Finding the Standard for KBBQ in the Korean Capital
orean food is not unlike the salt-of-the-earth cuisine found in many Asian countries; it’s grassroots and hearty, and, quite plainly — healthy. Anyone who’s ever sat down to a table with the signature built-in grill or stove and jars of fermenting kimchi and pajeori (a salad of seasoned scallions) will understand the royal majesty of a Gogigui or Korean BBQ (KBBQ). Grilled pork belly and spicy pickled kimchi are no longer considered left- eld or exotic. Food fads arrive and ee in droves across Orange County, and for the betterment of all residents, KBBQ has made itself quite comfortable within the California food scene.
The Setting: Seoul, South Korea
Lucky me, I was traveling to Seoul, a metropolitan haven of just over 10 million residents and the capital city of the South Korean nation, it was the perfect place to try out true, authentic KBBQ. Criss-crossing a city of high-rises and constant noise, I found myself planted among food vendors, surrounded by mountains of spices and fresh ingredients in what is called Yaksu Market (약수시장). Situated within earshot of Yaksu metro stop, the market provides an epicentral vibe to the very spirit of Korean cooking. Mounds of red chili powder and dried sh surround you as you walk by rows of food stalls in which hefty slabs of beef, pork, sh, and chicken are chopped, sorted, and presented to passerbys on the lookout for avors that are as rich as the market air. Yaksu Market is a testament to the variety seen in Korean cuisine, and possibly intimidating to the casual novice willing to try their hand at cooking Korean dishes.
WooSung Galbi (약수시장)
Open: 2PM – 2AM
Phone number: 02-2231-6722
Address: 서울시 중구 신당3동 372-40
(Seoul, Jung-gu, Shindang3-dong 372-40)
Closest subway station: 약수역 (Yaksu Station – line number 3 and 6)
How to Eat KBBQ
Amid the overwhelming vibrancy of Yaksu Market (약수시장) lies WooSung Galbi (약수시장), a KBBQ joint specializing in pork galbi (돼지갈비) and pork rinds (껍데기). Even at the small table at which I’m sitting at, a stove is built-in. All the xings immediately present themselves: red kimchi by the plateful, pa muchim (which is similar to pajoeri), whole garlic cloves, whole chilies, and a plate of both sesame leaves and red leaf lettuce.
To languidly drop a piece of pork fresh from the grill into your mouth is suspect enough and though communal in its spirit, there are some norms to be had at a Korean table. Th e habit of cooking one’s own meal at a KBBQ restaurant was apparent to me as I seemed to over help the server, who came and not only prepped the grill for me but proceeded to cut and distribute chunks of pork belly and whole onion slices evenly across the heat. She was quick to off er control of the tongs as I would fl ip galbi pieces. No worry to me, though. It’s not like I wasn’t busy enjoying the green and red vegetable accouterments spread around the grill — sweet red kimchi being the star attraction for this palette. Th e chili powder glistens a bright hue of visceral red over the white cabbage, and fortunately for me, I’m able to order as much spicy kimchi as my taste-buds can handle. Kimchi off ers itself as a perfect garnishing agent between a folded sliver of sesame leaf. As it turns out, I’m late to the party when it comes to using leaves as vehicles for transporting Korean pork. Taco-folding comes in handy here. Holding the leaf in your hand, destiny itself is up to you. Combinations of the like are essentially endless depending on what’s on the table.
Long before the savory smell of pork fat surrounded my table, both the scent of the ocean and ginger root were abundant in the air. I was told that the minute this meal is over I am to spray my body with complimentary fabric freshener, as the smell of melting pig gristle tends to cling to outfits.
Tipping. KOREA IS BASICALLY A NO-TIP CULTURE.
Yaksu Market (약수시장)
After the meal, I walked around the market some more. Men and women in their vendor stands huddled around steaming pots of what looked like broth. One place in the market had a one-woman show as the sweetest Korean woman you ever saw, akin to anyone’s mother or favorite aunt, she quietly picked through separated high-stacked mounds of chilies, beet sprouts, seaweed salad and two diff erent bowls of kimchi, all while managing snippets of pork and grilled chicken. Th e only distraction was the calling orders of the dining patrons surrounding her counter. At the same point I stopped by her corner, we exchanged smiles, and she pointed to all the food she had drawn out for everybody. I became rather enamored by her cheery nature, and all that my trip to Seoul had provided.