In my blog post on Bulgogi, it is mentioned that for bulgogi, meat is marinated before it is grilled and the type of meat which can be used can vary, e.g., beef, pork or chicken. In South Korea, there is another kind of grilled meat dish which is cooked in a different way and uses pork belly meat only – this is “samgyeopsal” (삼겹살 – grilled pork belly meat) which is liked by both Koreans and foreigners. In the Korean drama, you can often see people eating samgyeopsal during dinner gatherings with friends and colleagues. Let’s talk about samgyeopsal in this blog post.
What is Samgyeopsal?
For the name of the dish, “sam” literally means “three”, “gyeop” means “layer” and “sal” means “meat”. It is a dish using three-layered fatty pork belly meat as the key ingredient and you can clearly see alternate layers of fat and meat. You may also come across “ogyeopsl” (오겹살 – “five-layered meat” as “o” means “five”) but the cooking method is the same. Unlike bulgogi which marinates the meat before grilling, samgyeopsal does not marinate or season the meat before grilling. It is said that samgyeopsal originated from the habit of Korean miners (who inhale unhealthy dust in the mining tunnels) who ate samgyeopsal after work since it was believed that it could help detoxify their bodies.
Thick and long slices of fatty pork belly meat are cooked on a grill by the diners at the table and the diners may grill other ingredients like mushroom, kimchi, garlic and onions at the same time. Once cooked, the diners cut the meat into small slices using scissors. You may just pick up a small slice of meat and dip it into seasonings like red pepper paste, soybean paste, sesame oil and eat it alone or with boiled rice. However, a more common and interesting way of eating is that the diners put a slice of meat into a piece of lettuce leaf or sesame leaf together with the their favourite ingredients (e.g., kimchi, garlic, onion, mushrooms, boiled rice, bean sprouts, etc.) and seasonings to make a wrap, which is then eaten as a whole, usually in one go. You can watch this video to understand how the samgyeopsal is grilled and eaten.
Although you can see thick layers of fat in the pork belly meat, as the oil comes out from the meat through the grilling process and the meat is eaten with the lettuce leaf or sesame leaf and other healthy ingredients and seasonings, you do not feel that greasy and dry when eating the samgyeopsal. Moreover, Koreans like to drink soju (소주 – a Korean alcoholic beverage in green bottle) while eating samgyeopsal and the soju can help reduce the fattiness of the dish. However, given its fatty nature, the level of calories of 100-gram serving of samgyeopsal can be as high as 300 so it is advisable not to eat too much.
In South Korea, Koreans designate 3 March (which has two “3”s in the date) as “Samgyeopsal Day” and celebrate by eating samgyeopsal. According to the E-Mart chain, in 2014, average daily sales of samgyeopsal amounted to 600 million won between 1 to 3 March vs. 220 million won for the rest of the month. In 2015, average daily sales of samgyeopsal in February amounted to 250 million won but on 1 March alone, the figure jumped to around 700 million won. Therefore, a lot of Koreans seem to observe this special “Samgyeopsal Day”.
Enjoy Samgyeopsal with Your Friends
As you do not need to season or marinate the meat before cooking and you can just grill the meat and eat it, samgyeopsal is an easy-to-cook food which can be eaten not only in restaurants but also at home or at camping sites. You may enjoy samgyeopsal with your friends easily in South Korea as there are many restaurants offering samgyeopsal. Alternatively, you can buy packs of raw pork belly meat and have a barbecue party at home with your friends. To make it more interesting, hold a samgyeopsal party on the Samgyeopsal Day! Happy eating! 🙂
Reminder: The next blog post will be published on 16 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
“Hankik (Korean Food) Series – Bulgogi” dated 9 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
Kim Jeong-pil and Kim Hyo-jin, “Consumption of tasty pork belly bulge on its special day“, The Hankyoreh, 2015-03-03
Jessica Steele, “So tasty: Samgyeopsal!“, The Korea Blog, 2014-02-28
Arirang TV, “Tales of Hansik – The most popular pork dish samgyeopsal“, Arirang Culture, 2013-09-25
Hong Mi-kyung, “Top 10 Korean dishes and restaurants“, Korea Tourism Organization