There is a place in Daejeon that I have been meaning to try for months but failed. We often drove by to only get a glimpse of a long line of hungry souls waiting for their turn. Even in the scorching July heat people were still drawn to “Dong So Ye”, the famous grilled fish joint in Daejeon, South Korea.
The key to their success seem to be (of course) the quality of the fish. Fresh and never frozen, the fish must be delivered directly from their contract fisherman as many seafood restaurants do in Korea. Another feature that fascinated me was their use of coal briquettes. Typical Korean coal briquettes are cylinder-shaped with holes in the middle. Using these briquettes for cooking or heating is quite old-fashioned but can still be witnessed among working class. Restaurants like Dong So Ye choose to cook with what was common decades ago and as a result the place attracts people seeking memories as well as curious young ones.
Being one of the curious ones that never experienced traditional Korean briquette-cooking I had to give their fish a try. I enjoy grilled fish regularly but it is a cumbersome job especially when you live in an apartment and cannot use outdoor grill. Fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel will leave dreadful smell that would stay in your living space for days. If you wish to retain your home nice and clean then spend mere 7,000~8,000 won for a famous grilled fish feast. A single order includes fish and other side dishes along with a bowl of rice. Just like most other restaurants in the country, the sides are bottomless and you can ask for unlimited refills. Not a bad deal isn’t it?
You can taste the distinctive flavor of charred flesh. When you pan-fry the mackerel at home the fish usually gets soaked in its own oil and ends up being almost deep-fried. However, slow-grilling over the coal heat reduces the fattiness of the fish and leaves savoriness.