December 3, 2023

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

This famous quote from William Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, must have been the inspiration to the name Romantic Baboy. This grill or samgyupsal place is another adventure on its own for two or couples.

First, as mentioned this place is meant for dates. According to one of the servers, a rose is supposed to be part of the welcome. This unusual pandemic times has suspended the flowers for the moment. The only place with music in the background, popular and classic love songs are played here. The sitting arrangements have not changed much because these were meant for two sitting across each other. The table is set with six side dishes around the grill. There is a water jug and a neat cylindrical metal container with the chopsticks, scissors, tongs, and spoons that one might need. There is a bowl and a glass on each side of the table. This table setting is complete and reserves the need for extra service to the minimum.

Second, Rome, our female server, presented the simple menu of meats that are options or the unlimited fare that costs P499. The difference between this and the other Korean grills is the variety of beef and pork flavors and cuts. It should be interesting to know that the Koreans pride themselves with their meat products that come from their country. They can claim that they have good beef and good pork that they sell in their stores. Indeed, the meat is different. As once was written, sam means three, samgyupsal means three layers of fat and lean meat in the slice. The beef or pork has this fatty quality that is best to grill. Of course, the choice was unlimited to sample the best parts.

Third, the hot coals are brought over. These bricks are those kinds that are reusable. Scientifically, they retain the same temperature over one hour, the average time spent to grill and eat. These details are what make these businesses sustainable because of the lower costs in the long term. There are no ashes to dispose of but the cost of heating the coals to attain the calories needed is all that is needed. The grill is placed atop this bed of heated bricks. The exhaust fan is also set above the grill to scoop away the smoke made by the burning fat. This is perhaps the most important equipment in the whole place, as we guessed, we did not have the scent of the burnt oil stick to our clothes when we left.

Fourth, the meat comes in pairs. We chose beef brisket and spicy beef for starters. Rome came over to explain that in the three side grooves of the grill, one is where the egg omelet mixture is poured and the other where the cheese is placed to melt. This is the unique element of this place, the cheesy samgyupsal is only available here. These are also unlimited options. She asked if we wanted a cup of rice and soup to go with our meal, of course we said, yes. And on to the grill went the strips of meat. This is a ritual in itself. At this point, we had been attended to by four servers. An interesting item about Romantic Baboy is that there are 15 servers at any given time and 20 for weekends. This need becomes clear when one begins to understand the standards of service they have set.

Fifth, everything sizzled and burned because between eating and grilling is the chewing that distracts one from the meat that is wrinkling into crisp bits. The brisket is my favorite part of the beef because of the marbled fat and different texture. This wrapped in green lettuce with kimchi and green onions, a spoonful of rice, soybean paste (ssamjang), and chili sauce is just perfect. If one just wants the meat with the lettuce and some sauce, this is one’s choice as well. There are side dishes of: fried sweet potato; pickled radish; kimchi; fresh strips of green onions in a dressing of oil, salt and pepper; coleslaw; and japchae (sauteed glass noodles with carrots and pork) to add to the grilled meat with rice or just to refresh the palate. Even these side dishes are unique to Romantic Baboy. Other selections are available in other grills.

Sixth, the servers are quick to change the grill when the burnt pieces stick to the grill. This can be done twice or thrice in the course of the meal. Our meat pair that came next were daepae (pork slices) and curry beef, the last was daepae and moksal (pork neck).  It is amazing how these are apportioned, these had been weighed to satiate the taste buds in batches.

Seventh, the K dramas teach us that soju is a good alcoholic drink to have with grilled meat. Not much has been written about soju which is a sweet watered down alcoholic beverage made from starch. According to Nick Hines, this was made from rice until it was banned to use the grain in Korea and later it was made from alternative starch sources like wheat, sweet potatoes and tapioca. This is flavored and has 13 percent alcohol by volume. It is such an awesome tradition to watch, in the now popular subtitled telenovelas from Korea, where the drink is poured by one in a small glass for the companion and likewise done in courtesy by the companion for the other. The ritual should be good to follow in this growing impersonal era of cyber ethics.

It was fun to look around and see people enjoy this type of food fare and the ambience for lovebirds.