Sabanba, A Hyperlocal Japanese Take on Korean Bibimbap

I’ve long been a fan of mackerel and bibimbap, so to discover a marriage of the two in an ostensibly random Japanese city was a delicious coincidence.

Availing of the the Hokuriku Area Pass, a 4-day Japan Railways train ticket that covered many hotspots in Ishikawa, Toyama, and Fukui prefectures, I took a day trip from Kanazawa to Obama, a port city in Fukui.

Historically, this region was called Wakasa (若狭), which held a prime location on Wakasa Bay. For hundreds of years, it supplied Kyoto, the ancient imperial capital of Japan, with abundant seafood.  Together with Awaji province (present-day Hyogo prefecture) and Shima province (today’s Mie prefecture), Wakasa was one of Kyoto’s miketsukuni, basically the food pantry.

In particular, mackerel, or saba (鯖) in Japanese,  was very popular at the time, so much so that the route from Obama to Kyoto came to be known as the “mackerel highway,” or saba kaido (鯖街道).

mackerel manhole cover obama japan
Mackerel Sewer Cover! Obama, Fukui, Japan

With such a prominent local delicacy — actually, due to overfishing, Japan has been importing mackerel for decades — I found out that one of Obama’s most famous dishes was called 鯖ンバ, or sabanba.

OK, so it’s not such a well-known meal — never mind that the one restaurant serving it, Yamato-an, is best known for tonkatsu, or fried pork cutlets — and let’s not forget that the dish is a fusion of Japanese food and Korean food. (link in Japanese) The manager at the time was fond of bibimbap, the Korean comfort food of mixed rice, vegetables, and an egg, so the epiphany came to add mackerel to it.

sabanba mackerel bibimbap obama japan
Sabanba (鯖ンバ), Yamatoan Restaurant, Obama, Fukui, Japan

In Japan, sabanba falls under the category of  B級グルメ, or B-grade gourmet. That is, it’s a dish with inexpensive ingredients and mass appeal. Regardless of that appellation, sabanba is still a fun, tasty, and variegated meal that spotlights one locally historic ingredient.

Muchimhoe, the Seafood Feast of Daegu (South Korea)

Daegu muchimhoe street sign
Entering the Muchimhoe District, Daegu, South Korea

Given Name: 무침회*
Alias: Muchimhoe
Place(s) of Origin: Daegu, South Korea
Place Consumed: Daegu, South Korea
Common Features: Seafood (but not fish), gochujang*
Background: I’d be hard pressed not to find a good meal from the Korean peninsula…heck, even that duck bbq in Pyongyang was quality.

After checking in at my hotel in Daegu, I asked about representative dishes from the area.  Aiming for multiple meals that would make a marine biologist blush, it appeared that I forgot to look at a map in the planning stages of this trip (meaning, three hours before I left)- Daegu isn’t exactly on a coast.  OK, but it’s not far from one either.  A staff member reminded me of this, and proceeded to introduce me to “muchimhoe street*.

muchimhoe meal
Muchimhoe with Korean banchan, Daegu, South Korea

Verdict: Excellent, as expected.  Ssam* up the gochujang-laced seafood mix into the lettuce, add a bit of egg and dig in.  Even with the overpowering taste of gochujang, I was able to make out the turban shell, squid and conch, but there were definitely other mollusks present.  Generous amounts of sesame seeds were sprinkled on top, and there weren’t any bones either, so there’s another +2.  A very aquatic affair, with seaweed and sea grass as part of the banchan, and the soup had a salty, “beachy” tinge to it.

Amusingly, the grandmotherly-type figured that as a foreigner, I’d have no idea how to eat anything (Korean).  However, she took this a step further and literally fed me the first bite.  So…if you’re into that kind of thing, keep it to yourself.

Glossary
* 무침회 muchimhoe – “muchim” = mixed with various seasonings; “hoe” = a dish with raw food
* gochujang 고추장- fermented, spicy and slightly sweet red chili sauce made with glutinous rice and soybeans; if you’ve eaten bibimbap, you’ve likely seen gochujang
* muchimhoe street – if you look at the linked map, take exit 1 from Bangogae (반고개) metro station, and walk towards the red pin.  The red pin is Naedang-dong (내당동), the most famous area for this specialty in Daegu.
* ssam 쌈  (Korean) – “wrap”

%d bloggers like this: