Barbecue for many Americans connotes a grilled rack of ribs slathered with dark, savory sauce. Korean barbecue, however, is a different story. We sat down with Billy Choo, a SESP student from Korea, to discover the best of Korean cuisine and what strange American customs he can’t quite stomach.
RICE: Korean food tends to be stew-based and eaten with rice. “Rice is a main dish in Korean cuisine, and everything else is a side dish. Basically you add taste to the rice,” Choo says.
BACON: Korean bacon is very different from American bacon. While American bacon is very thin and usually crispy, Korean bacon is cut in a way that keeps it thick and less crispy. It’s also uncured and rarely marinated or seasoned. Koreans typically serve it with two sauces: one is ssamjang, a sauce made with red chili paste, soybean paste, sesame oil and green onion; the second is sesame oil with salt and a bit of black pepper.
CHEESE: Cheese is foreign to Korean cuisine. “It’s new to me that people put cheese on
everything they eat here,” says Choo. “I don’t get the merits of just macaroni, and with cheese on top it’s very weird. I don’t understand that or grilled cheese.”
MEAT PREP: Korean meat preparation is very different from the way Americans prepare meat. “You guys seem to cook it plain and put sauce on top of it at the end,” says Choo. “We don’t usually cook meat like that; it’s usually marinated in some way.” He says Koreans often use marinades like red chili paste (finely ground chili pepper mixed with rice paste) and soy sauce.
PICKLES: Americans have pickles and Koreans have kimchi. Kimchi is a staple side dish often made from pickled, fermented cabbage.
SALAD: Salad in Korea isn’t raw like American salad. All vegetables are “put through a five-minute hot water bath” so that they are tender but not completely mushy, Choo says. “Then it’s usually prepared with seasoning like sesame oil and soy sauce with sesame seeds on top.”
SEASONING: Korean cuisine utilizes a specific handful of flavors. Salt, soy sauce, sesame oil and pepper powder (which is a lot like chili powder) are the most popular seasonings in Korea.
SPICE: Koreans have their own definition of spicy. “The Korean version of spicy is very sweet and spicy. It’s not like wasabi. That’s a different taste. It doesn’t ache your nostrils.”
FAVORITE DISH: There are many variations of Korean barbecue, but Choo’s favorite kind is bulgogi, a type of barbecue characterized by its marinated, grilled, thinly sliced steak. His favorite way to eat Korean barbecue is in the form of a lettuce wrap. This involves forming a bowl with lettuce and putting a bed of rice inside it, topping it with dipping sauce (soybean paste mixed with red chili paste, sesame oil and green onions) and adding the barbecued meat on top.