Sprucing up an old dish in new ways

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Sprucing up an old dish in new ways

One of the most popular meals to have with friends in Korea is pork grilled over hot coals, accompanied by some soju, or a popular local spirit. And of the various meats, samgyeopsal, or "three-layer pork," is definitely a favorite, in large part because of its inexpensive price.

In university neighborhoods, you can often find samgyeopsal for around 2,000 won ($1.60) a serving. Served wrapped in lettuce leaves along with a variety of side dishes, it's a great way to fill the belly while filling the air with pleasant chatter.

But samgyeopsal, being basically unprocessed bacon, gets extremely greasy. Delicious, but not the most healthy dish in the world.

These days, however, someone with a more refined palate who still wants a bite of greasy pork has an alternative. The newest trend at samgyeopsal restaurants is to offer the pork in more exotic styles -- ripened in wine, mixed with herbs like Rosemary and fine spices like paprika.

Unlike the regular, plain samgyeopsal, the newly introduced recipes involve a waiter slicing and cooking for you on your table. Customers have various choices of dipping sauces, other than just the traditional soy bean pastes or salt mixed in sesame oil.

Mustard, hot sauce, mayonnaise and roasted grain powder are just a few ways to bring out the flavor of grilled pork.

With a more proper kind of table settings and more refined interior design, customers can even choose their own assorted vegetables from a salad bar. The price at Mr. Lee's place is typical at 6,000 won per one serving, and a set menu with two servings and assorted mushrooms at 12,000 won.

Lee Young-il, a manager of one such place in Sinchon called Zen, has tried several other kinds of restaurants and cafes in the downtown area of Seoul, but found the new recipe the most successful.

With a variety of set menus, Mr. Lee's restaurant is typically filled with couples on dates as well as dedicated pork enthusiasts.

The new recipe, however, does not satisfy all pork lovers. Kim Ji-seok, an office worker who frequents all kinds of pork restaurants, says, "I know those new places offer more a fancy kind of atmosphere with exotic recipes, but somehow I find the old, cheapish kind of shabby restaurants better for enjoying samgyeopsal to the fullest."

by Chun Su-jin

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