So I finally had Korean food. Out of all of the world cuisines, Asian doesn’t usually top my list of favorites (though I’ve been known to enjoy some Pad Thai or airport Panda Express). But with family members who really enjoy it, it’s hard not to partake every now and then.
Yesterday was one of those “now” occasions.
Honey Pig was quite an experience, though, I’m told, not atypical as far as Korean Barbecues go. We were seated at a table with a grill in the middle. I will say that we, a table of five, were slightly crowded. Immediately upon being seated, our waiter/chef brought salads to start. Composed of merely lettuce and some sliced white onion, the simple dish was saved by the sweet ginger dressing. Immediately thereafter, we were given plate upon plate of banchan which, I was told, are traditional Korean appetizers or sides. We had kimchi (which I had always been wary of but which, in fact, was not horrible), pickled, spicy cucumber, bean paste, some kind of potato concoction (think Korean mashed potatoes), and eggplant…and maybe some more.
Soon, it was time to pick our meat. To start, we chose kalbi. For you non-Korean food eaters, this is, simply, shortribs (in Korean, kalbi actually is the word for rib). I can’t tell you, for sure, what the meat had been marinated in prior to being brought to our table, but I could guess that it was a combination of soy sauce, garlic, and something with a kick of sweetness. The meat was tender and thinly cut and grilled beautifully. We asked for it spicy, which ended up meaning that our cook added a red paste of some kind to the meat when it neared readiness.
Next up: thin sliced pork belly. Korean bacon at its finest. I don’t know what to say about this other than it was delicious. Less salty than the bacon we are used to (or that to which it is often compared), the pork belly grilled up tender and juicy. Paired with one of the sweet dipping sauces, this was definitely the best meat choice of the evening. Serve it up in a lettuce leaf with some rice and bean paste and you’ve got yourself a nice little Asian taco.
Because two rounds of meat were not enough, we asked for an order of the bulgogi, a traditional Korean dish or barbecued and marinated beef. Bulgogi literally means “fire meat” in Korean–this is quite appropros, as the meat was cooked over the open flame emenating from the middle of our table. Of our three meat choices, this one was the toughest. It was not as tender as the kalbi but had a similar flavor profile (salty with a tinge of sweet and a slight kick of spice).
Overall, this was a fulfilling dining experience. It was nice to sit back and have someone cook the food and serve it to us, though it would have been nice to pace the meal ourselves. The staff was very nice and attentive, bringing us plate after plate of banchan and accomodating all of our requests (more napkins, more beer, silverware instead of chopsticks). In terms of atmosphere, it is somewhat industrial–concrete floors, dark eating area, exposed pipes. The seating area is crowded and the pop music that plays in the background is quite loud; that being said, the noise level makes it a good place to bring a small child, as cries and screams are drowned out by the hustle and bustle and the music. In terms of price, Honey Pig is close to half the price of other local establishments of the same cuisine.
Some lessons learned: don’t wear a white shirt–the chance of you being splashed by meat juice deliciousness is quite high. And don’t be surprised, when you get home, if you’ve managed to bring some of that meaty scent back home with you…on your clothes, in your hair. Smelling it again may make you hungry for it. Or may make you jump into the shower.