We rounded up our tour of the area around Busan with a stop in Unyang, a small town that has affixed its name to a particular style of 불고기, bulgogi, the marinated beef dish that is probably the most familiar Korean dish outside of Korea. That’s probably because it’s what Koreans always feed foreigners—“Here, this won’t scare you!”
This might be why I’ve never found bulgogi very interesting. I don’t eat a lot of red meat, but when I do, I like it unadulterated. To add a lot of soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger, scallions…those are great ingredients and all, but why would you do that to an honest piece of meat?
Unyang bulgogi didn’t completely change my opinion, but I admit I was impressed. First, it didn’t look like any bulgogi I’d ever had before. The meat had been chopped and then shaped into a giant patty. Second, the patty allowed it to be cooked straight on a grill on top of some good-smelling wood charcoal. The kind of bulgogi I’ve had needs to be cooked on a brazier or stone grill, where juices can collect somewhere. There are few meats that do not benefit from wood charcoal. Third, the meat wasn’t too tender! I know people will disagree with me, but I really like my meat to have some chew, and this meat had flavor and texture.
It also was just nice to remember how much I like the Korean way of eating meat after eating so much seafood. Whenever you’re grilling meat, you should put some fresh lettuce, perilla leaves if you have it, maybe even mizuna or other bitter greens. Each person should get a dish of scallion salad, dressed in tangy vinaigrette. There should be plenty of garlic, fresh green peppers, and ssamjang, the sauce of red pepper and soybean paste that adds so much when you wrap a piece of meat in lettuce. This restaurant also put out a dish of very thinly sliced Korean radish, slightly pickled, which you could also wrap around your meat. I don’t like my meat adulterated, but I do like to eat it in combination with foods that are fresh, crisp, and pungent.
I probably should have stopped eating then, but I couldn’t resist a bowl of somyeon noodles, cooked in a light anchovy broth with that awesome nutty smell of toasted sesame seeds.
Isn’t it slightly scandalous that tomorrow, we’re eating again?