Saturday, October 3, 2009

Dining in Seoul: Korean Beef

with colleagues in Seoul

Korean beef is quite famous…but only within Korea. The quality of beef in the country is equal to that in Japan. I am not aware of any branding applied to Korean beef, unlike the various wagyu in Japan. And for a long time, Korean cattle farmers have enjoyed protection from foreign imports, and have relied solely on domestic consumption. Koreans have the highest per capita consumption of beef in Asia.

Everywhere in Seoul, one can see restaurants serving Korean barbecue beef…from seasoned beef ribs, bulbogi, kalbe and other barbecued meats. Bundamujip is one of the more famous places for seasoned beef ribs and seasoned beef sirloin. Open since 1977, this restaurant is located rich in the middle of downtown Seocho-Gu…the shopping district of Seoul.

Typical of a Korean meal, a huge serving of side dishes are provided as part of the meal. Some even offer marinated, seasoned crab, and in this case, fried fish.

I love kalbe, an unseasoned beef either of ribs, or sirloin. Barbecued on hot coals right at your table, and eaten with a leaf of lettuce, bean sauce, and chillies (or on its own, with a bit of salt, as I prefer), it is a sublime experience. But Bundamujip is famous for the seasoned meats, so that’s what we ordered.

With ribs attached, the intercostal muscles are sliced into thin strips, scored and marinated in the shop’s own secret recipe, and rolled up around the bone as seen above.

On the table, the waitress opens up the rolls, and cooks the beef on the spot.

Hot coals are used to provide a smoky flavour. I have been told that coals which are cylindrical are better as the flame is more intense, and allows the outside of the beef to be seared and charred while the insides are medium.

In Bunnamjip, the coals are not cylindrical, but the flame is powerful enough. As you can see, a suction fan built into the chimney helps suck up the smoke, and odours.

Most Koreans eat the beef wrapped in a leaf (either lettuce, or a kind of leaf with a light minty flavour and a bit bitter in taste), with a small clove of garlic, and bean paste.

I ate most of my beef on its own, as the meat is already marinated, I did not add sale. The beef was very tender, with a fairly strong beefy taste. But this sample was not as tender or flavourful as wagyu, though in earlier trips, I have had kalbe which came very close to A-5 grade wagyu.

We also had a serving of cuttlefish.

The cuttlefish is almost live, and cooks very fast on the hot coals. It was light and tender inside, and a bit chewy on the outside.

Wash down the meal with some Korean sohju, a rice wine, which taste very mild, but packs 19% alcohol…quite potent.

And finally, as is typical for a Korean meal, the starch comes after the meats…we had hot Korean bean curd and kimchi soup, eaten with rice.

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1340-5 Seocho-Dong
Soecho-Gu, Seoul
Korea 137-072
Tel: 02-34734167
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