Of all the meals I’ve eaten in Seoul, this particular grilled fish meal is by far the most special and memorable.
That’s due in part to the fact that you can hardly find fish, grilled or otherwise, in Seoul (not counting Japanese sashimi restaurants). You mostly only see pork, beef, chicken, octopus and cuttlefish.
The other part is that it’s so delicious it made a fish-hater (me) order extra servings and then clean every last bit of flesh off the bones.
You can smell the fragrance of barbequed fish meat even before you see the row of eateries semi-hidden in a small alley in the middle of seemingly nowhere.
That’s because they grill the fish right out in the open.
Okay, I’m not exactly a fish-hater but, of all meats, fish is my least favourite and I avoid it whenever I can. Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy the occasional fish and chips and salmon sashimi. But fish is repulsive to me most of the time because it either tastes fishy or like seawater.
So believe me when I say this fish is really good. It was so good we went back there again two days later.
The two outlets that we visited had staff who could speak Mandarin, so that was pretty helpful. But even then, you don’t really need much communication. You just look at the different kinds of fish available on the grill, then point at the ones you want. They’ll then usher you in to sit down and serve you your meal shortly.
First, you get rice and side dishes, which are all free of charge and, I assume, free flow. They only charge you for the fish, which costs about KRW6,000 (S$6.90) each.
One medium-sized fish per person is quite enough, we found. We ordered these two for starters.
They were well-marinated, a bit on the salty side but not overly so for my taste buds.
The one on the bottom was some kind of mackerel, I think? The flesh was tender and juicy, very fresh and free from bad fish odours, but with the buttery fragrance of fish oil that makes you crave more with every bite.
The one on the top, I don’t know what fish it was but I loved it as much. It didn’t have the buttery fish oil taste but the meat was very soft and fluffy and went well with the salty marinade. They give you wasabi and soy sauce to dip your fish in but I didn’t need it at all.
It was such an amazing meal we felt compelled to order another fish even though we weren’t hungry anymore.
This third fish tasted a bit like mackerel, quite buttery, but with a thicker, more chewy texture.
We finished every last bit and swore to go back again.
But our clothes and hair smelled smokey and fishy after that. Each time the door opened, the smoke from the grill rushed into the store and had nowhere to go because the ventilation wasn’t that good, so we got smoked quite a bit.
And because the outlet enjoyed really good business, the door opened and closed a lot.
If you do visit the place, and you should, just be mindful that you’ll be smelling a bit afterwards.
Our second visit was a bit disappointing. We decided to try the neighbour outlet. This meal with a normal boring fish meal. The fish was dry and a bit too salty with no awesome buttery fragrance. And they didn’t serve it to us steaming hot like the first place did.
But it was just as cheap. This meal (above) only cost us KRW12,000 (S$13.70). (Our first meal was KRW17,000 but there was more meat, overall.)
In any case, if you come to Seoul, you must come try the fish.
How To Get There
Take the Line 1 subway and stop at Jongno 5(o)-ga Station, exiting at Exit 5.
Outside the station, walk straight past an endless row of pharmacies. You will pass by two tiny alleys and one big alley on your right. Turn right into the fourth alley and walk for maybe 80 metres or so until you get to a junction where the left and right split into separate eating alleys.
Take the left one, which looks like this:
Walk down the alley until you reach almost the end. That’s when you’ll start seeing all the fish eateries.
The one you should patronise is this one where there’s a plaque with photos that look like they’re cut out from magazines or maybe screenshots of TV, I’m not too sure.
The neighbour on the left also has a similar sort of plaque, so just make sure to choose the one on the right (when you’re facing the store entrance).
But I’m quite sure the other outlets also serve pretty decent meals. The second we went to wasn’t that bad, but probably just made worse in comparison to the first.
I’m quite tempted to go back a third time before returning to Singapore!