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- April 2012(issue 199)
Samgyeopsal, Koreans’ Favorite Pork Dish
Samgyeopsal (pork belly) is named after its three layers of lean meat and fat. It is the favorite pork part of many Koreans. In foreign countries, this specific part of pork is also consumed but usually in the form of smoked meat like bacon. So much raw pork belly is consumed in Korea that it is even said that almost all the worldwide production of pork belly goes to Korea. Therefore, in Korea, pork belly fetches the highest price, compared to other countries.
Koreans’ World Renowned Love for Samgyeopsal
The consumption of pork belly in Korea is astronomical. There is statistical data showing that a Korean eats an average of one portion of pork belly every four days. Koreans even created Samgyeop-sal Day falling on March 3rd, the so-called 3·3-day. Friends and couples meet each other on that day, eat pork belly together, and drink soju (distilled liquor.) There is also a popular belief that eating pork belly after doing a big cleanup or working at a dusty place can sweep away all the dirt in the throat. What’s more, when yellow dust season approaches, the consumption of pork belly becomes even larger. Due to this single-minded love for pork belly, other parts of pork are hardly selling. As a result, several campaigns to boost the consumption of other parts of pork have been carried out.
How Did Koreans Start Eating Samgyeopsal?
It is said that people in Kaesong region of what is currently North Korea, who are famous for their business acumen, started selling well layered pork belly with fat (the most unpopular pork part) and lean meat (the most popular pork part). Raising pigs of an improved breed, they gradually learned how to produce as much pork belly per pig as possible. Pig is an omnivorous animal, so they eat anything, even food scraps. In Jeju Island, pigs were raised in an outhouse being fed on human excrement. But merchants of Kaesong found the way of producing more pork belly in a hog. They fed millet containing lots of fiber to hogs for some time and then fed less-nutritious concentrated fodder. By doing so, the fatty part got sandwiched between lean parts. With fatty and lean parts quite proportionally mixed, pork belly became tastier. And so, the pork belly became so popular that the price soared.
The original recipe is really simple - just roast the meat on a fire. But other recipes caught on with the times. In the early 1990s, samgyeopsal grilled on caldron lid won popularity. A little later, daepae-samgyeopsal (planed pork belly) whose price for one portion was cheaper than that of jajangmyeon (black-bean-sauce noodles) came in.
The thinly sliced samgyeopsal is done immediately on a fire. In the late 1990s, the recipe of dipping pork belly in bean flour and misutgaru (powder made of mixed grains, roasted and ground) prevailed. And in the 2000s, wine samgyeopsal made by marinating pork belly in wine and green-tea samgyeopsal made by spreading green-tea powder onto the meat caught on.
Ssam and Kimchi, Perfect Match for Samgyeopsal
Samgyeopsal is greasy because the meat used is fatty. But, there is a secret to enjoying the meat to the full - wrapping the meat in vegetables and kimchi. Koreans like wraps. Among the vegetables used for wrapping, lettuce and sesame leaves can never be ruled out when eating samgyeopsal. Put lettuce, a sesame leaf, and samgyeopsal on a palm, one by one, and add ssamjang (soybean paste mixed with red pepper paste.) With vegetables, meat, and paste all in one, it tastes out of this world. For those who love a hot and piquant taste, add sliced garlic and pamuchim (shredded green onion seasoned with red pepper powder and sesame oil.) And kimchi is a perfect ingredient to soothe the greasiness of samgyeopsal. Put well-ripened, sour kimchi on the very grill on which the pork belly is being roasted, and roast the kimchi and the meat together. The tastes of the two are harmonized perfectly. For those who are self-acclaimed samgyeopsal connoisseurs, make sure to try all these methods!