20 (Sat) March 2010
at Chamchi Land
-Geomgok, Bundang, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Korea-
with the Family, Mom and Dad
Another example of the Korean bastardization of foreign fare: the tuna sashimi restaurant. It’s Japanese to the extent that the fish is raw and presented like sashimi, served with soy sauce, wasabi, and gari (pickled ginger). But somewhere along the line, Koreans developed an alternate system for tuna (chamchi), and tuna alone, which involves dipping the fish in sesame oil and salt, then wrapping it with radish sprouts in a sheet of laver (dried seaweed). The fish is all-u-can-eat, a waitress bringing refills to the table as soon as the platter is empty. And like any sashimi restaurant in Korea, serving tuna or otherwise, the standard sides include abalone porridge, spicy fish stew, spicy braised fish, buttered corn, salad with some kind of fruit-mayonnaise dressing, raw cucumbers with spicy bean paste dipping sauce, kimchi, and usually finished off with a sushi hand roll or rice hot pot of fish roe. When the tuna sashimi craze hit its peak about five years ago, a given establishment usually offered a range of options from as low as KRW15,000 (about US$12) per person for a basic order up to KRW50,000 for the “special” cuts of fish. On a side note, it’s funny that the laver is always provided in single-serving packages containing about small five sheets (ostensibly intended for quick, convenient consumption on the go); by the end of the meal, the table is strewn with piles of discarded cellophane.
A five-minute walk from my parents’ apartment in Bundang, my family has frequented Chamchi (참치) Land since it opened in 2004. Frankly, most of these places are exactly the same, with the same menu offerings and same quality fish; what differentiates the dining experience is the relationship the diner has with the sushi chef, who reserves the best stuff for loyal clients. It’s all about service. As soon as we sit down, the waitress knows to bring my father a bowl of sushi rice and canned corn (without the butter). We don’t even put in an order anymore; they know we’re going to have the second-tier platter for KRW25,000 per person. And we know they’re going to give us top-tier fish.