Nonnette C. Bennett
There is something about the Korean barbecue, samgyupsal, that has trapped the Pinoy taste bud. It must be the grilled pork belly and its sweet scent or the thin slices of beef. Or, it could be the merry mix of pickled or stir-fried vegetables that go with it. The craving for the food after four long months of the quarantine just had to be satisfied.
Hodori Grill along Mabini Street is the closest Korean restaurant to Session Road. I just found out that Hodori was the stylized tiger mascot of the 1988 Olympics in Korea.
For now, the challenge is climbing the eight flights of stairs to the top of the building to reach the restaurant since elevators are Covid-19 health hazards. What is most attractive about this Korean grill is the reasonable price of the eat-all-you-can meal per person. This means that you can grill pork and beef to your palate’s delight, the way you like it. You can refill your side dishes with as much vegetables as you like, too. To many groups, this is the best way to celebrate. If you want to copycat the K drama soju shots that accompany the grilled pork belly outings, they have the Korean rice wine, too.
Learning from YouTube, samgyupsal is a coined term. Sam means three layers – skin, meat and fat. The whole term refers to grilled pork belly. The gui sort of means grill. If you refer to beef it becomes woo samgyup. These two meat slices must have three layers to make them delicious in this Korean meal. They say pork is best grilled longer and the beef cooked lightly. Iron grills at Hodori are placed onLPG gas burners. These grills trap the oil from the meat in a lower section, to please the health buffs. An exhaust pipe above the grill prevents the smoke from filling the room.
The main ingredients of this meal are three layered meat, lettuce, side dishes, and sauce. Rice is an option. The usual types of lettuce used are Romaine and red leafy. The reason is this will serve as the wrap or wrapper for all the ingredients. Take a palm sized leaf, put a slice or slices of grilled pork in the center, add the kimchi or other pickled vegetables according to your preference, add some chili paste or the soy bean paste, and wrap them inside the leaf then pop the whole thing into your mouth.
This means that the size of the wrap should not be larger than your mouth. This makes the ssam (wrap). If you add a little rice to it, it becomes the ssambap. The soy bean paste with a little chili paste is my preference in this gastro adventure. I also enjoy the pickled radish as a side dish. In some Korean restaurants they have the perilla or sesame leaves, this reminds me of toothache drops but they give a zest to the ssam when chewed. The array of banchan or side dishes makes eating samgyupsal delightful. Among my stir-fried or steamed favorites are: bean sprouts, chives, zucchini, spinach, watercress, and cucumber. With the meal comes kimchi soup with tofu. This balances all the flavors in the meal and seems to perk up the appetite.
I’m a Korean food fan, no doubt. I have developed a taste for kimchi that is sweet sour, or a little aged. I have tried the day-old kimchi and to me that was the sweetest edition that I’ve tasted. But what I have learned from eating samgyupsal and woo samgyup is that I can make my version of the Korean fare with adobo, beef steak, longganisa, lechon kawali or tocino. I just need the lettuce, daenjang (soy bean paste), kochujang (red pepper paste), and kimchi. These sauces are now available in small containers at the Korean grocery for single users. The healthy part of eating this way is discovering more ways to enjoy fresh and cooked vegetables with the sinful pork belly and the fatty strips of beef.
Korean barbecue is not fun to eat alone. Please take me along if you have a craving and you are alone. Meokja! My friend! Or, meogeupsida! For honorifics or important people. Let’s eat.
Nonnette C. Bennett