You may have already dined at Korean restaurants that specialize in samgyeopsal (pork belly) cooked tableside. There are quite a few establishments — stretching from Buford Highway to Duluth — offering the sizzling piggy that diners can order a la carte, or as an all-you-can-eat format.
This Korean pork belly smorgasbord can be confusing to the uninitiated, so allow me to relay a general guideline for your samgyeopsal adventure.
1. Pick a spot. Honey Pig, Iron Age, Sun and Moon Cafe, Star Daepo are some options in Duluth. Dongnae Bangnae off Oakcliff Road and Buford Highway is a closer option for intown residents. (Addresses and contact information provided at the end.)
2. If you plan to go with a big party or even during prime time (7-9 p.m.), I highly recommend you make a reservation especially on and around the weekend. Some of those places I mentioned take them like the popular Honey Pig and Iron Age.
3. Find a designated driver or responsible mode of transportation if you plan on drinking.
4. Ok, have you finally been seated? Take a look at the menu and read the English translations if you can’t read Hangul (Korean). Gauge your appetites and order a few types of pork belly. Try a plain one, one marinated in miso sauce, and a spicier one marinated in gochujang. You should also try an order of thin, curled shavings of chadolbaegi (beef brisket). Don’t be freaked out if it arrives frozen. The kitchen had to do that in order for it to slice thin.
5. If you have an appetite, opt for all-you-can-eat (AYCE). Most of those aforementioned restaurants offer this dining option for a set price ranging from $14.99 to $19.99. Sun and Moon Cafe offer AYCE for $9.99 if the diner minimally purchases one small bottle of soju (rice liquor) or two bottles of beer. Typically, you will first be brought out chadolbaegi, followed by an order of samgyeopsal, and then your server will ask you what you want more of thereafter.
6. Get booze, but drink responsibly. If you don’t drink, don’t worry, it’s still fun and delicious. But if you do drink, proceed to step 7 and 8 below.
7. Purchase a round of cold bottled beer. Hite is the most commonly sold Korean brand. It’s akin to an American lager or pilsner and goes down very easy. These restaurants usually offer American and a few imports as well, but if beer is not your thing, try the following:
- Baekseju, a type of sweet rice liquor flavored with herbs and ginseng root
- Draft makgeolli, a milk-colored, gassy rice beer with a sweet profile. (Gently shake the bottle when it arrives to mix the drink.)
8. Purchase soju. It’s a clear, refined liquor made from potato, barley, wheat, or sweet potato. Do you know how some Russians drink vodka with their meals? This is sort of similar, but soju is typically not as strong (about half the proof). You can stick to drinking this on its own, or order one for the table in addition to a round of beer.
9. By this point, a tilted portable griddle has been placed on your table and is heating via a butane gas canister. Sitting nearby is a platter of raw meat and it is surrounded by a medley of leafy or pickled vegetables, oily rice and/or vegetable wrappers, and little plates of dipping sauces and salt-fused sesame oil. A few minutes later, your server will come back and start dumping meat on the hot griddle. If he/she does not actually comes around — and this happens a lot — get to cooking.
10. Cook your meat to desired doneness. Your pork belly should attain a light brown char on both sides. When it gets there, take the provided tongs and kitchen shears and cut the pork belly into bite-size pieces followed by a little longer cooking time. Generally, servers should be providing this service but if they don’t, follow this step.
11. Instruct your party to begin eating once you sense the meat has been properly cooked (go ahead and pluck it off the griddle, one by one). Use provided wrappers (feel free to use hands if that oily rice wrapper is sticking to the other sheets) to place the pieces of pork or beef into, swab with some of that salty brown bean sauce (ssamjang), top with whatever else looks intriguing to you on the table and then eat.
12. The salty sesame oil goes well with the non-marinated chadolbaegi.
13. Take a moment to congratulate each other for venturing out to a fun dining choice. Grab your small glass of soju or beer, proclaim a loud and collective “kanbe!” (cheers!), and take a drink. You are drinking right?
14. Order more meat (especially if you opted for AYCE), ask for more side vegetables, sauce and/or wrappers and repeat steps 6-13.
15. If you went to Iron Age or Honey Pig, ask your server to do the fried rice at the end. They will apply a thin sheet of steamed rice on your griddle and mix it whatever remaining ingredients you have leftover (kimchi, sprouts, pork, beef, etc.). Allow it to cook for a while and then take your spoon and eat the rice right off the griddle. Tip: wait until the bottom of the rice cooks to a crackly texture — Koreans call this nurungji (I call it the pièce de résistance), and it’s delicious!
16. Call a cab/Get home safe,
Honey Pig, 3473 Old Norcross Road, Suite 304, Duluth, 770-476-9292. $$.
Iron Age, 2131 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth, 678-334-5242. $$.
Dongnae Bangnae, 3042 Oakcliff Road, Atlanta, 770-458-1552. $$.
Star Daepo, 3525 Mall Boulevard, Duluth, 770-418-9810. $$.
Sun and Moon Cafe, 3555 Gwinnett Place Drive, Duluth, 678-417-6755. $$.
Tofu Village (mention you want samgyeopsal), 700 Sandy Plains Road, Marietta, 770-426-7757. $$.
by Gene Lee, Food and More blog