Pork purveyor beats Korea’s midtown blues

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Pork purveyor beats Korea’s midtown blues


It's a sad state of affairs: Stroll into any downtown district at exactly midday and you will see hordes of businessmen ― and women ― cramming themselves, lemming-like, into innumerable restaurants. Said restaurants, it has been my observation, do not necessarily have to serve good grub to do a roaring trade. The fact that everyone's lunch break starts at 12:00 and finishes at 1:00 means that any eatery in the near vicinity of an office building or two has a regular one-hour lunchtime clientele, however dire its fare, however grim its decor, and however shoddy its service.
Take the area behind the Seoul Finance Center. Here you will find the usual plethora of restaurants and, having worked in this district, I have to say I have eaten some pretty dodgy lunches in this vicinity.
So why are we here?
“Naksam Sidae,” (“Octopus and Samkyeopsal Era”) ― that's why. This Jeju-themed restaurant specializes in two specialties from Korea's honeymoon isle, najki (octopus) and samkyeopsal (literally, “triple belly pork”). And despite the pitfalls of this kind of location, this place is actually worth traveling to.
Outside, the restaurant is plastered with photos of its fare. Inside, there are floor seating and table areas, but as for the decor ― well, there are some out-of- season Christmas decorations, a couple of standing aircons, a coffee machine, and a giant TV screen, which was showing baseball when we were there. Clearly, this is not a place where one comes to contemplate the refined art of interior decor ― it’s a filling station ― so let’s cut to the chase.
We are in pork-barrel mode, so order samkyeopsal and mokssal (a cut from the throat of the pig, as I understand it); the former is 8,500 per serving, the latter 8,000. Despite the differing cuts, we found them pretty much of a muchness, so you may want to stick to the cheaper mokssal.
But first, let’s talk side dishes. These include a thick brick of tofu in spicy sauce, broccoli in spicy sauce, a huge bowl of raw sliced onions and chopped chives, plus a bowl of soy sauce for each diner. And, of course, a bundle of lettuce and sesame leaves to serve as envelopes for the meat. The idea with the onion and chives and the soy is to drop the former into the latter ― not a bad idea, but we will suggest a better fate for the onions.

The pork comes in thick slabs: this is not your regular samkyeopsal (i.e shavings of some kind of a fatty, poor apology for bacon, cooked in grease). It is cooked on a gas burner at your table and sliced with a pair of industrial-strength scissors. It is lean by samkyeopsal standards, but still offers enough fat for a bit of crispy crackle. Take our advice and add some garlic and those rings of raw onion to the grill. Then cook. (Though do not, for pity’s sake, cut your own meat. That privilege is the exclusive preserve of the ajumma).
Now, I have eaten samkyeopsal marinated in wine. I have eaten samkyeopsal marinated in green tea. I have eaten samkyeopsal sprinkled with herbs. None came close to the taste of this: Top-quality slabs of pork sprinkled, simply, with a pinch of pepper. The owner tells me the meat is flown in from Jeju to Gimpo, then rushed from the airport to the restaurant by motorcycle courier. If you are a pork lover ― and I assume if you are not, you would have stopped reading several paragraphs ago ― it is great, great stuff.
On the serving front, the main ajumma is a friendly old duck: She has a permanent grin across her mug, and if you attempt a few words of the local lingo, she can't do enough for you. (Unless you happen to produce a camera ― at which point she retreats, giggling helplessly, into the kitchen, far beyond the prying lens of any roving food critic’s attempt to capture her for posterity). The owner is also a decent chap, and friendly to kids.
On the booze front, there are the usual sojus and lagers at the usual prices ― and I have to say, soju best suits the grub.
Verdict. Damned good: This is one of the two best pork restaurants I have visited on the peninsula. Next time, I must try the octopus. I have one confession to make though: I visited at dinner, not lunch...

Naksam Sidae
English: none spoken, none on menu
Tel: 773-2710
Address: In the restaurant-lined road behind the Seoul Finance Center, near the police station
Subway: City Hall
Parking: none
Hours: 11:00AM-10:30PM, 7 days
Dress: Come as you are

by Andrew Salmon
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