I seriously love food, and one of the many things that Jade and I love about Korea is the eating out culture. More specifically, our favourite type of restaurant is the type where you get to cook the food yourself over an indoor barbecue. Korean Barbecue is famous all over the country, and is the way to celebrate almost any occasion. Or, for us, to just spend a nice Friday (or Monday) night.
You can spot these places anywhere, and tell tale signs include funny little metal pipes sticking out of walls, and hilarious murals, usually depicting animals in their super-imposed, I mean natural, habitats… All in all, these places offer indoor cooking over your very own barbecue, with every side dish you could possibly imagine to accompany it all – they’re perfect for those freezing cold winter nights (which have also been described as arctic/tundra cold by some of my co-workers). Each place usually specialises in one kind of meat, even if they might offer different cuts or variations, and it’s wise to go for that one – when in doubt, just wait to see what a local orders.
This is such a cool and unique way to dine and there are so many options available. So here’s a run down of our favourites…
Hanu Beef – 한우리고기
This is the equivalent of going out for steak in Korea, but is far cheaper. Hanu beef traditionally comes from Andong (a few miles to the North of us), and is best enjoyed with Soju and the various salads it usually arrives with. One should be forgiven for thinking they’ve walked into a butcher where they expected to find a restaurant, as this seems to be the norm. You pay for your meat at one counter, before being quickly escorted through to the restaurant (usually to a throng of giggling customers).
It’s a little pricey in comparison to the other types of Korean Barbecue, but is delicious! We even took my mum and dad to our local Hanu Plazu when they visited. Essentially how this works, and how all three of these work in fact, is you cook your meat, and wrap it in salad leaves with any extras that you might fancy. Juicy beef and barbecued garlic is unbelievably good!
Ori Bulgogi – 오리 불고기
A top choice for those duck fans out there, and once described as ‘quack quack’ to me by a drunken resident of Gyeongju, this is a dish that has it all. The duck, pink and fatty, comes piled high with vegetables and a deliciously rich sauce which you pour straight onto your sizzling hot plate. In our experience this is a dish that the waitress will usually cook for you, and they get pretty mad if you do anything on your own! Again, it’s a simple case of cook and wrap, but this time there’s a twist. Once the duck is all eaten, the rice arrives, and is cooked in the meat juices. It is, quite frankly, phenomenal, especially when the rice gets nice and crispy on the barbecue. Our town focuses on mushrooms as the accompanying vegetable but in Yeongcheon, where a friend of ours lives, we tried a kimchi version which was fantastic!
Samgyeopsal – 삼곂살
This is by far the Korean favourite, and for a good reason too. Samgyeopsal literally translates as three layered meat, and that’s because this pork belly is layered fat and meat. You grill it until it’s crispy and salty, and then add whatever else you might want too – garlic and soju is essential for this one, but Gojujang (a mixed chilli and vegetable paste) is delicious with it too. There’s a place in our town that we visit quite regularly, as it also happens to be the cheapest DIY Korean meal. There are two main types of salad leaves used to wrap this dish in before eating and the darker green, flatter version is one of our favourite discoveries in Korean cuisine. These are called wild sesame leaves and are also used in our favourite Korean lunchtime snack, Chamchi Kimbap.
Shabu Shabu (샤부 샤부)
Our most recent discovery, and the most different of the lot, is a three course dinner, cook it yourself, hot-pot style affair. Originally Japanese, this dish contains mountains of meat and veg, and as usual, it’s up to you to cook it all up, before wrapping it up in a rice pancake. The finished product looks a little like vietnamese nem (raw spring roll), and is a fantastic appetizer. Stage two is adding the remaining ingredients to the broth, and cooking them up with noodles. The final part, like any and every Korean meal, is rice. You add it to the broth with an egg yolk and boil it down until it’s a sort of risotto. This meal is really special and will leave you enjoyably stuffed.
I hope you’re all nice and hungry now!
Have you tried Korean barbecue? What is your favourite?