Eomuk, or fish cake, is a Korean street-food staple, often served on a stick and eaten on the run. This doesn’t mean that the dish is absent from home kitchens or sit-down eateries, though.
Usually made of ground white fish and flour (or potato) as a binding agent, fish cakes — while always subtly fishy — can take on the flavor of whatever other ingredients are added to the mix, from vegetables to cheese and other proteins. Fish cake also can be used as a wrap of sorts: Roll some around a length of crab meat or a shrimp and you’ve got a doubly fishy snack.
Anyone curious about the dish might consider sitting down at newish Koreatown restaurant Busan Fish Cake. Open since midsummer, the eatery focuses mostly on its namesake, serving myriad fish cake options that guests can actually peruse before ordering — samples are displayed on platters atop wooden dressers lining one corner of the restaurant.
There are straightforward choices: veggie, chopped bell pepper and seaweed-wrapped fish cake, for example. More out-of-the-box types include pizza-flavored fish cake, handmade pumpkin fish cake and handmade sausage wrapped in fish cake. Bites can be dredged in one of a few dipping sauces: spicy mayo, ketchup, soy sauce and wasabi.
Your best bet is to try multiple kinds of fish cake in one visit. All of them can be ordered individually — you tally up your picks on a laminated, wipeable menu — and since prices hover between a buck or two, your meal won’t break the bank. Best of all, your cakes come out freshly fried and hot. They pair particularly well with a bowl of spicy dduk bok ki (pan-fried rice noodles) topped with — you guessed it — fish cake, as well as the on-the-house barley tea.
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Also of note is that the restaurant is affiliated with the Busan, Korea–based Busan Fishcake Co., a manufacturer that’s been making fish cake products since 1974. (Busan is the second most populous city in South Korea, one of the world’s largest seaports and famous for its fish cake purveyors.) Busan Fishcake Co., like its similarly named restaurant, makes its products without any wheat, and therefore markets its menu items as healthier than alternative brands that incorporate such a binder. According to the restaurant’s website, croaker, sea bream and halibut are the primary types of white fish used. Secondary fish include pollack and hoki (also known as blue grenadier).
Whether or not L.A. needs a restaurant that focuses so tightly on fish cakes remains to be seen. Busan Fish Cake has some clout behind it (not to mention a forthcoming Las Vegas iteration), but its second-floor mall location in an area densely packed with outstanding Korean food might make its success an uphill battle.
3785 Wilshire Blvd. Ste. 218A, Koreatown; (213) 814-8989, busanfishcakes.com.