Archive for the ‘Jokbal’ Category

Tilting pork fat

February 8, 2010

I’m in Korea again.  This time, it’s not primarily for cookbook research, but more for family reasons.  It’s such a short trip, a few days in Seoul, then Guam (don’t ask), then Lunar New Year back in Seoul and a flight back to JFK the next day.  Of course, I am taking advantage of the unique opportunities Seoul presents.

Like eating pork belly on a tilted grill.

I can’t even remember the name, it’s just a new place in the alleys near the Gangnam subway station, that my cousin and I went to last night.  The samgyupssal or pork belly is served with your usual accompaniments—perilla leaves, red leaf lettuce, scallion salad—but also with thin slices of sticky rice cake that you use to wrap around your grilled bit of pork.  It wasn’t so good that I would urge you to rush there, but pork is pork, always enjoyable, and I really liked the chewy, tactile layer around the crisp belly.

I also love that the grill is tilted, not only to drain the fat off the pork, but to direct the fat towards the kimchi and mushrooms.  The edges of the kimchi got crispy, and the thick cabbage almost invisibly absorbed so much clear, golden fat, you could almost pretend you didn’t know why this kimchi had a particularly delicious flavor.

The night before, after sleeping all day, I had gone with my parents to our favorite kalguksu place where the noodles are handmade and the jokbal, or boiled pig’s foot, glistens like caramel.  They pile the plate high with bones, trotters, and thick, quivering slices skin, layered on top of fat, layered on top of meat.  It does almost taste like caramel, with a slick, rich feel in your mouth.  (No wonder it tastes like caramel – it’s cooked with black taffy, as well as soybean paste and ginger.)

You eat it the same way you eat so many Korean meats — wrapped up with lettuce, ssamjang or bean paste, and maybe a slice or two of raw garlic and hot pepper, though you might start with a swipe through salted shrimp sauce.  Koreans really love the briny flavors of seafood with the melting flavors of pork.

I asked my mom how to make jokbal, and she had this look in her eyes like, “Oh God, she’s going to want to include it in her cookbook.”  She quickly said, “You boil it, but you can’t do it at home!”  Don’t worry, dear mother, I won’t be experimenting with pig’s feet at home, at least not for this cookbook.

I am embarrassed to admit that I tried to gnaw on a trotter, but I couldn’t really follow through.  Looking at the cleaned bones, I felt a little bit like a beast.  A wolf, maybe.

My cousin has invited me to have dinner with her again tonight — more pork.  She says this place has neck meat to die for.

My mother’s friend told me that if you dream about pigs, that means good luck.  Having eaten so much pork, I would think pigs would be flying through my dreams by now.

Sandong Son Kalguksu or (Sandong Handmade Knife-Cut Noodles), 3473-7972, Seocho-gu, Seocho-2-dong 1365.


Don’t be grossed out, it’s really good

December 23, 2007

Be forewarned, what follows are less delicate aspects of Korean cuisine.

In Mexico, people would often express surprise when I sat down to eat barbecued goat or a spicy stew of innards. I would shrug and merely say, “But I’m not really American, I grew up in Korea,” and immediately, the questioners would nod understandingly. I wish I could say my willingness to eat all kinds of random things comes from great bravery and open-mindedness, but it’s because I grew up never really knowing what I was eating.

I love tripe. I love it cooked in tomato sauce at Babbo, I love it in meaty Korean soups, I love it in a warm Spanish stew. But growing up, I thought it was lamb. The word in Korean for tripe is 양 or yang, which happens to be the same word for lamb. Somewhere in my little kid head, I thought the curly fur of the lamb somehow got transferred to its meat, resulting in the curly, rough surface of the tripe.

I had no such excuse for not knowing what 족발, jokbal is. After all, it literally means “pig foot.” But I somehow never put “pig” and “foot” together, probably because I was so distracted by how much I loved the contrast between the simple boiled pork meat, the extremely chewy fat, and the salty, shrimpy sauce in which it’s traditionally dipped. It is really, really chewy, as Koreans just love chewy things.

Don’t knock it till you try it.

순대, soondae, I do take credit for simply being brave even if no one ever told me it was blood sausage, because only an exceptional kid, or perhaps a supremely uncurious one, would eat something so dark and strange. I have a vague memory of some kid telling me that the casing was intestine, but I thought she was just trying to scare me. The filling is mainly rice, and blood of course, though many places will also add chopped up Korean glass noodles. Actually, the noodles scared me more; I thought they might be worms. I figured out it must be blood sausage only a few years ago, when I learned about the existence of blood sausage in other cultures. (That’s liver on the left—one thing I’ve never liked.)

I am proud of my Korean heritage for many reasons, but particularly thankful that when organ meats became cool, I was ready.