19 (Sat) February 2011
Pork Bellies: Seared, Dipped, Topped, Wrapped
by MtG, KKH, CJH
at Hosu Sanjang
-Yeoju, Gyeonggi, Seoul, Korea-
with MtG, CBD
A lot of firsts.
It was the first camping trip of the new year with my family, an event that came about when W suddenly volunteered to go – also a first.
Dinner consisted of a few random dishes, each prepared by one person or another, all okay but nothing notable. The eating was limited to human proportions due to the absence of our other members: YYH, the camping legend famous for her elaborate campsite banquets; LHS, the loving husband who lugs all that food to the campsite; and finally KIT, the bon vivant who eats all the food and demands more of it.
The Setup. Around midnight, however, things got interesting. W and DJ had already retreated to the warm confines of our tent and retired for the night. With the temperature now below zero and the firewood depleted, the remaining four of us moved our setup into KKH’s “living room” tent, which is sufficiently large enough for at least ten adults to walk around in. We were down to a bottle and a half of soju, just enough for a night cap. Whether intentionally or not, nobody had packed a lot of booze on this trip – a first – so we were all more or less sober by this point – definitely a first. For anju, CJH busted out a pile of pork bellies that she’d been reserving for this very type of just-in-case scenario.
The Grill. On this trip, I packed for the first time a recent gear acquisition: the VHS Grill, so called because it can be disassembled and stored in a VHS case. None of us had ever used it before, but we found its size to be ideal for a variety of tabletop uses, such as keeping the hands warm, heating sake in a kettle over coals, barbecuing skewers, and frying small items in a pan, employing either charcoal or small pieces of firewood.
The Pan. Over the red-hot embers brought inside from the dying campfire outside, MtG seared the meat on my miniature cast iron griddle (that I’d been using as an ashtray), one bite-sized piece at a time. I’m sure that others have used the griddle for this same purpose, but it was a first for us. In addition to preventing flare-ups caused by dripping fat, the griddle cooked the pork bellies to crisp perfection. The entire time, he was so beside himself with amusement that he kept giggling.
The Dip. A first for me, I discovered the joy of dipping pork in a warm brown sludge concocted by boiling fermented anchovy paste in soju. Pure anchovy paste, or myeolchi-jeot (멸치젓), smells as bad as it looks, not really intended for direct consumption but added in tiny amounts as a seasoning to kimchi and other strongly flavored Korean dishes. KKH had made a batch by trial-and-error after sampling the offerings from various restaurants. Prior to this evening, I didn’t have an inkling that this kind of sauce existed; if asked, I would’ve denied that it could possibly work. But the sharp stinging stinky saltiness of the fish complemented the greasy richness of the pork.
The Toppings. After dipping, the pork was topped with a slice of raw garlic, a slice of ultra hot green chili, and a dab of doenjang. It was my first time eating the bean paste in its unadulterated form. Moreover, this particular doenjang was hardcore, made by an old nun in a countryside abbey, intense in flavor, compared to the relatively mellow mass-produced versions, similar to Japanese miso, found in supermarkets. I also generally dislike raw garlic and hot green chilies. But again, it all worked together.
The Wrap. Finally, the seared and dipped and topped pork belly slices were wrapped in leafy greens that nobody knew the names of. All gorgeous, particularly that purple beauty that was amazingly rich and bittersweet – another first for me.
This was very likely the best pork experience that I’ve ever had in my life. And so unexpected. Part of it may have been the location, the atmosphere, the ridiculous mini pan, the novelty of it all. But what is eating if not an experience?