Hey, all. Am I late in posting this? I’m not sure? Every Monday my spidey senses start tinkling that I need to write a new blog post. Lo and behold, here is part three of the “What to eat in Korea” series! As promised last week, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite food groups on earth: Korean BBQ! Quick disclaimer before you read this and decide to run to the nearest K-BBQ place; make sure you take a friend with you! 99% of the time, you are not allowed to order only 1 serving of meat at a BBQ restaurant. So unless you want to eat and pay twice as much as you should, be sure to bring a dining companion. Lame, I know.
Okay, let’s break it down:
Kinds of meat
Fresh vs. Frozen makes a noticeable difference here. You’ll pay less for frozen meat and it’s still quite good after it’s cooked, however, unless you’re on a budget, I strongly believe that the fresh stuff is worth it.
- Pork – Anywhere between 8,000 and 15,000 won ($7.25 – $13.50 USD) per serving, generally depending on the quality. Pork is probably the most widely available grill meat in Korea (and also sneaks its way into a lot of other dishes – sorry people who don’t eat pork!) It’s most common forms include:
- Pork belly/samgyeopsal/삼겹살 – the fattiest part of the piggie and bacon’s closest relative. Think of it as thick, uncured, not salty bacon. The most common grill meat you’ll find. ALSO beware of bones. Some places will give you pieces with little pieces of bones/cartilage that you don’t know are there until you accidentally choke on it. Whoops.
- Moksal/목살 – Okay, so this directly translates to neck meat but I think it’s actually pork shoulder. Kinda reminds me of a super thick pork chop. A great less-fatty alternative.
- Skirt meat/Kalmaegisal/갈매기살 – Not my favorite for some reason but I have friends who like it!
- Pork rinds/Ggeobdaegi/껍데기 – Definitely not the main course, but something you’d order as an addition to any of the above cuts. Thick and chewy. I love it, but it’s not for everyone.
- Beef – Prices vary greatly. Usually starting from around 11,000 and upwards of 30,000 ($10-$28 USD)per serving. More expensive than pork, but certainly just as delicious.
- Sogalbi-sal/소갈비살 – I guess this most directly translates to rib meat? But please don’t think of ribs, because it tastes nothing like that, haha. Regardless, this stuff if delicious and probably the easiest to find in restaurants.
- Brisket meat/Chadolbagi/차돌박이 – Super thinly sliced and cooks in under a minute; if you’re super hungry and want to eat fast, get this. However, if you’re super hungry and don’t mind waiting, I would recommend this as an addition to a meal instead of the main course. As the pieces are super thin, it’s hard to get very full. You can find the pork version of this in a lot of restaurants, too. Usually called something like woosamgyeop/우삼겹.
- LA Kalbi – I’m not sure if this originated in LA or what, but this is my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE Korean BBQ meat. Essentially perfectly marinated short ribs, I can’t imagine any meat-eater not liking this. Buuut it’s usually on the expensive side so nobody gets to eat it that often *cries*
- Korean Beef in general/Han-woo/한우 – Han-woo literally means Korean beef and can be used in classifying any part of a Korean cow. I’m sure that Korean cows are delicious, but they usually come at exorbitant prices. Think of it as Korea’s wagyu beef.
Okay, but what is on my table?
- Not rice. Surprise! Koreans eat rice with every meal, you thought? Well, that’s mostly true, but in the case of Korean BBQ, you have to pay for it separately (usually just 1,000 won).
- Kimchi – Pro tip: put it on the grill and thank me later
- Garlic – Depending on the kind of grill pan you’re using, you can stick the rice directly on the grill or put it in a little metal bowl with some oil and have it cook in there. Both ways are good, but I prefer the latter.
- Salt – I mention this because you will never see salt on a Korean table other than if you’re having BBQ. And it’s not table salt, it’s some fantastic roasted salt that perfectly compliments the meat. Sometimes they’ll have it mixed with sesame oil and you dip your meat into that. *drools*
- Raw onions in some sweet soy sauce..thing – Raw onions don’t sound super appealing, I know, but I promise this is different!! The sauce is a sweet and tangy game changer.
- Lettuce and peppers – Romaine lettuce and perilla leaves (which I despise), to be exact. The lettuce is put on the table to wrap your meat with, which is called ssam or 쌈. The peppers are a trick!! They look innocent, but are quite spicy most of the time. Approach with caution and dip them in the ssamjang if you dare.
- Ssamjang/쌈장 – Though red, this sauce is not spicy (in my opinion, at least.) A nice mixture of fermented soy bean paste (doenjang/된장) and red pepper paste (gochujang/고추장). It’s a little salty and sweet and the perfect accompaniment to Korean grilled meat. (Cute rhyme, Christina.)
- Soup – More often than not, fermented soybean paste soup or doenjang jjigae/된장찌개, which is nice and salty.
- Whatever else the restaurant decides to give you – The above things are 98% guaranteed to be set on your delightful dinner table, but a lot of restaurants decide to throw in other things. For example, my friend and I were given canned pineapple slices to stick on the grill.
Great, now how do I eat this properly?
First of all, if you look clueless enough, a server will probably come over and help you cook. But it’s not rocket science, so don’t worry too much and be prepared to cut everything up with scissors. Once that part’s over, it’s time to eat! First, you grab a piece of lettuce. I like to first add bit of rice to the bottom, a piece of meat on top of that, dab some ssamjang with my chopsticks, grilled kimchi, and finally garlic. Roll that all up and shove it into your mouth in one bite. Trust me, your life will be much more difficult it you try to take two bites. Savor it. Enjoy it. And prepare your next little package of happiness.
Awesome, so I think that covers the basics of Korean BBQ 101. Are you a fan of Korean BBQ? (There’s only one answer to that question.) I’d also like to mention that I’m really happy I wrote this post after stuffing myself with delicious pork moksal and woosamgyeop instead of torturing myself, hehe. Ah, and one last warning, your clothes are going to smell like meat. Sorry, not sorry. #TheSmellOfVictory
See you next week and happy eating!