Sunday, May 24, 2009

Raw Fish Feast

Choked with traffic and illuminated by bright neon signs and beachfront fireworks, downtown Sokcho isn’t the quaint fishing village that my father remembered from his youth. But at the harbor of this town on the northeast coast of South Korea, local purveyors still hawk ultrafresh seafood from the day’s catch directly to hungry customers, including myself during a recent family trip. Clockwise from top left, here’s how it works:

(click to enlarge)

1. There are maybe a dozen or so fishmongers to choose from, all very aggressively competing for your business. Each stall seems more or less identical to the next, though, so it becomes an eenie-meenie-miney-moe situation.

2. Select your fish, which, by the way, are all alive. We had the fishmonger pick out a variety that included sea urchin, Dad’s favorite.

3. A group of rubber glove–clad, knife-wielding ladies takes your basket of live fish and they very quickly and methodically gut, scale, and cut them up into bite-sized strips. For an extra fee, they'll make pretty sashimi slices, but we went the economy route.

4. Your platter of the freshest seafood ever is ready to eat. Upstairs, scores of families crowd long communal tables, wrapping pieces of fish daubed with spicy red pepper paste in lettuce or sesame leaves and washing it down with chilled soju and Hite beers.

We were also sure to order ojingo soondae, a specialty of the region. Soondae means “sausage,” but instead of using pig intestines as casings, ojingo soondae is made from cleaned squid, stuffed with meat, rice, and vegetables, which is then steamed and sliced. In this case, it looks like the slices of stuffed squid were also briefly fried, giving them extra delicious flavor and texture. It was one of the tastiest dishes we sampled during the entire trip. In fact, I’m on a quest to find a restaurant in Koreatown (or anywhere in the LA area) that serves a good version of it, so let me know if you have a tip.

Ojingo soondae (squid sausage)