July 28, 2011

The Rise of Korean Pork Belly - Koreatown Roundup

Jonathan Gold writes this week about Palsaik Samgyeopsal, a place that extols the healthful virtues of pork belly, of which I am certain there are close to none except for the psychological (those who love to consume the stuff are inexorably more delightful and pleased with life as a result). Gold makes such a point at the end of his excellent post. He also points out the greater movement of pork belly in the Koreatown, which is as true a statement as ever. Here are some places that I've found where you can get some excellent pork belly in all of its various Korean forms.

O Dae San

The all-you-can-eat emporium that spans two levels and revels in the overuse of granite stone features some of the best pork belly around, mostly because of the western-type spices and herbs. From what I can tell, there's a few dried herbs and even whole peppercorns in their marinade that's not too sweet, which means you don't get too much burnt leftovers on the grill. The thick-cut slices are what makes the lunch-time and lowest-level dinners here a great deal. I usually employ my buddy Frank for his expert grilling ability. The true samgyeopsal lover knows exactly when to take the belly off the grill, yielding a nicely crisped outside but an inside that's got a bit of chew. I like to employ Harold McGee's method of continually flipping the thick belly so that you get the ideal texture, but I think Frank's innate Koreanness allows him to have that sixth sense about when to take it off the grill.

Jun Won

Koobawoo might have the most celebrated bossam in town, but Jun Won's might be a hair better if only for the massive quantity that you get for the price. If you include oysters, it amounts to around $28 for a platter of bossam that could easily feed three (along with the included banchan). As part of a meal, it'd be a nice thing to share between four. The tender texture, rich pork belly, and crisp vege along with the perfect moo saeng chae and a smatter of fermented shrimp paste. But what might be better than the bossam (and what I talked about in my review), is the platter of pan-fried spicy pork belly with kimchi, a true comfort food that works perfectly with the country-style rice that comes with various grains and legumes. A true transport to a rural cottage restaurant in Korea.

Honey Pig and Don Dae Gam

Both Honey Pig and Don Dae Gam are pork-centric Korean barbeque houses, something that you're much more likely to see in Korea versus the beef-centric barbeque houses that scatter Koreatown. In Korea, the beef barbeque restaurants tend to be high end, like Ruth's Chris or Morton's, with more staid ambiances and traditional service. The street-level barbeque places mostly serve pork in all its various cuts, along with a staggering number of cheap bottles of soju. In a way, you might place blame the social degradation in Korea on pork and soju, with barbeque houses the traditional starting point of the cultural hwae-shik, a pormanteau of the words for "work" and "eat" (hwae-sah and shik-sah). Basically a bunch of office mates, including the boss, goes out, eats a bunch, and gets plastered. It's not a pretty sight in the latter hours of the night, but early on its very festive and fun. Honey Pig might fit this bill a little better as Don Dae Gam feels slightly family-oriented in comparison. I go for the ddong-dwae-ji at Honey Pig, which literally means "poop" or "shit" pig because it refers to those lovely animals who dwell underneath the outhouses in Jeju Island. Of course that's not really what you get here...I'm not actually sure what you get, but when they give that label, you're generally in for a fatty, more delicious pork belly than that standard-issue stuff. Then again, douse it all in some grilled kimchi and it doesn't matter anyway.

Dwit Gol Mok and Dan Sung Sa

No Korean pub is complete without tubu kimchi, the simple anju stir-fry of spicy pork belly and kimchi with large cubes of fresh, firm tofu. Honestly, this dish isn't spectacular or inventive. It's probably a dish some cook whipped up with available ingredients in the pantry. I think everyone who drinks beer or soju or anything has that moment when they're like, "I think I might have drunk too much too quickly..." and they need something to help bring them back to earth, something to stabilize their mind and stomach, at least to the point where they're not going to...cause any problems. You want something that's got heft, but not anything too greasy. You also want something tasty because heck, everything sounds delicious at that moment. Well that's tubu kimchi - a dish that's satisfying and simple, and those cubes of tofu help you sober up slightly.

O Dae San
2889 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 383-9800

Jun Won
3100 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 383-8855

Honey Pig
3400 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 380-0256

Don Dae Gam
1145 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(323) 373-0700

Dwit Gol Mok
3275 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 382-8432

Dan Sung Sa
3317 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 487-9100


Jin said...

nice round up!!! my parents think i got fat from eating too much pork belly when i was a kid. that said, i'm going to hit every single one of those places when i'm off this cleanse.

streetgourmetla said...

Great! Was one of these that pub we went to that one time? I think I recall a pork belly dish.

mattatouille said...

Jin: DO IT. Pork belly rules. Ssam gyup sal, that is.

Bill: yeah that was DGM (Dwit Gol Mok). They have bossam there that's just pretty good, but definitely not bad considering the price you'd pay at happy hour.