freezing time. Sometimes they let you pick the fish. They slice it up into thin translucent slivers, and arrange it on a very big platter, which is then placed in the center of the table for everyone to share.

    Although there is soy sauce on the side, the best condiment for this is hot red, fermented bean paste. If you have never had raw fish dipped in this paste, you are in for a real treat. Also on the side will be raw vegetables and other condiments. Rice isn't served unless asked for. Alcohol is a must. This is not a meal to be enjoyed alone. It is an experience, with friends or clients, involving lots of beer and soju.

    If you go to any seaside town in Korea (and there's a lot of them since its a peninsula), you will see raw seafood being eaten in all manner--live urchins sitting in plastic buckets, caught earlier that morning by the fisherman, until some old grandmother/proprietor picks the ones that you want and slices them open right in front of you. It's an awesome experience. And it's really cheap. Abalone, all types of seafish, shellfish, all swimming in these big plastic buckets kind of haphazardly crowding every available spot. Sometimes it's just barely a plastic canopy, with plastic chairs and tables. They promise two things, though: fresh fish and plenty of alcohol.

    3 Replies
    1. re: awl

      Thank you for your incredibly informative and thorough post! I learned quite a bit.

      1. re: awl

        My personal experience with eating "sushi" (sashimi?) in Korea....

        A friend of mine took me to a low standing concrete building in Songtan-Si, near Osan Air Base. Inside the building were low, about a foot high, concrete tanks filled with water and a group of flat fish swimming around.

        We sat down, ordered our meal, and the staff pulled a fish, took it in the back, where it was killed and filleted. The fish was brought out to us. It was on a bed of thinly shredded cabbage, with sides of Soy sauce and Gochu jang (red pepper paste). The fish was thinly sliced, sashimi style.

        I forget if it also came with lettuce leaves ala' Sam Gyup Sal (that dish were you pile a little bacon, bean paste, rice on a lettuce leaf, and eat the whole thing in one bite) or not.

        The food was good, not great, I think you have to have some appreciation for the health aspects of this dish to fully appreciate it. I remember asking my friend if where she was taking me was "good", and she said it was very healthy. Which was the stock answer I got for any query I made of some new restaurant. "Is it good?" "It is very healthy!".

        I am assuming that this was a traditional Korean raw fish joint. It definitely had no menu, it was one of quite a few places I came across in Korea which served one thing, and one thing only. And Koreans would go there to get that one thing. usually based on the time of the season, or the current weather conditions, or some need based on personal health...

        1. re: awl

          I lived and worked for two years in the largest port city in Korea, Busan. Sushi had been my favorite food for thirty years prior to going to Korea. Immediately on arrival Koreans took me to eat hwe, Korean style raw fish. The fish is served fresh. At the seaside sea food markets there are restaurants where you can pick your fish, my favorite is "domi (sea bream") another is gwanga, (Olive flounder) . The fish is sliced and served within ten minutes of being slaughtered. It is hard to watch your meal being killed but the fish is so fresh. After over 2 and 1/2 years in Korea and eating raw fish on a weekly basis, I returned to the states and have found that sushi tastes bland and like cardboard by comparison. I still eat it but I miss fresh Korean Hwe.

          Sushi is served after sitting in a refrigerator for a few hours and after rigor mortis has set it. As a result sushi tastes different than hwe. It is a little more chewy but to me more flavorful.

          If you love raw fish, you really should try some freshly killed domi (sea bream). It is truly a wonderful experience. It, to my mind beats the best maguro or hamachi which used to be my favorite raw fish.

        2. The fish at Odaesan is of fine quality, but beware that the one or two kinds of tuna they serve you will be frozen. I don't mean really cold, I don't mean frosted over, I mean FROZEN.

          99%, if not more, of the sushi grade fish we see in most American restaurants are flash frozen at some point. Yes, they still taste fresh. Yes, this happens at even your beloved $100/pp omakase places in Los Angeles and NYC. But this isn't what I'm talking about. I'm talking about being serve cold, hard fish. Some like it that way, obviously, or they wouldn't serve it like that. Me, I can't get over it.

          Apparently, there are many Korean restaurants that do this, not just Odaesan in LA.

          1. Again, a reminder:

            sushi = "su" (vinegared) + "shi" (rice from "meshi")
            sashimi = raw fish or seafood

            5 Replies
            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              And how the hell did Chilli and Macaroni become American Chop Suey?

              Korean sushi = raw fish with hot fermented bean paste... I guess stranger things have happened. This isn't a rant against any Korean food - just the way we Americans grok and morph food names from everywhere and anywhere into whatever we feel like using.

              But I never did understand how you're supposed to eat rice from a small metal bowl without picking the darn thing up!

              1. re: applehome

                How recent is the phenomenon of Koreans making maki with various Korean and Japanese picked vegetables? I seem to see it or at least have heard of it in Korean places around here.

                1. re: Blueicus

                  I have heard that Kimbap or Gimbap [Korean Maki] first made its appearance at the beginning of the last century during the Japanese occupation of Korea after the Sino-Japanese War.

                  I would recommend you to check out Zenkimchi and maryeats foodblogs. They can provide a wealth of knowledge in regard to kimbap.

                  Despite working at a Japanese restaurant, I secretly like kimbap better than traditional Japanese maki. My favorite is when it has the bulgogi meat, omelette, takuan (dakuan), and spinach. I like the flavor of the sesame oil & salt rice seasoning better than the sushi 'su' or sweetened vinegar.

                2. re: applehome

                  ...sorry, but I'd have to disagree with you on "Korean experience" requiring the addition of fermented bean paste and the making everything difficult by leaving a receptacle of food on the table-- that's what tables are for, right?

                  1. re: applehome

                    you don't pick up the metal bowl. You leave it on the table and eat the rice with a spoon.

                    Plus, you don't really see metal bowls that much - they are used more in "fast food" type restaurants in korea. At home, most koreans use ceramic...but they still leave the bowl on the table.

                3. sorry to bump this up, but I wanted to say that korean sashimi is korean and korean sushi is usually more japanese.

                  Korean sashimi is sliced thicker than the japanese version, and we dip it in chojang. I have never dipped it into dwaengjang paste...sounds like it would be good though. Korean sashimi is also wrapped in ggaenip (similar to shiso leaf) and a slice of jalapeno or raw garlic can also be added.

                  even though koreans and japanese both eat raw fish, I think that the condiments and methods of eating are completely different. Also like awl said, korean sashimi should always be served with an ice cold bottle of soju.

                  koreans also eat sea urchin, squid, and sea squirts raw and I have all had them served with chojang.

                  oh and isn't kimbap not considered sushi, because there is no vinegar added to the rice? Kimbap reminds me of a roll that japanese people eat so maybe that is where the koreans got it from? I think the japanese put takuan, gobo, carrots, and some gourd strips in theirs.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: bitsubeats

                    Gimbap is an adaptation of makizushi from the colonial period, but it's not Japanese food so it's not considered sushi. That's like asking if a burrito is considered a crepe.

                    Some comments on previous posts...

                    In some parts of Seoul I've seen "cho bap" used as the term for sushi, but that's just the korean pronunciation of the hanja/kanji for "sushi" (i.e. vinegar rice) much like maekju/mugishu. Most sushi restaurants I saw in Seoul the last time I was there use "sushi" in their names.

                    I used to think hwe (seoul standard is "hoi" i believe) meant "raw" as i'd often see "saengseon hoi" as well as "yuk hoi" (raw beef and egg) on menus, but i just looked it up and it apparently it means sliced fish or minced meat. which confuses me as "saengseon hoi" would be "fish sliced fish." I guess that would make sense as "yuk hoi" is "beef minced meat"...

                    Interestingly, the hanja for "hoi" is the same as the one used for "namasu" in japanese... which is a dish supposedly imported from China during the Heian period.

                    The style of slicing fish into "thin translucent slivers, and arrang[ing] it on a very big platter" is called "usuzukuri" (thinly sliced) in Japanese. It's mostly done with shiromidane and I almost always see it as a course in those expensive ass fugu extravaganzas.

                    Proper Korean etiquette entails you not lifting your bowl while eating. I've been scolded (and scalded) before.

                    According to Andrei Lankov (NK studies prof), the whole makizushi/gimbap thing began during the colonial period.

                    One thing I noticed is that Koreans, especially in Busan, LOVE their chewy seafood. Squid and chewy fishes everywhere! So that might be one of the reasons you'd get almost frozen fish at a Korean sushiya... more of that chewy texture. It might also explain the use of chojang... if you can't taste the fish in the first place 'cause it's near frozen you're not really losing anything by eating it with vinegar and gochujang.

                    If you're ever in Seoul, the Korean word for "takuan" is "danmuji." My ex-gf has been scolded about that one.

                    If anyone wants to look up ggaenip like I did, it's plant genus is "perilla." Sweet, something new to eat.

                    1. re: uchinanchu

                      ggaenip is almost the same thing as shiso, I think? I have never had shiso, but I think they come from the same species

                      My mother is from uijeongbu and she and I still say a lot of the korean takuan packages say "takuan" on it. I know that Koreans try to distance themselves from the Japanese with a lot of words, but that's just hard to do. I always notice a huge similarity between korean and japanese food words-which is very interesting

                    2. re: bitsubeats

                      Kimbop (gimbap) is definitely not sushi. Anything can be and is rolled in kimbop. The most traditional version uses sliced fishcake (odang?) and a korean sausage similar to a frank or hot dog. The other most common ingredients are pickled daikon, fresh spinach, sliced omelet style egg, and maybe cucumber. It can also included steamed or lighltly stir fried carrot slivers, garlic, kimchi, bulgogi, spicy pork, sesame leaves, etc.

                      1. re: hannaone

                        Seoul standard romanization would be "odaeng," but i usually see it spelled "odeng." it's an adopted word from the Japanese "oden" (although, I think odeng in Korea has come to mean the fishcake [eomuk] instead of the entire nabe).

                        You're kind of defeating your own argument with those first few examples... pickled daikon is takuan, sliced omelette style egg would be tamagoyaki... all things found in makizushi. It's not necessarily the ingredients that differentiate the two (my mom used to put spam or vienna sausages in hers).

                        As a lifetime eater of both, the two defining differences between gimbap and makizushi as I see it would be 1) the use of gim (with its salt and sesame oil) instead of nori, and 2) the lack of vinegar mixed in with the rice.

                        1. re: uchinanchu

                          I left out the rice seasoned with sesame oil/seed instead of vinegar.
                          Isn't the takuan somewhat less salty and sour than the Korean version?
                          And yes most Koreans I know refer to the flat baked or fried fishcake as odaeng.

                    3. I wish that there was a greater distinction here in the Boston area. There is no Korea town or any strong concentration of Koreans, but there are numerous Japanese restaurants that are run by Koreans and serve mainly Japanese foods with bim bim bap. Or there are Korean places that have full Korean menus that serve Japanese sushi/sashimi. Clearly, Korean sushi deserves to be recognized as a cuisine of its own.

                      Most of what I'm reading here tells me that this is happening in LA. Do people in NYC also see this happening, perhaps in Korea-town?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: applehome

                        I'm from boston as well (originally from md) and they serve korean hwe at restaurants in maryland. You just have to have a big market for it, and to tell you the truth there aren't that many koreans here in the area.

                        If you are really interested in trying the korean style sashimi experience, I would say to have it at home. I have never had it at a restaurant, rather I eat it when I visit my parents in Maryland during the summer. I am going to see them in a month and a half and I can't wait for my sashimi/spicy fish soup/soju experience.

                        If you want to do it at home, I can tell you all the ingredients that you need. its actually pretty damn simple

                        1. re: bitsubeats

                          I know this is old, but Sheena...I hope you've tried Korean Sashimi at a proper Korean Hwe Jip by now...the expierience is nothing like what you get at home; there's just no way to replicate that kind of dining experience in a home setting. Think Korean BBQ but with twice the sides, much more substatantial, and mostly seafood based. It's a seafood orgy like you've never experience elsewhere.