Let’s test your ‘gringo-ness.’
When someone says sushi, what comes to your mind?
If you said raw fish, then congratulations – you’re one of the truest of the true gringos. Sushi is the vinegared rice that the slices of raw fish, or any other toppings, rest on.
Ok, then what do you call the slices of raw fish?
If you said sashimi, then you’re a well-cultured gringo. Now if you want the elite gringo status, what is sashimi called in Korea?
회 Hui (pronounced hway) is correct, but more specifically it’s 생선회 Saengseon Hui. If you say ‘hui’ most people will assume that you are, indeed, talking about raw fish.
Although they are prepared in the same exact way, there are a couple of huge differences in Korean hui and Japanese sashimi. The most glaring one might be the condiments. Japanese will only serve you soy sauce and wasabi, basically the same stuff that accompanies sushi. Koreans, however, will serve you 초장 chojang – a mix of 고추장 gochujang, vinegar, and sugar. Wasabi and soy sauce are available upon request, if not served up front. The other disparity is that Korean hui is usually a full course dining experience, whereas the sashimi is more like an appetizer to a meal.
Let me expand on the full dining experience that is 횟집 huitjip – Korean raw fish restaurant.
One of the most talked about huitjip in Los Angeles is 와! 싸다 ‘Wa! Ssadda’. It is sometimes misspelled as Wassada, especially on the ‘Net, and is mistaken for a Japanese sushi joint. But hey, however you find this place, just get in here!
Also, forget about the menu. Get either the combo plate or the 광어 Gwang-eo (flounder) hui plate, then you can add live lobster, live sea cucumber, or live abalone as needed. Notice the word live. When you enter the restaurant, you will be surrounded by fish tanks featuring your dinner menu. You can even name the fish before they take it to the kitchen and kill it for your consumption. It’s a good thing that fish do not make any audible noises.
We ordered the combination plate #2 (medium) and a side of lobster. The huge plate consists of sea urchin, abalone, flounder, tuna, salmon, some sea bass, and other fish that I could not identify. But this plate is only a small part of why you go to a huitjip. As soon as you’ve ordered your food, the army of servers come out with various banchan dishes and the beginning of your full course meal.
First to be set on your table are a house salad, sea snails, spicy peanuts, seaweed salad, edamame, raw half-shell oysters, macaroni salad, sweet potatoes, and 전복 죽 Jeonbok Juk (Abalone Porridge). Also, at this time, they bring you lettuce, sesame leaves, sliced jalapeno peppers and garlic, and an array of dipping sauces. As some of you may already know, Koreans love to make lettuce wraps with various greens (organic preferred).
Round 2 – Tuna Tataki is served with monk fish liver.
Round 3 – the lobster arrives with its tail split open, cut up in bite sized morsels and presented back in its shell.
Round 4 – the server brings out the spicy tuna roll.
Round 5 – the main course is presented to us on a huge plate the size of a small satellite dish. A sizzling plate of grilled onions and garlic is served for the lettuce wraps.
Round 6 – vegetable tempura time. Also at this time, they take back the lobster to the kitchen to cook it.
Round 7 – the grilled trio of mackerel, salmon head, and mixed fish on a half shell is served.
Round 8 – they bring out the 매운탕 spicy seafood soup made with the leftover flounder from the earlier hui. The staff also offers up our leftover lobster that they have just cooked.
Round 9 – as if all that wasn’t enough food, the fine sushi chefs prepare a spicy kimchi hand roll… for dessert! I will warn you, this stuff is SUPER HOT!!!
So, there you have it. Since I cannot describe the flavors of all 12-15 dishes, I will just say that all the dishes were excellent in flavor and texture – they were living and breathing just a mere few minutes ago. Our bill came to about $150 for the medium combo plate, a lobster and a couple of Cass beers; for the four of us, it was quite fulfilling. You will eat like there is no tomorrow!
Lastly, the Korean hui dinner is an experience that everyone should try at least once. The whole experience is not only a feast for your stomach, but your eyes, nose, and mouth will thank you even more.