▲ Master Ko Young Dae finely slices pieces of fish at his small, yet popular restaurant Inoue Sushi in Shin-Jeju. Photo by Steve Oberhauser
Let me cuddle with your tender, non-oily, pale raw flesh while it’s laid upon a soft bed of sliced radish.
Yep, the sushi is equally as good at Inoue Sushi, a hole-in-the-wall counter hideout in Shin-Jeju run by master Ko Young Dae, his wife, and a man affectionately called “younger brother.”
Before you get too excited, make reservations beforehand and bring a bit of extra cash as only 13 to 15 people are served each night, and quality demands a premium.
I had the good fortune of going here with a former co-worker — a native Japanese speaker and long-time resident of the island. She feels this is one of the most authentic Japanese restaurants on Jeju. Most “Japanese” restaurants on the island can be chalked up to a Japanese-style Korean restaurant. Not at Inoue Sushi. However, there are several technicalities differentiating a Japanese restaurant in Japan from one in Korea.
We focused on wading through these nuances, ordering the Inoue Special (60,000 won) and the master set for 40,000 won. Throughout the meal several small side dishes and soup, sushi, sashimi, tempura, broiled fish, and a large pot of jiri soup all made their way to our allotted, tight space.
The patrons and workers were some of the most intelligent and animated I have witnessed; a mix of Korean, Japanese and English was heard throughout the night.
Four assorted small bowls and dishes were brought out. First was chawanmushi. In a mini dish with a micro spoon, steamed fluffy egg with fish water is topped with ikura, salmon roe, resembling individual reddish-orange spheres.
Also served was uni, sea urchin roe. It is soft, melting, and orange in color. Strips of raw sea cucumber in a liquid, one fat cooked abalone, and miso soup with a plastic ladle appeared separately.
“Usually, in Japan we drink the miso soup after a meal,” my co-worker said, adding that sushi is eaten by hand in Japan, not with the (wooden) chopsticks provided. And, it is traditional to eat the first dish in the home or at a restaurant in Japan, but without the salmon eggs.
In appropriate fashion, the pinnacle came next, 10 or so different sushi and sashimi selections – including godeungeo (mackerel), tuna, shrimp, salmon, halibut, gakjaegi, sayori (halfbeak) – were served up in front of the customers one by one on a wooden board by Ko, a Jeju native who lived in Japan for 14 years and studied cooking and preparing sushi there for four years. The restaurant’s namesake, four years running, is Ko’s Japanese teacher.
“Like here, we always eat the white fish first, and then the red fish,” my co-worker said. “It’s not oily, first time is a simple taste.” Looking around the small space, she said “in Japan we don’t use decorations because we don’t need to show we are in Japan. Here is Korea, so they are showing us this is a Japanese restaurant.”
The fish is bought fresh daily from Dongmun Market. At first, the “younger brother” joked that they got up early and went fishing. The taste would be the same. It cannot be beat. Preparation. Presentation. Style. This wasabi and ginger here provides happiness. The wasabi was served apart from the soy sauce, compared to the mixing witnessed in any and all Korean raw fish restaurants. Also, the sliced radish seen underneath the sashimi is edible, much different from the clear plastic noodle piles at Korean restaurants.
About this time was when five hungry potential customers were turned away.
No room, no reservations.
According to Ko, Korean and Japanese people who live in Jeju frequent the place. A few foreigners saunter in from time to time. He said the chicken egg was the only real variation in splitting the Korean and Japanese cuisine divide. He uses a less sweet egg selection.
“The sushi is the best here because you can have so many different kinds in one place and it’s fresh,” my co-worker said. “Also, the tempura is different, so soft.”
A copious amount of battered and deep fried shrimp and squid were delicately coated and consumed alongside a special sauce.
One more cooked fish head part, jiri, was offered. However, “We usually don’t eat this fish, only on special holidays,” my co-worker said. “Around the eye is the delicious part.”
In total there were a lot of bones, the eye was marble-sized, sinewy and a tad crunchy.
At Inoue, they do it right. They have four different types of sake as well. This could be the closest you can get to Japan without taking the ferry or a flight to Kyushu.
The time is also right here with no pressure to finish. If customers want to spend three hours with a reservation, all the better.
(Translation by Emi Ito)
Inoue Sushi 1413-7 Yeon-dong Jeju City Telephone: 064-712-6678 Hours: 5 to 11 p.m. (from March 1 - May 31, lunch served 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.) Reservations strongly recommended
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