Korean BBQ Anyone?…Getting your saturated fats on in Seoul, Korea
It’s been over 15 years since my last visit to Seoul. But one thing never changes: The food. Meat lovers will embrace the BBQ goodness that you can find everywhere in Korea. In particular, check out the restaurant recommendation below. Vegetarian readers, my apologies.
Sam Gyop Sal, BBQ Beef, and Bulgogi in Seoul
I recently zipped over to Seoul, Korea — less than 2 hours flight from Tokyo — to hang with a friend who was there for a week for work. Being a self-admitted cultural Philistine, I didn’t do any sightseeing. I did, however, eat a lot. Hey, food IS culture, right? So what’s on the menu in Korea? Not much that’s good for you, at least not where I went. But plenty that’s good!
Sam Gyeop Sal
Although I was Jonesing for BBQ beef, we actually went first to a local BBQ restaurant that seemed interesting. It had some open-air seating which is important for air quality (Koreans LOVE to smoke during dinner), and was full of Koreans — a sure sign that the local food is good. But instead of beef, the only thing on the menu was “Sam Gyeop Sal” — VERY fatty pork that you BBQ yourself, wrap up in some lettuce with some kimchi, and throw down the hatch. Although this cuisine should be served with a complementary angioplasty, it is REALLY good.
And what do Koreans love to do more than smoke? Drink, of course. Luckily, so do I, and the local beer there, “Cass,” was really tasty with the sam gyeop sal. And if they run out of CASS, show them the photo below and ask for a bottle — It’s one of the cheaper brands of the local rice-based alcohol called “Soju” (소주) — not really “rice wine” as it’s commonly called. It’s more akin to a mix of paint thinner and rocket fuel. Perfect! I liked it enough to drink half a bottle of the stuff. I didn’t dare drink more. But the two Korean girls at the table beside us were taking shots of it as normal as I’d drink a glass of water. Respekt!
Three Cool Points of Korean BBQ
1. When your meat is served, it comes with a HUGE pair of scissors. Use those to cut the poor animal carcass into chopstick-friendly size bits.
2. Aside from meat and alcohol, you can get free additional helpings of everything on the table. So if you love kimchi, this is a great place to eat!
3. Koreans decidedly do NOT speak English. So you really get an authentic experience trying to order and get fed in a small local restaurant. Just remember ~~chu-se-yo (Can I have ~~) and kam sa ham ye da (Thank you), and you’ll do fine.
Sarang Che: A great BBQ beef restaurant near LotteWorld
I stayed at the Hotel Lake, very close to the Lotte department store. Just behind the hotel was the restaurant below: “Sarang Che” (사랑채) if my memory plus rudimentary Hangul-reading skills are correct. I think it means something like “Restaurant love” or something. Anyway, I went there for lunch. It was my one day alone to eat beef (my friend won’t eat beef…or duck…apparently because her mom doesn’t eat them. Not sure why but I love that logic). I went to the fridge where they have all the cuts on display with prices and went for the top-end one. With one beer it came to about $50. A lot for one person, but…damn! It was crazy delicious!
Note that I have NO idea how I ordered beef beyond pointing. The LOTTE area is very touristy, but the owners of this BBQ beef and pork restaurant really had no idea of the words pork or beef in English. I was lucky that one of the junior waitresses recognized my impersonation of a cow and shouted, “Beef??” Bingo! Give that girl a shot of soju!
You can find Sarang Che behind the Hotel Lake, on the other side of the pond behind LOTTE (Green Line: Jamsil Station)
Bi Bim Bap…The poorer cousin of BBQ beef
And for my last lunch, I thought I would try the bi bim bap (비빔밥), which is just a bowl of rice with some veggies, an egg, and a bit of meat if you ask for it. It’s not piping hot and while filling, it definitely lacks the punch of the BBQ beef. On the other hand, you’re less likely to die of jammed arteries eating this stuff, so bring it!
And just to prove I was actually in Korea, I did the buffoon pose in front of the one-hit-wonder’s stompin’ ground sign.