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Samgyeopsal: What Is It, Taste, and How To Eat?

Jason Park
Published by: Jason Park
Published on:

Meat is a common food type worldwide. In Korean cuisine, there are countless meat dishes. Korean cuisine loves to add meat and seafood to their dishes, and samgyeopsal is one of those traditional dishes. 

What is samgyeopsal?

Samgyeopsal is a South Korean meat dish. It’s a type of grilled pork belly, and it’s one of the most popular South Korean barbeque entrees. 

Thanks to this, it’s growing in popularity around the globe. You’ll see it mentioned in numerous k-dramas, and you’ll see variations of it in Asian restaurants.

The rest of this article will cover what samgyeopsal is, how to eat it, and a brief conclusion.

What Samgyeopsal Is

A traditional Korean dish is samgyeopsal (삼겹살), which is grilled pork belly. Samgyeopsal literally means “three-layer meat”. In Korean, it’s called a gui (구이). 

Gui is the Korean word for a grilled dish. Gui most commonly has meat or fish as the primary ingredients.

Along with meat and fish, some gui includes grilled vegetables. This way there’s a vegetarian option for those who need it. 

However, there’s no vegan or vegetarian options for samgyeopsal. Samgyeopsal is a type of Korean barbeque, and it also comes with side dishes.

While samgyeopsal is a gui food, it’s also an anju (안주) food. In Korean, this means that it’s served with alcohol. 

You’ll see Koreans serving samgyeopsal with a shot of soju (소주). Soju is a Korean drink, and it’s a colorless beverage that’s huge in Korean drinking culture.

Samgyeopsal has a very intriguing history. It was first introduced under a completely different name. 

Back in 1984, it was mentioned in an article, but its name was segyepsal (세겹살). It didn’t get its official name until 1994, when samgyeopsal became a word in the dictionary.

Beef was the preferred meat dish by South Koreans until the 1980s, when pork and chicken were more encouraged meals due to a cattle deficiency. 

Companies like Samsung (삼성) began making pork farms to meet the new high demands for the meat.

As more big companies entered the meat industry, samgyeopsal became a much more popular and loved dish. From there, the rest is history.

Where To Buy Samgyeopsal

Since samgyeopsal is one of the most popular Korean BBQ dishes, it’s safe to say it’s easy to find both in and outside of South Korea. 

In South Korea, there’s no shortage of restaurants you can stop at that’ll have the meat dish. Especially restaurants that specialize in bbq.

You can occasionally find vendors on the streets that sell grilled foods, but most street vendors will stick to the common street foods. 

Street food is more snacks than whole meals, but if you search hard enough, you can find vendors willing to do meat.

Along with that, both in and outside of Korea, you can find packaged samgyeopsal. 

Specifically outside of South Korea, you can find packaged pork belly at your local Korean grocery store

Korean restaurants also like selling packaged goods, so you can find it there as well.

If you don’t want to have packaged samgyeopsal, you still have plenty of options. For starters, you can dine-in at a Korean restaurant and have it made fresh for you. 

If dine-in is inconvenient for you, then get take-out or delivery.

There’s one more option if none of those appeal to you. Using a proper recipe, you can pick up the ingredients for samgyeopsal and make it from scratch. 

Be sure to get ingredients for both the samgyeopsal and the side dishes you’ll want to make with it.

How To Eat Samgyeopsal

Samgyeopsal isn’t as versatile as other Korean dishes in the sense that the primary ingredient doesn’t change: it’s always pork. 

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t liven up the eating experience. 

For starters, there’s several different types of ingredients you can add to it to change the flavor and texture. 

This includes, but isn’t limited to: changing how long you grill the meat, adding different seasonings like salt and pepper, and making new sauces to go on top of it.

There’s a special word in Korean: banchan (반찬). This is the Korean word for side dishes, and that’s another way you can eat and prepare samgyeopsal. 

By including side dishes that compliment the meal, you can try new Korean foods in smaller portions.

Lastly, try changing your environment when you’re eating it.

Not only can you try eating it in public places with friends, but you can also eat it on Samgyeopsal Day. 

Yes, in South Korea, there’s a day for samgyeopsal. Why not get in a festive mood and join the celebration?

Adding More Ingredients To Samgyeopsal

Although samgyeopsal doesn’t have the most variety, there’s still ways you can change the taste to match your personal preferences.

The simplest thing you can do is add or reduce what seasonings you’re using. You can try garlic, chili powder, salt, pepper, or red pepper flakes.

If changing the seasonings doesn’t appeal to you, then try new sauces. One of the most popular sauces South Koreans use is soy sauce. 

If you don’t like soy sauce, then another one you can try is sesame oil. That’s yet another popular sauce South Koreans use.

Eating Samgyeopsal With Side Dishes

Side dishes are another popular item in Korean food culture. They’re served with most, if not all, main meals. 

In Korean restaurants, you’ll likely get unlimited, free side dishes. It depends on the restaurant you go to, but plenty of them will give you free and unlimited side dishes.

Samgyeopsal is a type of meal that needs side dishes to accompany it. 

Here are a few side dishes that go well with samgyeopsal: cooked rice, cold noodles, steamed eggplants, Korean cucumber salad, seasoned spinach, seasoned bean sprouts, and stir-fry zucchini.

Eating Samgyeopsal On Samgyeopsal Day

What better way to celebrate Samgyeopsal Day than by eating samgyeopsal? Since samgyeopsal has a three-layer composition, the day is held on the third day of March. 

The reason why a day was made out of it was because of the popularity.

According to a survey taken in 2006 by the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, 85% of South Korean adults identified pork belly as their favorite slice of pork. 

Since so many love pork belly, Samgyeopsal Day was born to celebrate their love of it.

Conclusion

There’s a Korean BBQ dish called samgyeopsal. It’s a three-layered meat dish made from pork belly. 

It’s so popular that it’s mentioned in k-dramas, and Asian restaurants all over the globe sell variations of it. It’s one of the most popular South Korean meat dishes.

Samgyeopsal is not only a gui food, but it’s an anju food as well. That means it’s a grilled meat served with alcohol. 

The word samgyeopsal was coined in 1994, and the dish grew in popularity during the 1980s. You can get samgyeopsal both in and outside of South Korea.

There are plenty of ways you can eat samgyeopsal. 

Although the meat itself isn’t changeable, you can still tweak the ingredients you use and the environment you eat in to have it in different ways. There’s new ingredients, new side dishes, and eating it on Samgyeopsal Day.

About The Author

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Jason Park

Jason has been living in Seoul for over 4 years, and during that time, he has experienced many of the city's hidden stores. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others. Jason has been quoted and referenced by different major media companies like Mashed, Distractify, ThePrint and TastingTable. In his free time, he likes to watch Korean dramas and learn more about Korean culture.

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