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5 Korean ways to eat a pig
Head, shoulders, feet ... Koreans leave no part undevoured in their overwhelming love of pork
Korean beef, otherwise known as hanwoo, may be the most revered animal in Korean cuisine, but the high price tag often limits its consumption to special occasions or national holidays.
In everyday life however, pigs rule. Humble but versatile, Koreans ensure that no part of the mighty swine is wasted. While grilled pork belly (samgyupsal) or ribs (galbi) are safe bets for an office get-together, the gastronomically adventurous will find delight in the forgotten, sometimes maligned cuts of pork and offal. Here’s a list of our favorites.
1. Vertebrae, Gamjatang
The name, gamjatang or “potato soup” is misleading because there might not be a single spud in the soup. Others believe that the name of the soup comes from the pig’s spine, which forms the, yes, backbone of the soup.
Whatever the etymological origins of the dish, the magnificent broth is the result of simmering pork bones for hours until the meat is literally falling off. Koreans consume this hearty soup at all times of the day, but it is especially fitting following a long night of drinking. The red pepper paste and powder gives the soup its characteristic heat while fragrant perilla leaves, perilla seeds, and green onions offset the gaminess of the pork.
Sinmi Sikdang (신미 식당) 660-6 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 신사동 660-6); +82 2 516 4900; 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
2. Trotter, Jokbal
Restaurants specializing in jokbal, or pig’s feet, will tell you that the secret is in the braising liquid –- that dark broth made from soy, ginger, garlic, rice wine, and a secret ingredient or two that makes their jokbal unique.
Customers order according to size -– small, medium, and large -– with the large portions usually coming from the naturally larger front legs of the pig. The staff will then chop up your order -– bone, hoof, and all -– and pile it high on platter.
You’ll be able to see three distinct layers of meat, a sliver of fat, covered by a glistening and quivering layer of skin. The natural gelatin in jokbal gives it its distinct chewiness and is also a secret to having great skin.
Oh-hyang Jokbal mandu (오향 족발 만두) 102 Seosomun-dong, Jung-gu (중구 서소문동 102); +82 2 753 4755; Monday-Saturday, 4 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
3. Intestine, Sundaeguk
Sundae, referred to as Korean blood sausage, is a mainstay on street carts that sell spicy rice cakes (ddeokbokki) and fried food. The sausage is made from pig’s intestines stuffed with clear, sweet potato noodles and pig’s blood.
More adventurous palates will enjoy the treasure hunter aspect of sundaeguk, a soup with sundae and other little surprises including fatty pieces of intestine (gopchang), liver, lungs, bits of cartilage, and meat.
The broth, made from pork bones, is a deeply satisfying iteration of a Korean street food favorite.
Namsoonnam Sundaeguk (남순남 순대국) 945-2 Dogok-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 도곡동 945-2); +82 2 574 3227; Monday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
4. Shoulder, Bossam
Who would have thought that boiled -– or sometimes steamed -– pork shoulder could be so delicious?
The braising liquid might have some bean paste, garlic, leeks, and rice wine in it, which serves to take away the gaminess of the meat rather than add a significant amount of flavor. What you get instead is a clean pork taste.
Of course you dress it up in salty and spicy condiments like ssamjang, a mixture of red pepper paste and bean paste and saewoojut, small, fermented shrimp and a sweet kimchi made from doraji or bellflower roots studded with freshly shucked oysters.
Use any or all of these with a wrapper of lettuce, napa cabbage, or perilla leaf around the pork and enjoy it one big bite.
Gaehwaok (개화옥), 661-18 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 신사동 661-18); +82 2 549 1459; Open 24 hours every day.
5. Cheeks, Bbolsal
The facial muscles of the porcine can easily become tough and stringy, but in the right hands, the pork cheek can yield a silky, chewy piece of pork.
The Chubby Pig (통통돼지) in Hongdae specializes in pork cheeks. While the setup of meat over a charcoal grill seems not unlike the other grilled pork restaurants crowding the street, the meat itself sets them apart. The thinly sliced pork cheeks have been marinating in salt and sesame oil to tenderize the meat and add some flavor and fat to an otherwise lean piece of protein.
The Chubby pig (통통돼지) 346-46 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 서교동 346-46); +82 2 3142 0570; daily, 4 p.m.-2 a.m.
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