#18: 보쌈 (Bo ssam)

2 Feb

As a 15-month veteran of this country, I’m a bit ashamed to admit that this was my first encounter with 보쌈 (pronounced bo ssam), but it certainly won’t be my last.  I’m hooked.  Friends of both Korean and western descent were taken aback when I showed them The List with 보쌈 left conspicuously unchecked-off.  How could I have gone this long without trying it?  It was a legitimate question for which I had no good answer.  I had seen the dish on menus countless times, but it had never intrigued me enough to order it.  After enough head shakes and disappointed looks from my peers, I made #18 a top priority.

Now, what is 보쌈?  The main component of the dish is, very simply, steamed pork.  It’s served sliced into manageable, bite-sized pieces and is tender enough to tear apart with a pair of chopsticks.  This, by itself is delicious.  Because it’s pork, and the pig is a magical creature.  But as with most Korean dishes, the sides are key.  보쌈 is generally eaten wrapped in a lettuce, cabbage or kimchi along with any combination of peppers, garlic, onions and sauces (to be described in later posts).

Yes, that's a pile of meat

So last night, my Korean-Canadian friend had a night free.  His wife was out of town visiting family for the Lunar New Year, so we decided that a dude’s night out featuring pork and soju would be the perfect way to kick off the holiday season.   Plus it just so happened that there’s a 보쌈 restaurant close to my apartment and I’m currently suffering from mobility issues due to a broken ankle.  The soju did not alleviate said mobility issues, but it did make them more hilarious.  But I digress.

We arrived at the restaurant and it was about half full – a good sign in my neighborhood during a holiday.  We sat down and ordered a set menu consisting of a fiery noodle and sesame leaf concoction, steamed egg, seaweed soup, cabbage, kimchi, peppers, onions, several sauces and, of course, the steamed pork.

The steamed egg – to which, even at its best, I’m indifferent – was more bland than usual and had an odd, gelatinous texture.  Imagine eating a light, opaque, room-temperature Jello the color of scrambled eggs and you’ve got the idea.  (That actually sounds much more disgusting than it really is.)  The noodles and sesame leaves were a pleasant surprise, though, and made a great, spicy side dish for the pork.  On the downside – and this might just be me – noodles in a thin sauce tend to splatter onto anything within a 3-foot radius of my chopsticks.  So, while the noodles were quite tasty, my friend probably felt like he was at a Gallagher show.

You should probably wear goggles when you eat with me.

Now, on to the pork.  I started with a nude slice, no accoutrements.  While the flavor of the meat is subtle – there don’t seem to be many spices involved in the cooking – the first thing I noticed was the texture:  tender, like well-made, fall-off-the-bone ribs.  A good start.  After that, I followed my friend’s lead and wrapped a slice of the pork in a cabbage leaf with garlic, pepper and some radish kimchi.  I let out a “Holy shit,” garbled by the mouthful of food and began preparing another leaf as I finished chewing.  I tried several combinations of toppings and wrappings (the choices being plain cabbage and cabbage kimchi), though the first combination was certainly the best.  My friend and I made short work of the pile of pork presented to us and, as I dabbed sweat from my forehead, I gave serious consideration to ordering more.  I was genuinely sad to see an empty plate in front of me.  Granted, there was some steamed egg left, but I chose to let it be.

Kimchi, pepper, garlic and pork

My only complaint here would be that the 보쌈 was a tad on the expensive side.  It was nothing outrageous, but I could have done with more meat and fewer sides.  What’s more, as much as I enjoyed this, I’m certain there’s better 보쌈 to be had – and I do intend to find it.  This particular restaurant is a fairly big chain and I’m a firm believer that independent restaurants have more to offer.

Overall, if you’re like I once was and have not yet partaken in 보쌈, make it a priority.  My eyes have been opened and I’m on the hunt for more.



4 Responses to “#18: 보쌈 (Bo ssam)”

  1. Pam Burkhalter February 2, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    Although you do have a problem with commas (which I tend to notice for reasons clear to anyone who knows me), I was highly entertained by your first two posts. The captions to your pictures are funny. BTW, I DID get the Dave Chapelle reference about chicken…Please include many pictures of YOU at the various establishments; I like seeing pictures of the author.

  2. Arthur Skinner February 2, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

    All right, you needed to hunt down these items 16, 25, 31, 32, 34, 38, 40 and 44 (be very careful with 44, its poisonous). Also, you could knock out 55 – 58 at one sitting, just don’t drive after consumption.

    Keep it coming..

  3. Crispychickenlover February 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    Things I liked:

    You refer to James as your Canadian-Korean friend.
    The pile of meat.
    A reference to your infamously sloppy eating habits.

    I want to see more pictures in general and show the true nature of the food – really messy and goooooooooooooooood.

  4. juju3443 February 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Love the blog. Love the pix. Love you. Can’t wait to read and see more from you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: