One of the things I love about Korea is the sense of community built around food and the interactivity that happens right at the dinner table.  Many meals are “family style” where dishes are shared and cooked on your tabletop.  Korean barbecue is one of those meals and one that I never get tired of.  Samgyeopsal, which is pork belly, is the quintessential cut of meat for Korean barbecue.  It’s ordered by the gram, usually 100-200 per person, and is brought to your table raw, unseasoned and un-marinated.  That may sound a bit boring, but once it starts sizzling on the gas or charcoal grill built into your table, you won’t be disappointed.

Samgyeopsal is always served with ssamjang (a thick dipping sauce made with red pepper paste and fermented soybean paste) and either a little bowl of course salt or a sesame oil and salt combination.  Once the pork is nice and crispy on the outside, I like to dip it in the two and wrap it up in a lettuce or perilla leaf which are also always served with samgyeopsal.  I also like to add garlic, cloves of which are grilled at your table alongside the pork.  Sometimes grilled kimchi is a nice addition as well.  Like all Korean meals, an array of banchan (side dishes) will be brought to your table along with the samgyeopsal, kimchi, garlic and lettuce.  Typically you’ll get a soup, pickled radish, onions, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and some marinated seaweed, among other things.  It varies from place to place, but they’re always free with your meal and refillable at no extra cost.

Usually one person in your dinner party takes charge of the grill at your table.  I’ve had a few different experiences in terms of how much the staff help out, however.  The first time David came to visit I was so excited to share a traditional Korean barbecue meal with him, but we were both disappointed when the woman working there wouldn’t leave our table.  She just stood there, manning the grill until all the meat was cooked (at the time I was still fairly new to Korea and didn’t know how to politely ask her to leave and let us grill our own meat).  That is the only time I’ve had the staff babysit the grill like that, though.  Most of the time they leave you to do it on your own, or they might step in and flip your meat over if they see you’ve left it too long on one side.  Either way, if you feel like you do need help or a refill of some sort, you can call the staff over by simply pushing a button at your table.

I suppose some people might not enjoy the aspect of cooking your own food at a restaurant.  Isn’t not having to do the cooking the point of going out for dinner?  For some, maybe.  I happen to love the communal, interactive dining experience, and the fact that I don’t have to wash any of the dishes afterwards makes it even better.

A Korean barbecue experience with samgyeopsal.

A Korean barbecue experience with samgyeopsal.

When ordering samgyeopsal, it's served raw for you took cook on the grill at your table.

When ordering samgyeopsal, it’s served raw for you took cook on the grill at your table.

This not a picture of samgyeopsal, it's beef, but it's cooked and consumed in the same way samgyeopsal is. Notice she's using scissors to cut the meat. Scissors are knives in Korea.

This not a picture of samgyeopsal, it’s beef, but it’s cooked and consumed in the same way samgyeopsal is. Notice she’s using scissors to cut the meat. Scissors are knives in Korea.

Korean barbecue usually goes hand in hand with soju and beer. Soju is a distilled, vodka-like liquor that is usually made from rice, and a 375ml bottle only costs $1-3.

Korean barbecue typically goes hand in hand with soju and beer. Soju is a distilled, vodka-like liquor that is usually made from rice, and a 375ml bottle only costs $1-3.

A perfectly crisp piece of samgyeopsal.

A perfectly crisp piece of samgyeopsal.

Depending on the type of grill at the restaurant, you can order rice to be fried up with the lefter bits and pieces of meat, kimchi and garlic. It's so good!

Depending on the type of grill at the restaurant, you can order rice to be fried up with the leftover bits and pieces of meat, kimchi and garlic. It’s so good!

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