If the opportunity to dine at a Korean barbecue comes your way — NEVER — and I mean this, never, decline the offer! If there’s one experience I can safely say has yet to disappoint, it’s the satisfaction of sitting down with friends and enjoying an authentic Korean barbecue.
Note the caveat: sitting down with friends. Like most grilling situations, Korean barbecue is not something suited for the solo eater — it’s intended for families or groups of friends. Instead of ordering separate dishes, the food is prepared tableside and everyone enjoys the pleasures of one-pot cooking. Collective meal planning: isn’t that the true intent of family-style eating?
The Cooking Channel recently featured the Honey Pig (a Korean BBQ restaurant in Atlanta) on an episode of Unique Eats. I smiled with delight as I watched the segment. Honey Pig originated outside of my hometown of Washington, D.C., in the suburb of Annandale, Virginia. Annandale is a hub for Korean-Americans and Korean-owned businesses, and naturally, wonderful Korean foods. Honey Pig is such a success, it’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week — and people from all over the metropolitan area convene on the restaurant.
Typically, a Korean barbecue experience includes a variety of beef and pork, prepared with or without a marinade. Meat selections include a variety of short ribs, pork belly and sometimes chicken breast. Special dining tables have a gas burner built into the center and a cast iron grill is placed on top. The raw meat is brought to the table and grilled in front of guests. Most restaurants will have the server prepare everything for you, but if you’re lucky enough to be with a Korean family, the mother usually does all the cooking!
Also on the table is a variety of bowls and baskets, filled with vegetables. Large lettuce leafs are meant to wrap around slices of meat, while slices of cucumbers, onions and lettuce can be picked up easily with chopsticks. Bowls of kimchi, spicy pickled bok choy, radish and cabbage are also presented. Finally, dipping sauces, made from ginger, scallions and soy sauce complete the meal.
What I love about Korean cuisine is the unique blend of savory flavors with spicy elements. Items like bimbimbap, a rice bowl filled with sauteed vegetables, topped with an egg and a dollop of spicy chili paste translates into comfort food immediately.
I love placing a slice of pork belly on a lettuce leaf, topping it with pickled radish, then rolling it tightly in my hands. Biting into the textures of crunchy yet cool wakes up my tastebuds, just in time for the spicy radishes to bring the heat. Sipping on a cold Cass beer (a light Korean lager) while laughing with my friends is to experience true barbecue bliss.
When the check comes, I’m always surprised by how affordable Korean barbecue is. Everyone leaves feeling satisfied, economical, and if you’re with my friends, with cheeks hurting from all the laughter. To Tyler, Michael, Erin and Cory, thanks for the fantastic birthday barbecue. Let’s do it again (soon!)