Review: Hanil Sikdang (한일식당)

Do a simple search for Korean barbecue and you'll receive results on everything from restaurant recommendations to all the ingenious varieties out there. But do the same for Korean grilled fish and the number of results are quite a different story. Just like most Koreans don't normally barbecue meat at home due to the effort and smell, the act of prepping and grilling fish is quite laborious and messy which makes it a common dish to eat out. A post I made long ago on a popular fish grilling restaurant in Sinchon has remained a popular post on this blog, perhaps a sign of how there's a big underground fan base for it, so for those looking to enjoy some fish with all the Korean sides and fixings, Hanil Sikdang is another oldie but goodie restaurant and a welcome addition on the itinerary of any fish loving traveler.

Of course, the most famous grilled fish street of Seoul is in Jongno 5-ga, near Dongdaemun but a few blocks down in Jongno 3-ga there sits two restaurants that also specializes in this same menu. Tucked behind a small alley just off the main Jongno street, Hanil Sikdang is one of them and is immediately recognizable by the enormous grill outside with the sizzling sound of fish being cooked over charcoal.

Operated now for decades by an older owner couple, you'll usually find one of them at the grill cooking up fish for the hungry patrons inside. You'll also see that the grill is stacked with fish that are pre-cooked.  After an order comes in, the pre-cooked fish is cooked once more to completion before being served. What's left are nicely cooked, plump and juicy fish with little to no smell lingering on your clothes.

Like the alley its in, the restaurant shows its a product of a past era. Tables are clustered together on old floors and worn walls. There's another kitchen area inside where the scorched rice, jjigae, and sides are prepped and served. Table seats are also divided into two sections: floor and table sitting.

Your pick of fish rounds down to spanish mackerel, mackerel, mackerel pike, yellow corvina, dried pollack- all some of the most common fish consumed in Korea- and all priced at 9K. If you're in a group you can, and should, mix up the fish orders because... why not?

Now, if you thought 9K was expensive for grilled fish, note that each fish order does not come alone but is joined by an array of seasonal homemade side dishes, dwenjang jjigae (with a minimum 2 person order), and dolsot or scorched rice. Those familiar with Korean cuisine will recognize dolsot rice, probably in the form of dolsot bibimbap. Here the rice comes in these individual metal pots and bowls. Scoop out the rice, leave a layer of the browned rice on the bottom, pour in the water, and cover to enjoy at the end of the meal.

The sides are all quite fresh and tasty. Just when your appetite has been whet by them, the freshly grilled fish should arrive at your table.

All the fish are prepped in advance including the key salting process which ensures the exterior retains a savory edge while helping lock in the moisture of the meat inside during cooking.

On one end of the "oily" spectrum, you'll find the less oil fishes such as the Spanish mackerel and yellow corvina while the other end holds the oilier fishes of the mackerel and mackerel pike. It's hard to find fault with well-salted and well-grilled fish. And they certainly know how to prep and cook fish here.

Combined with the various side dishes and the dwenjang jjigae, this is a home Korean meal minus all the work and dishes.

While the fishes are all the same price, the more expensive fishes like the yellow corvina from Youngdong (which is famed for this fish) comes in a  baby version so there's not much to eat. The much better value are the bigger fishes such as the mackerel and Spanish mackerel.

The hwangtae gui is the only variety offered that comes seasoned in a spicy sweet sauce. The texture of the dried fish that's plumped and cooked again is unique among the other fishes and I recommend it just for an alternative from the other grilled fish. It's also one that pairs lovingly with some beer, or soju... or both... :)

As a pro tip, don't consume all the fish but leave a bit at the end of your meal for the scorched rice which has, after sitting in its tea bath, turned into a lovely neureungji. Take a spoonful of the slightly nutty neureungji, the mellow and warm "soup", and add a piece of the salty, grilled fish atop and the flavor combination is heaven.

Final Thoughts:
A real Korean home cooked meal, complete with sides, soup, freshly cooked rice, and the expertly grilled fish, this is an accurate look at what a standard Korean dinner looks like rather than the everything-doused-in-artificial-spicy-sauce-and-bloated-with-cheese dishes that are so common and what visitors might mistaken as standard Korean cuisine nowadays. The restaurant isn't fancy by any means (the outside restroom is... interesting), but you'll get proper Korean home food at this restaurant with soul.

서울특별시 종로구 수표로20길 16-17
16-17, Supyo-ro 20-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea

From exit 15 of Jongno-3ga Station immediately you'll see a small alley on your left (Jongno 18-gil). Turn left into it and walk about 12m and you'll see the restaurant on your right. 


7AM-10PM everyday



Regular Korean alcohol varieties available

Closed on the second and fourth Sundays of every month.

The shared restroom is outside and not the cleanest so make use of a restroom before (such as in the Jongno 3-ga subway station).