Thursday, July 17, 2008
Spicy Pork in a (Green) Blanket
The Korean food kick continues. The great thing about living in LA is having the luxury to indulge in the various kinds of Korean barbecue and hopping on to different restaurants that do one specific thing very well.
For Sigol Ssambab on Western in Koreatown, it's the delightfully spicy barbecued pork sliced super thin, cooked tableside and wrapped in a mound of greens with a dab of spicy and salty fermented soy bean paste.
The marinade is just right -- not too sweet or spicy -- and the meat has the right amount of fat that renders upon contact with the grill. The sizzling sound can't be beat and the aromas of garlicky reddish pork that glistens will have you downing these babies pretty quickly.
The kicker is that you feel like you're eating healthy because besides being the other white meat, the pork is wrapped in at least five different kinds of greens. Take your pick from red leaf lettuce, napa cabbage, bok choy, sesame leaf, chicory, steamed white cabbage, herbs, among others. You can even have a sheet of seaweed to wrap your meat in if that's your thing. My favorites are the sesame leaf known as kennip and the steamed cabbage.
I also love this restaurant's version of the fermented soy bean paste, ssamjang (below), that accompanies every barbecued meat and green wrap. It's usually mixed with spicy chili paste called kochujang, but this place offers a milder-flavored paste in its more raw form -- not mushed into a paste so the fermented soy bean grains are barely ground.
It's also a great deal if you go in groups of at least two because portions are big and the greens come in unlimited supply. After the meat fest is over, you get another full meal of rice and fermented soy bean stew (yes, Koreans love all things fermented) with vegetables and tofu. I like the rice that's mixed with black rice, which has a much smokier flavor and is healthier.
The word, "ssam," meaning wrap, has recently become more recognized (at least in NY) with the popularity of Korean American superstar chef David Chang's Momofuku enterprise. From the readings and television appearances I've seen of him, he is best known for a steamed pork in greens version known as bossam. Sure, he does a lot more with the pork and the accouterments are different, but essentially the same concept. I have yet to find a good bossam place in the US, but maybe I should venture to his explosively overbooked joint next time I'm in NY.
480 N. Western Avenue (between Melrose & Beverly)
Los Angeles, CA 90004