the spread

I still remember the first time I brought Kevin’s family out to eat Korean BBQ. I was living and studying in Milan at the time and whenever we had long weekends or holidays, we’d travel to see each other. You don’t know how many Ryanair/Aerlingus/Alitalia tickets I have saved in our memory box. Milan to Dublin, Dublin to Milan and sometimes somewhere in between – Paris, London, Edinburgh…Sounds incredibly romantic, doesn’t it? Have you heard how we met?!?!? We were two strangers in Paris, by the Eiffel Tower, and it was pouring outside. I didn’t have an umbrella and was getting soaked in the rain. Then this handsome Irish gentleman (that would be Kevin) offered to walk with me under his umbrella. As we were crossing the boulevard together, I tripped and he turned towards me and caught me in his arms. COME ON GUYS, ARE YOU SERIOUSLY BUYING THIS TALE?! Things like that never happen to real people!!! We did meet in Paris, but our story is nothing like that. 😉 I’m getting off topic here – back to the Korean bbq story. Where was I? Oh yes, so I flew into Dublin to spend the holidays with Kevin and his family.

Dublin is a much larger city (the biggest city in Ireland) than Waterford, Kevin’s hometown. And I thought surely they must have Korean restaurants here. I wanted so badly to show off Korean cuisine, I went online and searched for them in Dublin. There were only 3 or 4 listed and I picked the one that advertised itself as a Korean BBQ restaurant. I called and booked a table for 4 – Me, Kevin, Kevin’s sister and Kevin’s mom. I kept raving about how delicious Korean BBQ is and how everyone everywhere loves it. I couldn’t wait for them to try it.

We took a taxi from our hotel to the restaurant and as we started to make our way to the table, I realized I made a huge mistake – this was not a Korean restaurant! It was a Chinese owned restaurant serving what they thought was Korean food. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to many Korean or Chinese owned Japanese restaurants, Korean owned Soul Food Restaurants, Pakistani owned pizza shops, and so on that are pretty darn good. It wasn’t because a different ethnicity owned it, it was more because the owners didn’t know how to make authentic Korean food and that’s what I wanted everyone to try. Nothing was seasoned, there were strange items on the menu – what they served was not Korean food to me.

The whole experience must’ve been so strange for them. My future-in-laws never went to a restaurant where you pay to cook your own food – here are a few plates of raw meat madame, please cook it yourself and pay us when you’re done. :-O I should’ve explained to them how Korean BBQ works, and I should’ve taken them somewhere I knew was going to be delicious. I was so embarrassed, but they had a good laugh at the experience so not all was lost. I just wish it was laughter – ha ha we had such a great time, instead of – ha ha OMG did that really happen?

Typically at Korean BBQ restaurants, you order different cuts of meat and have it cooked at your table on a gas grill. Our favorite Korean BBQ restaurant in Maryland is Shin Chon. The most common cuts are pork belly, beef brisket, beef ribs unseasoned, marinated beef ribs and bulgogi marinated beef (most places also have spicy pork belly, beef heart, beef tongue and tripe). Often there are set menus you can order based on the number of people in your party. The servers bring out the raw meat and get it started for you on the grill. They periodically check up on the meat and let you know when it is ready to eat, or you can cook it at your own pace. Along with any main course or meat you order, you get a variety of small communal dishes called ban chan, lettuce leaves, bean paste soup (similar to miso soup), and an egg soufflé. For those of you who don’t know, the secret to ban chan is that you can always ask for more. When we eat at Shin Chon we also ask for ssam moo, which are thinly sliced pickled radishes. They only serve that ban chan if you ask. Traditionally rice does not come with Korean BBQ, so don’t forget to ask for rice as well.

raw meat

Cha dohl bae gi (Thinly sliced beef brisket) and Joo moo luk (Marinated boneless beef rib).

ban chan

Ban chan (from left to right) – marinated bean sprouts, marinated fish cakes, soy sauce peanuts, radish kimchi, seaweed salad, soft tofu with soy sauce

ban chan 1

Ban chan (from left to right) – a basket of lettuce leaves, ssam moo (thinly sliced pickled radish), chili pickled radish, scallion salad, rice wraps, kimchi

dipping sauces

Dipping sauces – sesame oil with salt and black pepper (goes great with pork belly), chili sauce (goes great with beef brisket), bean paste, sliced garlic and jalapeno peppers.

bean soup

Dwaen Jang Jigae – bean paste soup.

egg soufflé

Gae ran jjim – egg soufflé.

My second chance at being an ambassador for Korean cuisine.

I recently reconnected with friends from my childhood – kids I went to elementary, middle and high school with. It was so nice to see them again and catch up. I thought it would be a great idea to get Korean BBQ, so we got our schedules together and we met up for dinner this week at Shin Chon restaurant in Ellicott City. A few of them had never tried Korean BBQ before, while a few others have but aren’t always sure what to order. I thought to myself, it must be intimidating for non-Koreans to try Korean restaurants for the first time. No one shows you how to eat the dishes the way they are meant to be eaten, there are foreign items on the menu that you might not be familiar with, the menus aren’t always translated correctly and when you try to ask your server something it may get lost in translation. I wanted to teach them to eat Korean food the way Koreans do – well the way I do. And to make sure my friends got the royal treatment I even spoke to the servers in Korean – and I never do that! (I only speak Korean to my mom – broken Korean at that.) But it was worth it because everyone had a great time and ate really well! I hope they feel more confident about going back for some more.

Here is what I showed them to do.

how to eat ssam

how to eat bo ssam

The lettuce wraps are called Ssam. The rice wraps are called Duk Bo Ssam. From what I know, Shin Chon is the only restaurant in the area that serves duk bo ssam.

Step 1. Take a piece of lettuce or rice wrap

Step 2. Put in some scallion salad

Step 3. Put in some pickled radish

Step 4. Put in a slice of raw garlic or jalapeno pepper dipped in bean paste

Step 5. Top with your choice of bbq meat

Step 6. Wrap into a ball

Step 7. Stuff your face! 😀

You can put any of the ban chan and sauces in your wrap. Try different combinations and see which ones you like – there’s no wrong way to eat Korean BBQ.

To complete the Korean themed evening, we went to Shilla Bakery and I introduced my friends to Pat Bingsoo (Red bean shaved ice) and Yogurt Bingsoo (shaved ice with fruits, top with frozen yogurt.) They loved it!

Hey guys, if you’re reading this blog – where should we go for dinner next time? 😉

16 comments on “korean bbq (how koreans eat it)”

  1. You are an excellent teacher! We learned a lot which will definitely help next time we go to Shin Chon. The bingsoo was delicious and something that we would have never ordered on our own! Thank you! 🙂

    And…yes, let ‘s get that next dinner date on the books, too!

  2. this was great liz! i have introduced coworkers and high school friends to korean bbq (one at honey pig-more americanized a little less intimidating and the other at woomi garden-closest to work that i could remember) and they all really enjoyed it too! next stop is shilla for bingsoo too =)

  3. Step 7 is my favorite. I’m very good at step 7.

    I totally feel your pain re: trying to find authentic food in strange places. I’m very fortunate that my friends haven’t all ditched me over my constant moaning about inauthentic Chinese. Glad things eventually worked out with your future in-laws. 🙂

    We’re still relative newbies at Korean food, so I really appreciate the illustrated guide! Fortunately the servers at all the HoCo Korean places we’ve been to have been very understanding whenever I hold up an empty ban chan plate and say “we want more of, uh, whatever was in this.” I’m bookmarking this page for future reference.

    • I’m an expert at step 7! 😀

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I haven’t been back to a Korean restaurant with my in-laws, but we threw a bbq at my mom’s house when they were visiting and they enjoyed her marinated beef ribs (galbi) – we cooked them before serving hehe.

      Ooo, can you recommend a good authentic Chinese restaurant in the area? Would love to try some!

      Thanks for the comment and I hope you keep reading my blog!

      • HowChow has said it before but I’ll say it again: Grace Garden in Odenton has the best Chinese in the area, hands down.

        That said, if you want to go further south, my family has been going to Paul Kee in Wheaton for decades. It’s a bit worn and dirty-looking, but no more so than most food stalls in Hong Kong… and the roast meats (roast duck, roast pork, bbq pork) are totally worth it. Other dish recommendations available upon request. 🙂

        Your bbq story reminds me of a friend who tasted a sample of bulgogi off the counter every time he went to Lotte, until a horrified worker informed him that it was supposed to be cooked first!

        • We went to Grace Garden for dinner and we LOVED it! Will be writing about them soon. Thanks for the rec. Thank you HowChow too! 🙂

  4. I had a wonderful helper to learn Korean BBQ 20+ years ago – my college roommate. Now when we go as a family, we know what we like, but we never know the names which makes communication difficult and makes the dining experience inconsistent. I love all forms of pickled radish – love love the spicy pickled radish cubes kadoogee (sp?). I had never heard of the thin slice radish – I want to try that! And my kids fill up on rice and the rice wrappers – never knew the name for those either. Thanks for a great post and for Howchow for linking it!

    • That’s great that your family enjoys Korean food. Isn’t it so delicious? 🙂 I hope all of my non-Korean friends who I took to Korean BBQ continues to enjoy it too.
      Thanks for the comment and I hope you keep reading my blog!

  5. Grace Garden in Odenton (HowChow has raved about it on several occasions) is an absolutely fantastic place to go for authentic Chinese.

    Further south, in Wheaton, my family has been going to Paul Kee for decades. I definitely recommend the roast duck / roast pork / bbq pork combo, and the seafood chow mein. The restaurant could be a little cleaner, I admit, but hey, no worse sanitation-wise than most of the food stalls in Hong Kong…

    Good thing you cooked the galbi before serving… 🙂 A friend of mine actually ate a bit of raw bulgogi at a Lotte every time he went there, before one of the staff saw him and told him it was supposed to be cooked first. He thought it was a free sample.

      • No worries. You know, I have never been to Paul Kee. A lot of my friends go there, I don’t know what’s keeping me away from there. We always go to Full Key, just down the street. Haven’t tried Grace Garden yet either. I need to catch up on my eating! 😀 Thanks for the tips.

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