Reached Seoul in the middle of the night and not willing to order room service, so I asked the concierge for a recommendation nearby. He gave me a name of a Korean BBQ place that’s opened 24 hours nearby.
Located next to a golf driving range, I was surprised by the number of cars parked in the parking lot. The restaurant took the facade of the range and was so brightly lit and stood out like a sore thumb on a street that had closed for the night (it was 2am).
Yangchon-ri Saeng Samgyeobsal is a chain BBQ store that specialised in Samgyeopsal (삼겹살) pork belly, but it also has a fine selection locally bred Korean beef, with the premium Hanwoo.
Beef is the most prized of all meats, with the cattle holding an important cultural role in Korea. The demand is high but supply is limited, hence, beef is the most expensive meat in the country.
I selected a nice piece of sirloin for my supper with beautiful marbling. I was looking forward to the piece of fat. This was the first Korean BBQ meal in Korea for me alone, I had no idea how to ask for service. Luckily, the waitress saw my dilemma and came to my help.
There’s only one way to do a proper Korean BBQ – charcoal fire. The magic formula is to a wonderful BBQ is achieving sutbul (embers of charcoal) for barbecue.
At this temperature, the heat will give perfect browning, which is where all the deliciousness of well-grilled meat comes from. This piece of steak was promptly cut into cubes using a scissors. Yes, scissors are very useful in these situations.
The smoky richness of Maillard-charred meat and rendered fat is the foundation of Korean barbecue. The Maillard reaction is one of the great miracles of cooking, named after the French scientist Louis-Camille Maillard, who studied the browning of foods in the early 1900s. The goal is that range of colours from golden amber to whiskey brown as dark as possible but not black. Black is carbon. You like black? Go eat charcoal.
To make these wrapped meat parcels, you’ll need some greenery, in the form of lettuces and perilla leaves. Perilla leaves, often sold as “sesame leaves” at Korean markets, come from the same mint family as Japanese shiso, and they have a grassy, slightly anise-y flavor that plays an excellent foil to the richness of grilled pork and beef.
As for lettuces, leafy varieties are key here, since the leaves need to be large and sturdy enough to hold ingredients without tearing, but also flexible enough to wrap around these items. The lettuce and perilla leaves act not only as handheld wrappers for grilled meats and ssamjang but also as a refreshing vegetal and herbal contrast to those ingredients.
The other elements at the table certainly play significant roles, and are delicious in their own right, but they’re supporting actors that complement and provide balance to the waves of meat coming off the grill.
At first I thought it was a plate of sliced yellow onion for grilling with the meat. Then I realised it was pickled and eaten like kimchi.
Dongchimi is a variety of kimchi consisting of Korean radish, napa cabbage, scallions, pickled green chilli, ginger, Korean pear and watery brine. As the name dong (동 literally “winter”) and chimi (치미, an ancient term for kimchi) suggest, this kimchi is traditionally consumed during the winter season.
Baechu dongchimi (Cabbage dongchimi, 배추동치미) was served together with the BBQ and it gave relief to the “heaty” BBQ meat.
And just when I started to feel a little full from all the meat coming off the grill, they served a boiling hot Doenjang Jjigae (bean paste stew) to round up the fantastic meal for the cold evening. Came with a bowl of rice in a metal bowl.
Gun-goguma (군고구마; “roasted sweet potato”) is usually sold by street vendors pushing a roasting cart that consisted of a rotating drum. Two of these were thrown in to the grill at the beginning of the meal. They were half-cooked at the beginning, they were caramelised using the charcoal ember heat. The result was a dessert-like sweet potato that was so soft and sweet.
And what’s best to wash everything down – ice cold beer, even though it was -10˚C outside.
Even though unassuming and spartanly decorated, the price wasn’t as it served hanwoo. I was surprised that it was still popular at 3am in the morning!
Yangchon-ri Saeng Samgyeobsal (Fresh Pork Belly) 양촌리생삼겹살
482, Achasan-ro, Gwangjin-gu-Seoul
서울특별시 광진구 아차산로 482
Tel : +82 2-452-7271
Date Visited : Jan 2015