Friday, October 28, 2011

우마이도, Ilsan

우마이도 (pronounced oo-mai-ee-do, Anglicized to Umaido) is a Japanese ramen place just on the outskirts of Western Dom (웨스턴돔) in Ilsan (일산). I've been a couple times now, and tried all two main dishes that they offer there.

I usually feel that restaurants are best when they concentrate on their signature dish and refine it. This place takes that notion to an extreme, literally only serving gyoza (potstickers) and ramen. Even their ramen only comes in two flavors- regular and spicy. They don't mess around. They don't even serve rice, so if you're hungry, order some extra noodles (for 1,000 won, or less than $1). They do sell their chashu (the pork that is usually served in slices on top of ramen) by the dish, if you need more meat. Chashu is part of Japanese ramen cookery, as are half-boiled eggs (hanjuku eggs), so I don't consider them to be separate dishes.

True to form for me, I prefer the spicy ramen. It's a little more interesting, and the spice cuts the heavy greasiness of the broth. Both are quite good, and if I was looking for something comforting, I might go with a bowl of the regular, but I think that most days, I prefer the spicy. They have the same base, and it's a good base. I believe that there's a reason that they charge you a whole extra 1,000 won for the spicy bowl, though.

Sadly, their gyoza is a little lackluster. I don't think they make their own, which I completely understand, but I wish they would buy tastier dumplings. Not that they're bad, they're just sort of typical dumplings that one could make at home. I think they make their own gyoza. Shame that their noodles are so good but their gyoza are just so-so.

I usually can't finish a bowl of ramen at other establishments, but I find that I actually eat the entire bowl plus a few gyoza at Umaido, so big eaters should really get the extra noodles added right off the bat. I almost never finish an entire rice bowl of rice at restaurants in Korea, so I wouldn't say that I eat a lot- I actually don't eat as much as most girls that I work with, especially when it comes to rice or noodles or ricecakes.

Just as Koreans differentiate between Japanese (and Korean) style curry (카레) and Indian curry (커리) with slightly different pronunciations and spellings, the difference between Korean ramen (라면) and Japense ramen (라멘) is very slight, probably not easily discernible to a Westerner.

One thing that is unique about this place that I've never seen before is the presence of raw garlic cloves and a garlic press at every table. You pop a clove or two (or three or four) into the press and squeeze freshly minced garlic into your ramen, stir it all around, then dig in. Koreans love garlic, of course, so I wouldn't be surprised if this is a Korean addition to a Japanese dish. I, personally, can't really taste garlic all that much, probably because I grew up on garlic-heavy Korean food. I think I had about a clove of garlic in my ramen today and I couldn't even tell it was there.

With the very simple menu of ramen, gyoza, and beer (no sake, as far as I know), this place is almost austere. Their decor is stark, and they seem to stake their reputation on their ramen. Frankly, I've had ramen in LA that I actually preferred to this (I love opaque white shio ramen), but I know that I'll be back for at least one more bowl of spicy ramen at Umaido before I leave Korea.

Their prices aren't bad at all, though pricier than having "normal" Korean food (and more of it):

7,000 won ($6.33) for a bowl of regular ramen
8,000 won ($7.24) for a bowl of spicy ramen
2,500 won ($2.26) for six gyoza

I have no idea how much the beer is because I didn't take note, since I don't care for beer. I'm sure it's not exorbitantly expensive, though.

That's it for today, I'm too tired from work to write anything with thought and opinion, too tired to attempt any type of wit. Hopefully, leaving work a bit early today (before 10:00 would be swell) to have dinner with some co-workers so we can whine and moan about how much our jobs suck. It's a necessary part of life in this industry.

My mother's back to my house tomorrow afternoon, yay! I have to work tomorrow, but I'm going to try to take off early and take her somewhere yummy for dinner. Have to work out where exactly that might be...


I took my mom to Umaido for dinner! She had never had Japanese ramen before, so off we went. I took the opportunity to snap a picture of the spicy ramen:
The gyoza were better this time around. I actually paid attention this time and saw one of the guys making the gyoza, so I can confirm that they are actually made on-site. I think the skins of the gyoza are mass-produced and shipped, though, as they were in pre-packaged little containers, while the filling looking to have been put together by the people in the restaurant.

So there you have it.