In the last blog post, I talked about bibimbap which is a hansik eaten by most foreigners. Another popular hansik among foreigners should be bulgogi (불고기 -grilled meat). Even the U.S. President Barack Obama is known as a big fan of bulgogi and it was said that bulgogi was one of his favourite lunch choices. During President Obama’s state visit to South Korea in 2009, bulgogi was served at the official dinner. It is also said that bulgogi is the only dish that marinates the meat before it is grilled. Let’s talk about this well-known Korean dish in this blog post.
What is Bulgogi?
For the name of the dish, “bul” literally means “fire” and “gogi” means “meat”. So, it in fact refers to a method of cooking, i.e., grilling meat over fire, and the meat used for this dish can be any type of meat, e.g., beef, pork, chicken or lamb. However, the most often used meat for bulgogi is beef, followed by pork. For beef, usually sirloin or tenderloin is used.
As for the cooking method, the meat is thinly sliced and then marinated in the sauce for as long as 24 hours. Bulgogi tastes sweet and delicious and is very tender because it is marinated in a sauce made from honey, thick soy sauce, black pepper, chopped garlic, onion, pear juices, and scallion before it is grilled. After being marinated, the meat turns into brown as it reacts with oxygen. The marinated meat is then cooked over a charcoal grill, usually at the table. The grilled meat slices are then eaten as they are or with rice. Alternatively, the grilled meat can be wrapped in a lettuce leaf with raw garlic, green pepper and dabbed with soybean paste and/or red pepper paste and then eaten as a whole. In some restaurants, the meat are cooked in a domed-shaped pan over a charcoal brazier or a gas range. The pan has a trough around the edge to hold the juice which comes out of the meat and can be eaten with the rice. After eating the grilled meat, Koreans like to finish off the meal with naengmyeon ( 냉면 – cold noodles) which is served in cold soup to refresh themselves.
Origin of Bulgogi
Bulgogi can be traced back to 2nd and 3rd centuries, B.C. when the early inhabitants of Southern Korea called “Maek” used to skewer meat on a stick, covered it with a sauce and then cooked it over fire. The dish was called “Maekjeok” (맥적) – “maek” refers to the people and “jeok” means “skewer”. Then, in Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), maekjeok evolved into a royal court dish called “neobiani” (너비아니 – sliced grilled beef) which was eaten by royalty and aristocrats only. Neobiani was made of thick, flat and wide cuts of meat cooked over charcoal fire. During the Korean War (1950-1953), the U.S. armed services introduced the slicing machines into South Korea and with the help of these machines, the meat used to prepare bulgogi dishes began to be thinly cut. Until recently, bulgogi was considered as a celebration dish which was eaten only on birthdays or weddings or was used to serve guests. Nowadays, bulgogi has become a signature Korean food which can be found in nearly every Korean food venue.
Fusion Bulgogi Food
Some fast food chains in South Korea adapted bulgogi to their menus. For example, McDonald’s offers bulgogi burger (with a patty marinated in Korean bulgogi sauce, mayo and lettuce) and double bulgogi burger (with two patties marinated in Korean bulgogi sauce, cheese, mayo and lettuce). Next time you visit South Korea, don’t forget to try these bulgogi burgers.
Make Your Own Bulgogi
In fact, it is not so difficult to make bulgogi yourself. The key lies in getting the sauce in which the meat is marinated right. You can watch this video to learn how to make bulgogi dish. Happy cooking and eating! 🙂
Reminder: The next blog post will be published on 14 April 2015. Watch this space!
Related Blog Posts
“Hansik (Korean Food) Series – Interesting things about Korean food and eating” dated 31 March 2015
“Hansik (Korean Food) Series – Bibimbap” dated 2 April 2015
“Hansik (Korean Food) Series – Samgyeopsal” dated 14 April 2015
“Hansik (Korean Food) Series – Samgyetang” dated 16 April 2015
“Hansik (Korean Food) Series – Korean Table Manners” dated 21 April 2015
“Hansik (Korean Food) Series – Kimchi” dated 23 April 2015
“Hansik (Korean Food) Series – Chimaek (Fried Chicken and Beer)” dated 28 April 2015
“Hansik: Exploring Korea’s true flavour“, Korea Tourism Organization, 2015-03-13
Arirang TV, “Tales of Hansik: Bulgogi, beloved by the world“, Arirang Culture, 2013-09-25
Arirang TV, “Bulgogi“, 100 Icons of Korean Culture, 2013-08-24
Sungha Park, “The dish: Bulgogi“, The Wall Street Journal, 2008-10-31
“Bulgogi“, Korea Food Foundation