Tuesday, December 28, 2021

[Food] Dorumook (Sailfin sandfish, 도루묵)


[Food] Dorumook (Sailfin sandfish, 도루묵)

One day, after a battle with enemies at the border, Yi Sung-gye (1335~1408 A.D.), who was a well-known politician and general in the Goryeo dynasty, was exhausted and famished. He and his army visited a village on the way home, and asked the people of the village to give them some food. As the village was located near the East Sea, the people brought them some fish. Yi Sung-gye found the fish so delicious that he asked them its name, to which the villagers replied, "Mook". Yi Sung-gye thought the fish deserved a better name, so he told the villagers, "From now on, call this fish 'Eun-eo (Silver fish)'".

Decades later, Yi Sung-gye destroyed the Goryeo dynasty and became the founder and first king of the Chosun dynasty. Again, one day, as he sat on his throne, he reminisced about the fish he had eaten on his way home after the fierce battle. He ordered his vassals to bring 'Eun-eo' from the village. However, when he took a bite of well-roasted 'Eun-eo', he was very disappointed with its taste and he said, "Doru 'mook' ira haera (Return it to 'mook')".

Therefore, today, sailfin sandfish is called 'Dorumook' in Korean, meaning 'Returned to mook'. Today 'dorumook' also means 'futile effort', 'back to nothing' or 'useless', which is very obvious when we think of the story of dorumook, which was once-called 'Eun-eo'.

Dorumook is usually eaten in the north-eastern coastal area and Akita prefecture of Japan, and is caught from November to December during Dorumook's spawning season. It tastes very plain and dry, so one can understand why it is called 'sandfish'. Despite the taste of dorumook, some cities in Gangwon province (north-eastern region of South Korea) host a Dorumook festival to attract tourists during the winter. Some people love eating dorumook, though personally I do not like its taste.

Dorumook is usually cooked as a spicy stew or is charcoal-grilled to enjoy its flesh and egg, but it can be fishy and smelly so there are vocal love-hate opinions about dorumook. It's a very cheap and common fish in the Korean winter so it's typical local seafood produce in markets in Gangwon province. If you are a seafood lover, how about sampling charcoal-grilled dorumook? You may just call it 'Eun-eo' as soon as you taste it :)

Bon Appétit!

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