How to Eat Korean BBQ? Insider Tips
Korean cuisine has become sought-after over the last couple of years. It’s no wonder, given the vast variety of dishes and flavours it provides. Korean signature treats win people’s hearts all over the globe, offering an unforgettable experience for all willing explorers.
One of the perks of Korean cuisine is Korean barbecue. Even though barbecue is usually associated with outdoor activities, everything works a little differently in the local cafes and restaurants. A charcoal or gas grill installed right into the table makes the Korean BBQ preparation truly authentic.
Yet it is also important to know how to eat Korean BBQ properly. If you are somewhat uncertain about it, then this guide is right for you. Today we are going to cover lots of crucial aspects.
So, let’s begin!
What is Korean BBQ?
To put it shortly, Korean barbecue is a special way of cooking thin slices of meat.
It can be of various kinds 一 beef (or bulgogi), chicken or pork. There are many options for a special Korean BBQ marinade too. What is more, there are various side dishes, or banchan, which may include veggies, rice, kimchi and other products we will discuss later.
As it is mentioned above, Korean barbecue eating places have grills installed on the tables or located somewhere near the table.
Thus, the marinated meat pieces are cooked right in front of you and you have a chance to enjoy them as fresh and juicy as it gets.
You might assume that Korean BBQ is the modern-day idea. However, the very concept of it has its roots deep in history.
Koguryŏ Era (37 B.C.–668 B.C.E.) is considered to be the time when the concept first appeared. The members of the Yamaek tribal group inhabited large territories in and outside Korea and were the ones to refer to what we know as barbecue today.
Since the Yamaek people wandered through different territories and had to do many tasks on the go, they marinated meat and grilled it using skewers. As time went by, bringing crucial changes to the lifestyle of people, Korean BBQ evolved into what it is today.
Before we jump to the tips for eating Korean BBQ, you should learn what you eat it with in the first place.
What to Eat with Korean Food?
Korean BBQ wouldn’t be complete without a bunch of side dishes to enhance the grilled meat flavour.
Thus it’s also important to know some of the most popular banchan to have no doubts about what to get at Korean barbecue restaurants.
So, it’s about time we looked at these well-liked side dishes.
We cannot but mention kimchi, since it is one of the milestones of Korean cuisine. It is made of pickled cabbage with some other ingredients added, such as chilli pepper, garlic, fish sauce, ginger and salt.
This dish has a very distinct taste and is a component of multiple other recipes. That’s why it is a perfect option to enrich the taste of grilled meat.
2. Oi muchim
Oi muchim is a spicy cucumber salad served aside Korean barbecue. It consists of thin cucumber slices seasoned with sesame seeds, sesame oil and hot pepper flakes. If you want to spice things up a bit don’t hesitate to order oi muchim.
No Korean barbecue would be complete without ssamjang. This thick dipping sauce consists of doenjang, gochujang, garlic, sesame seeds and oil creating a well-balanced spicy-sweet taste with some subtle bitter notes.
It is a perfect ingredient to add to the ssams along with lettuce, grilled meat slices and other banchan of your choice.
Ssamjang tastes equally well with various types of meat making each case extremely delicious.
Stir-fried glass noodles, or japchae, are also quite popular when it comes to Korean barbecue. This dish is also a traditional one which underwent lots of development stages.
Originally, it consisted of vegetables and stir-fried beef. Now though, it would be hard to imagine it without potato noodles combined with rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and veggies, too.
Sounds delicious, right? Don’t hesitate to give it a try while dining on the barbecue.
5. Hobak bokkeum
This stir-fried zucchini dish is a popular Korean BBQ option as well. Zucchini together with garlic, scallions, saeujeot and sesame oil create a well-balanced and fresh flavour.
It is particularly tasty during the summer season when you can make it with the Korean zucchini - aehobak. In this case, you can enjoy the taste of this dish with the bulgogi to the fullest.
Even though, you know what to eat Korean BBQ with, you might still be a little confused when it comes to actually eating it. There are so many plates and dishes, so who knows what to start with?
You have nothing to worry about, though, since we’ve got you covered here. Just jump to the below section to find the tips you should pay attention to.
How to Eat Korean BBQ?
Some might say that eating Korean barbecue is like a science. Thus, there are some important points to keep in mind before ordering Korean BBQ. Let’s dwell on some of the most crucial ones.
1. Don’t treat bachan as an appetizer
Side dishes, or banchan, as they are called in Korea, are of huge importance when it comes to Korean barbecue. However, many people mistakenly think that they are appetizers and eat them before the meat is ready.
Though it might be hard to resist sometimes, you shouldn’t hurry. You’d better wait for the grilled meat slices. All those side dishes are meant to be eaten together with the meat to balance the taste and add some new colouring.
Also, we couldn’t but mention that you shouldn’t order more banchan than you can eat. It is not customary to leave leftovers. So make sure you’ll be able to cope with everything you ordered.
2. Begin with the plain options
As you already know Korean barbecue is represented by different types of meat both marinated and not. The marinade adds some more flavour to the meat making it salty, sweet or spicy.
Thus it is recommended to start your meal with those plain options dipped in the salt mixture or the provided sauce to enjoy the original flavour and texture of the meat.
After you try the grilled slices as they are, you can continue with the banchan and some other options you ordered. In this way, you’ll be able to explore the barbecue taste gradually and enjoy it to the fullest.
3. Let the restaurant staff grill barbecue for you
One of the perks of eating this dish out is that the restaurant staff will do everything for you. Thanks to the Korean BBQ grill in the middle of your table you’ll be able to witness all the preparation steps in person.
Just let the professionals grill the meat and enjoy the process. And the sight is certainly unforgettable, trust us.
It is a perfect option for you to consider when you just want to enjoy your time and relax. You don’t have to keep an eye on the meat so it doesn’t burn or worry about little details.
The serving staff will keep everything in check. You might as well learn something new to recreate it yourself later.
4. Make a portion you can eat in one bite
One of the most common ways to eat Korean barbecue is to wrap the ingredients to form a roll. Just take a leaf of lettuce, put the meat covered in sauce and the preferred banchan inside, and then wrap everything up.
Such a roll is referred to as a ssam in Korea. Make sure that your ssams aren’t too big, because you are supposed to eat them in one bite. It is believed that in this way you'll be able to enjoy a perfect balance of all the flavours.
There is also a very peculiar tradition in the Korean culture. If you want to show your appreciation to the people you love, you can just make a neat ssam and put it on their plates.
It may seem like something insignificant, at first glance. But in Korea, it is believed to be a special love language you shouldn’t neglect.
5. Order some non-meat dishes to accompany your meal
Even though barbecue will be the brightest highlight of your evening, people rarely eat it separately. They usually order a bunch of other dishes to complement the flavours of the meat.
Everything depends on your liking here. You can choose some noodles dish or soup. Dumplings go with the Korean BBQ just fine, as well as the tteokbokki or savoury pancakes.
There are no restrictions as such, so you can order whatever you like the most. Such a technique is mostly used to clean the plate and prepare for the next round of grilled meat.
6. Don’t hesitate to order some liquor to complement the flavour
They say your barbecue meal won’t be consummate without some good liquor to accompany the taste. One of the best options to settle for is soju. This drink is a perfect companion for meat. It is refreshing in the way that balances all the display of flavours.
There is also an interesting option for the true daredevils. The drink in question is called somaek and it’s made of soju and beer. It’s understandably stronger than plain soju, so keep that in mind when choosing drinks for your barbecue evening.
Now that you know how to eat Korean BBQ and what side dishes to order you can easily plan an outing with your friends to check the tips we’ve provided.
Perhaps this experience will inspire you to grill Korean barbecue at your home once and explore more mouthwatering dishes of this fascinating cuisine.