Eat Donkasu Like a Whale
Every month we pick a neighborhood and talk about the best food spots there each Monday. This month, we’re looking at Matjibs in Anam-dong, best known as the neighborhood housing Korea University. While it’s not well known for its food, Anam is home to a bunch of low-key spots that hold their own in Seoul’s culinary landscape. Especially for cheap, traditional, no-frills eats, Anam is worth the trek.
No matter where you are in the world, college is a time of partying, experimentation, and eating like shit. Basically, you get a free several-year-long pass to fuck up as much as you can with few to no consequences. Why not eat literally whatever you want?
This kind of approach can go in one of two directions: you’re either talking about convenience store food, McDonalds, Taco Bell, etc. Basically, these are the foods that taste pretty good, but have little integrity or overall quality as food items. And for sure, there’s a time and a place for these dirty indulgences (namely, the time is after drinking, and the place is wherever you are after drinking). But the other route you can go in is probably preferable to most people.
These are the foods that are objectively bad for you, but are made with care, pride, and maybe even love. These are the foods with no chemicals, no preservatives, maybe just a lot of grease and fat. And if you’ve never craved them, there’s something wrong with you. If you’re in Anam, and like the university students who live there you’re looking for a cheap, big lunch that sates your craving for something less-than-healthy, we got you. Look no further than Gorae Donkasu [고래돈까스].
I’ll walk you through what happens at Gorae Donkasu, which by the way means “Whale Donkasu,” and you’ll see why. You walk through the door, and sit down. You don’t order, because there is no menu. They serve one single meal, and it consists of three courses, all of which are set. The first thing you’ll receive is a bowl of light noodle soup [칼국수…같은…것?]. The noodles are very thin, and the broth is a lightly peppery fish-based stock, topped with seaweed flakes and sesame seeds. It’s a really nice opener to the meal, but it’s also a little filling because of the noodles.
Next comes course two, a small bowl of rice and Japanese-style curry [카레], with pork, carrots, potatoes, and onions. Chances are, this curry at least comes from a curry cube, if not out of a packet. But it’s tasty regardless, and once again, due to the rice it fills you up. Unless you walked in exceedingly hungry, by this point you’re already at least halfway full.
But then, the main event. Gorae’s donkasu is actually 3 medium-sized donkasus, all for you. Cabbage salad and donkasu sauce on the side. Even disregarding the two appetizers you just had, this serving is massive. And, as you reasonably might expect from a place that makes only one thing, their donkasu is unreal. Lightly seasoned, expertly fried. The pork cutlet remains juicy and flavorful, and the panko exterior is ethereally crispy and light, with no hint of grease.
Naturally, there are none of the standard donkasu variations; no cheese, no spicy sauce, none of it. This is just the old school business, and from the looks of the spot, they’ve been doing it this way for at least a few decades. Sometimes they’ll toss you a couple of fried potato wedges on the side, sometimes a few pickles in the salad. Other than these occasional flourishes, the offerings never change, and there’s no reason that they should.
I wanted to save this part for the end, because the focus of this piece is on the quality of the food. But you may have noticed that I mentioned it was cheap, and you’re probably now thinking, well, for three courses, what is cheap? How cheap are we talking? I mean, this spot is a lunch/chill dinner spot, but three courses is a fucking meal. Like, that’s some prix-fixe type business that just happens to occur at a donkasu spot. What’s a reasonable price for a three-course meal? What’s more than reasonable?
Whatever your standards, Gorae charges ₩7,000. Yes, for all of that. The kind of meal where, if you can finish it, you were either fucking starving or you’re just a monster. 7k, giant meal, back to class. Gorae is quick, delicious, beyond filling, ridiculously cheap. Given the comparable price and the huge difference in quality and integrity, I would argue for this over fast food any day. I get it, sometimes you need some pork, some fried something, whatever. If you’re in Anam, Gorae Donkasu is the answer, period.
If you’ve been to Gorae Donkasu, let us know what you think. For another Anam-dong matjib, check out last week’s piece on this banging Dduk Mandu Guk spot.
Photo credits: @jjunnew_0325, @glory_jihwan, @a_xoxohl