People in Korea like their pork belly a lot. And they call it samgyeopsal (삼겹살). Literally, it means “three (삼) layered (겹) flesh (살)”. It is like your regular bacon only cut much thicker. Samgyeopsal is very popular and is almost always present in group dinners.
As unique as the cut of samgyeopsal is, so is it’s preparation and the manner it is cooked. Unlike bacon, samgyeopsal is often served raw and unmarinated. You also have to cut the meat into bite-size pieces and grill it yourselves. When you visit a Korean restaurant and order this Korean barbeque, do not be surprised if you can hardly see the table once your food arrives. Along with the meat, you are also given lettuce, perilla leaves, sliced raw onions and garlic, mushrooms, green chili peppers, kimchi (spicy fermented vegetables which is a Korean staple in every meal), and sauces – ssamjang (a mixture of soybean paste, hot pepper paste, sesame oil, and other ingredients) and gireumjang (a mixture of sesame oil, salt, and black pepper).
Together with the food, a portable gas griller is also placed on the table. In more sophisticated restaurants, each table has a built-in griller and an exhaust duct that hangs from the ceiling to keep the smoke out. Tongs and scissors are also provided. Aprons are also available to avoid getting the oil splattered on your clothes. Members of the group usually take turns in grilling but it is also a common practice for the youngest to take charge. The pork belly is directly placed on a hot grill and is let cook in its own fat. It is important to only flip the meat once to keep most of the juices. The garlic, onions, mushrooms, and even kimchi are also grilled.
Cooking may already be overwhelming to some, but how to eat samgyeopsal is a totally different story.
- You start off by taking a piece of lettuce or perilla leaf.
- Then take a piece of meat, dip it in the gireumjang sauce, and place it on the leaf.
- Next add in some ssamjang, kimchi, garlic, mushroom, and anything else you like. Some choose to add a bit of rice too.
- Now, roll it up and stuff it in your mouth. Yes, the whole thing.
- Take a shot of soju (distilled rice liquor). This bit is completely optional. But in Korea, samgyeopsal is never complete without soju. This pairing is called SamSo, ‘sam’ from samgyeopsal and ‘so’ from soju.