This is about my first 삼겹살 (samgyeobsal) experience… how the pork belly made me “pork-bellied.
As I said in the article “Love at First Bite,” I fell in love with kimchi. But I have to admit that with all the luscious Korean… DISHES, I wasn’t faithful to kimchi. I would later fall in love with other Korean foods. I also completely abandoned my plan to loose weight. It’s a “mission impossible.”
Before my first week in South Korea ended, we were given a treat by sir Randy. He brought me and two other foreign professors (Deborah and Kenn) to a restaurant serving 삼겹살 (Samgyeobsal). That was after we claimed our Alien Registration Card (ARC) from the immigration office in Pusan to legitimize our stay in South Korea .
It isn’t enough to just say that I have tasted samgyeobsal that night. For me it was more than just eating a pork belly. I don’t intend to sound dramatic nor philosophic but I guess it would be more appropriate for me to say that that night “I experienced samgyeopsal” instead of “I ate it.”
I consider the experience very special.
It’s a culture thing.
As we entered the restaurant, I saw sir Randy and the other professors remove their shoes. I did the same. We were escorted by an ahjussi (a middle-aged man) to a table and immediately left us after getting our order. There were no chairs, not like the set-up in that restaurant in the hotel where we had the orientation for our students. We sat on the floor. So, for the first time that I experienced eating while seated on the floor. I wasn’t comfortable sitting cross-legged but as soon as the ahjussi returned and put on our table what sir Randy ordered I forgot about my discomfort and started salivating.
Along with the slices of pork belly, we were given plenty of lettuce and perilla leaves. There were also raw onions, garlic and green chili peppers. We were also served with, of course, kimchi and other vegetable side dishes and spicy tofu. In short there were lots of food.
The ahjussi turned the portable gas griller on and the grilling began. As sir Randy held with a tong a slice of pork belly, like a teacher, he explained what samgyeopsal literally means: 삼- sam (three), 겹 – gyeop (layered), 살 – sal (flesh). His impromptu lecture did not end there. When the meat was cooked, he explained how to eat samgyeopsal the Korean way, that was after I excitedly picked up a piece of the cooked meat and had my first bite. He took a piece of meat, dipped it on a sauce then placed it on a leaf. Not done yet, he also added garlic and a bit of rice too. Then he rolled it up and stuffed it into his mouth.
“That’s the way the Koreans do it,” he said.
He made another roll and asked me to open my mouth. I hesitated at first because it was a little awkward. He explained that when dining Korean males usually do that and nobody would suspect them of “bromance.” So, I allowed him to stuff it in and returned the favor shortly after.
We learned quickly how to enjoy samgyeopsal . It was either sir Rhandy’s a good teacher or it was just our hunger. Soon enough, we had to order another round of pork belly.
There were two varieties of dipping sauces given to us by the ahjussi. Sir Randy told us that one is 쌈장 (ssamjang) and the other one 소금과 후추 기름 장 (sogeumgwa huchu gileum jang).
The kimchi served tasted differently from the one I first tried. No traces of sweetness. It was plain spicy.
While we were enjoying the “feast,” sir Randy who has been here in South Korea for a long time, recommended other kinds of Korean foods that he said he was sure I would come to like.
The other customers in the restaurant were enjoying their samgyeobsal with 맥주 (maegju) and 소주 (soju). We wanted to also but we had class the following day.
We were one in saying that it was a sumptuous dinner.
For me, it was not a simple dinner. It was a wonderful cultural experience.
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