Snapshots from South Korea: Triple Pork Barbecue at Galmaegi-sal Jeonmun
Last month I visited Seoul, South Korea, Here's a look at something I ate from my trip. For more, check out the rest of my Snapshots from South Korea.
My last day in Seoul was, unfortunately, the most miserable in terms of weather. Non-stop rain meant awkwardly lugging around bags and an umbrella all day, walking around in damp shoes, and having little desire to whip out my dSLR and take photos of the gloomy city. But it ended in one of the best ways possible: with a mountain of pork.
Accompanied by food bloggers Dan Gray and Fat Man Seoul, chef Rachel Yang and Soo Hyang Choi of the Institute of Traditional Korean Food, I got my wish of having a Korean barbecue pork fest by going to Galmaegi-sal Jeonmun, a somewhat dingy-looking hut of a restaurant tucked down an alleyway that I would never be able to find on my own, nor would I think of eating at if I came across it. You could either be disgusted by the mountain of pork strips sitting on a table just outside the restaurant's entrance, or enticed by it. We were enticed.
We gathered around two round barrels-for-tables whose bellies would soon be filled with fire. It seemed like the smell of burning human flesh was eminent when our slim waitress carried over two flaming baskets at a time using fairly skinny tongs, but she knew what she was doing and was probably much stronger than she looked. If I were in her position, someone would've ended up in the hospital.
Accompanied by mushrooms and whole cloves of garlic (down the center of the grill since that was the cooler part), the meat went on the grill. Our giant plate of pink meat strips, specifically galmaegi (pig skirt, the flap of meat by the ribs), hyangjeongsal (neck meat) and gaburisal (loin, end part), contained five servings, one for each of us. Not that we actually needed one serving per person at 11 p.m.; our waitress insisted that we each get our own portion. For only ₩10,000 ($7.80) per order, you may as well. The only problem was that when presented with a seemingly endless supply of fatty pork chunks, we couldn't stop eating. Or maybe that was just me. I didn't have a favorite part; I liked them all. Soft, moist meat chunks, you are all welcome in my belly.
While pork is addictive enough on its own, the accompanying seasonings made it even more so. We each got a bowl of chopped chives and onions marinating in a sauce made of lemon juice, mustard, soy sauce, and probably other ingredients I didn't recognize, a three-sectioned dish with roasted soybean powder, wild sesame powder, and a salt and pepper mixture, and ssamjang. There was also fresh lettuce leaves, cabbage kimchi, chopped green chiles, and garlic cloves—which I learned on my first day in Korea to not eat raw, or else you'll regret it for the entire following day when your mouth feels like its seeping garlic instead of saliva. I dipped just about every cooked piece of meat into the soybean powder, sesame powder, and salt/pepper before dunking into the onion and chive bowl and shoveling into my mouth with a wad of rice. Repeat that 20 times or so (not that I kept track; it was all a meat coma-induced blur) and you've got my night. The company combined with the food made it my favorite meal of my trip.
We nursed our meat mountain into the midnight hour. I asked my friend how late these places stay open: "Until everyone leaves or they're too drunk to eat any more." After your meal, you'll probably smell like pork and smoke to anyone who wasn't in the restaurant. The vent in the ceiling was black and caked with years of smoke and airborne pork particles. I hope it will be around for many years to come.
I remember that it wasn't far from the Jongno 3-ga stop on the 3 line, but I wouldn't be able to place it on a map. If I get specific directions I'll update this entry.