Whenever my friends from other countries come to visit Korea, I take them to out to eat samgyeopsal because it provides a unique culinary experience while helping them better understand Korea's culture as well.
If you've never been lucky enough to try it, samgyeopsal is thick slices pork belly cooked on a griddle at your table. It's one of the most popular meals for groups of friends or colleagues going out to celebrate special occasions.
The name comes from the number three, sam in Korean, referring to the number of layers of meat and fat in this particular cut. This layering makes the taste very rich and something akin to bacon, which is taken from the same part of the pig.
When I bring visiting friends to try samgyeopsal, they're often surprised that they have to cook the meat themselves. That's right, it's self service once the plate of marinated meat arrives at the table. You're given tongs to hold and turn the meat and scissors to cut the long slabs into bite-sized pieces.
In practice the responsibility for cooking is typically shared by the group, but officially it falls to the youngest person at the table. Sometimes a few pieces will get overcooked by an inexperienced griller, but the process of cooking and eating together from the same grill usually brings the group closer.
Once the samgyeopsal is cooked, the real fun begins. Eating it.
When you sit down at the restaurant and place your order, you can expect the servers to bring out kimchi, mushrooms, lettuce, sliced raw garlic, perilla leaves (gyenip), sliced raw onions or scallions almost immediately. They'll probably also bring out a couple of dipping sauces. The one pictured below is called ssamjang and is a mixture of soybean paste and red pepper paste. The color might make it look dangerous but it's much more savory than spicy and significantly enhances the taste of the samgyeopsal.
Sophie's guide to eating samgyeopsal:
1. Cook the samgyoepsal until it's brown. Also cook sliced raw garlic, mushrooms and kimchi on the grill at the same time.
2. Take a piece of lettuce or a perilla leaf and place one slice of well-cooked samgyeopsal on top.
3. Add a tiny bit of ssamgjang on the top and then add some cooked mushrooms with sliced scallions
4. If you are adventurous, add a piece of cooked garlic as well and add some kimchi (either fresh or cooked). If you're REALLY adventurous, add some raw garlic.
5. Add some rice on top if you have space!
6. Wrap the leaf up and plop the whole thing into your mouth – YUMMMMM
I know your mouth is watering now! To see how-to-eat samgyeopsal in action, please check out the below video uploaded by YouTube user jaybrrd!
Born in Korea and raised on three different continents, I have always been enthusiastic to share the uniqueness of Korean culture and design. On top of that, the advanced level of Korean technology makes me proud to call myself Korean and motivates me to spread technology related news to more people around the world. The list of things I like (and like to do) is endless: Facebooking, Cooking, Gummy jellies, Lilies... and it goes on.
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