By YOUNGSEO JHE, ANDREA KWON
Once we opened the door, the warm atmosphere of the restaurant welcomed us. Posters and pictures of sushi lined the walls and signatures and photographs of famous Korean celebrities who visited the place hung on the edges. With old-school wooden chairs and tables, the restaurant looked more warming and friendly. Hot udon helped us forget about cold winter wind as we waited for our plate of sushi to arrive.
The demand for sushi has recently been on the rise, especially in Korea. In fact, this meal choice has become so popular that it is nearly impossible to eat at fancy restaurants without making reservations beforehand. The Japanese are often credited for inventing this delightful mix of seafood and rice. Although it is true that they were the first to combine fermented rice and preserved fish into a single dish, the concept of using these two ingredients together actually originated in Southeast Asia. This idea diffused to Japan in the ninth century along with Buddhism. Because Buddhist beliefs promoted abstinence from meat, the Japanese turned to fish instead as a staple food source, thus increasing the popularity of sushi in Japan.
Before the 19th century, the standard preparation method for sushi was using a wooden box. Chefs placed rice in a rectangular mold and raw fish on top. The ingredients were then compressed for two hours and sliced into separate pieces. Modern sushi comes in the form of nigiri sushi, sushi that is molded in the hands of the chef. This type developed and spread in the 1820s by a man named Hanaya Yohei as a fast food. By the 1970s, sushi began to spread worldwide. In Korea, sushi made its place in the early 1900s with a variety of shops. Eunhaeng-gol is one of the more well-known sushi places, with numerous chains throughout Seoul.
Out of the many Eunhaeng-gol places in Seoul, we visited the Gangnam Station store near exit 11. The restaurant was a bit hard to find due to the fact that it was located in the backstreets of Gangnam. Upon entering Eunhaeng-gol, many of the tables were already full, with others holding reservation signs. Two plates were set before us each with ginger and soy sauce. The colorful yellow and red menu had prices ranging from ₩1,000 for an à la carte dish to ₩190,000 for a full course meal.
By ordering “assorted sushi” and “special sushi” from the menu, we were able to taste most of the sushi that the restaurant provided. The special sushi set included sushi made of soy shrimp and eel while the assorted sushi set included egg, shrimp, and octopus sushi. Both menus contained the classic assortment of tuna, salmon, and halibut sushi. With the perfect softness of the fish on top, the flavored rice disintegrated effortlessly in the mouth, adding to the joy of eating good sushi.
Like most sushi places, we were able to order specific types of sushi of our liking. Although more expensive than ordering the assorted sushi or special sushi, we recommend this to those who prefer specific types of sushi or dislike a specific type. For those who like to enjoy the original taste of raw fish, Eunhaeng-gol also has the option of tuna sashimi.
The most unique aspect of Eunhaeng-gol is its complimentary dishes. We were given a pot of udon free of charge with the plate of sushi. The udon was a delightful surprise on a cold winter day as it came before our orders, warming us up and preparing our palates. The savory soup went well with the soft yet chewy noodles. The fish cakes inside added a flavorful touch to the well-made udon. We were also served two extra pieces of sushi on the house after we finished our main meal.
One comment that we as Eunhaeng-gol fans constantly receive is that its flashy red and white sign and posters on its walls make the restaurant look questionable. However, do not be fooled by the store’s apparent shadiness. Both the quality and the affordability of Eunhaeng-gol make you come for more.