29 April 2004

Sam Gyeob Sal

While in Sinchon, I visited one of my many favourite places for some sam gyeob sal (삼겹살). The last time I was here was in December last year. Imagine my amazement when I walked in and the owner exclaimed that he remembers me from my last visit and even pointed to the table I sat at and what I ordered. Wow! If this isn't friendly service, I don't know what is. (Then again, maybe it was the whole pig that I ordered the last time, but that's another story).

The place is called 生삼겹.com. Yes even the Korean cuisine of sam gyeob sal wasn't left untouched by the dot-com explosion. It's located beside the Hyundai Department Store in Sinchon.

You have the option of seating here - floor or chairs. The place is clean and there's even a small aquarium upfront. This carving table, as you'll see later, takes centrestage.

A quick rundown of the menu - you have the varying grades and cuts of pork (between KRW6,600 - KRW7,000 per serving of 150 - 200 grammes), a variety of tang (soup) and jiggae (stew) for KRW4,000 - KRW5,000, and a variety of soju and maekju (liquor) KRW3,000 - KRW6,000.

THIS is unique to this place, the automated rotating griller. You lift the cover, place the skewer of pork inside, cover and it will start to rotate and cook over the fire. Two big advantage here - (1) the meat is evenly grilled (2) you don't get oil splutters on your bare skin, and (3) you don't have to lift a finger - it's all done for you. OK. That's three.

A satellite image of the table, with side dishes comprising mostly of various salads and kimchis.

A variety of dipping sauce, from the red samchang (chili paste mixed with preserved soya beans), the yellow honey mustard, the salt mixed with sesame seeds and finely grounded peanuts. The bottom dish is shredded cabbage with coleslaw dressing and a squeeze of chili sauce. Interesting combo.

The bacon'a almost done. You can hear it sizzling in there, and can see the fat dripping away. Nice even tan.

The cooked skewers of bacon are then brought to this carving (cutting) station where they're sliced into generous portions.

After that, they're thrown back into the fire to continue cooking, this time over the flat grill. While all that is happening, another set of skewered bacon goes into the rotating pit. It's ready to eat.

As I've mentioned in my previous post on sam gyeob sal, I like them thick and chuncky. And this place doesn't disappoint. The meat is thick enough so that it is crispy on the outside and still moist and juicy on the inside. Just perfect. The pork here is fresh and of good quality. Thumbs up.

One of the things I enjoy most about eating sam gyeob sal (or even anything that involves grilling for that matter) is to lightly grill the garlic. If you've never had garlic in Korea before, be forewarned that Korean garlic can be extremely pungent to the extent that it stings. But once it's grilled, the garlic turns all sweet and fragrant and its texture turns into that of a potato - soft and crumbly. If you've never tried this before, you should. Trust me. :o)

The other variation is to grill your kimchi. Kimchi when cooked in this manner tastes different from its raw counterpart. Try it. Goes oh so well with sam gyeob sal.

Next up is gochu sam gyeob sal, which is basically the same thing with the addition of gochujang (seasoned chili paste). The meat is smothered with gochujang and then grilled. It is a good idea to work your way up from the plain sam gyeob sal to the gochu sam gyeob sal if you plan to have both at the same sitting. This is because you may find the plain ones, well, plain if you had the gochu ones first. So remember, plain first, then gochu.

Again, the gochu sam gyeob sal here is well executed. The sauce is sweetish, not overly spicy, and I swear there is a tinge of BBQ sauce in there if my tastebuds didn't fail me. You will need to refrain yourself from eating this too soon, and let the sauce simmer and dry up to fully envelop the meat.

Typically, after a good and hearty meal of sam gyeob sal, I like to wash it all down with a hot bowl of dwenjang jiggae (된장찌개), or spicy bean paste stew/soup. The soup is made from adding preserved beanpaste to stock, then adding chili paste and lots of sliced green chilis, spring onions, dubu (beancurd/tofu), beansprouts, chinese cabbage and clams. Very hot and spicy. Nice end to a very good meal.


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