Enjoy Great Korean for Less than PHP 300 at SamgyeopasalamatJanuary 9, 2020
I have a confession to make. Unlike my colleagues here on Pepper, I’m actually not a bacon fan. There, I said it. (I can pretty much hear the collective “Seriously? But why??” resonating in my head right now.) Samgyeopasal, however, is a different story. Ever since one of my college friends introduced me to the delights of grilled, thinly-sliced pork belly meat wrapped in lettuce, I’ve made it a point to stuff my face with it at least a couple of times every month.
The thing is, I don’t exactly go to those big, bright Samgyeopsal places where you get to bask under the glow of Lee Min Ho’s ten thousand-megawatt smile while getting your grilled pork belly fix. Instead, I go to this cozy little place where the signage features a grinning piglet seemingly glorying in the demise of his porcine brethren doing a thumbs-up instead of a hot, surgically-enhanced K-pop or Hallyu star flashing his pearly whites.
Tucked away in one of Leon Guinto’s many side streets is a magical place called Samgyupsalamat. This eatery’s name is a mish-mash of Tagalog and Hangul that literally translates to “Pork belly, thank you,” perhaps as a nod to its Korean proprietor and its Filipino staff. The crowd consists mostly of college students who come from the nearby universities and of young Koreans who inhabit the nearby Cara Celine Dormtel. With a couple of quaint pop-art murals lining its walls and adjustable exhaust pipes hovering above each table, Samgyupsalamat is a pretty charming place (although the lavatory in the washroom tends to spout water onto your feet if you forget to stand back a bit while washing your hands). But the food is utterly sublime.
No Korean restaurant worth its salt should ever forego the much-loved banchan course, and Samgyupsalamat is no exception. The contents of their appetizer plates vary, but I particularly like the spinach that’s been sautéed in garlic and sesame oil. Crunchy, flavorful, and utterly imbibed with clean flavors, I like to alternate it with spoonfuls of the spicy soybean paste-based soup called Denjang-jigge (PHP20). The hot and cold combination does wonders in preparing the palate for the main event.
The Daepae Samgyupsal (PHP230) is as basic as it gets: thin slices of pink, fatty pork belly meat that look like bacon on steroids. Cooked atop the charcoal grill, it’s simply divine dipped into either gochujang or sesame oil seasoned with salt and pepper (or both), and then rolled up in a piece of fresh lettuce. What follows is an exquisite interplay of the meat’s porky flavor and texture with the crunchy freshness of the lettuce, with the dipping sauces providing a hint of punchiness as well as keeping things from being too dry.
Another favorite of mine is the Yangnyum-Moksal (PHP 270), which includes two thin slabs or pork neck steak marinated in a sweet soy sauce mixture. Despite it ending up slightly overcooked (it took us a while to find the right angle for photographing it on the grill), the meat was still so tender. The hints of cinnamon and star anise in the sauce it was cooked in also went strangely well with the bracing bite of the gochujang-coated garlic chives, which were included in the banchan dishes served before the meal.
Samgyupsalamat’s take on Bibimbap (PHP200) is far from traditional, given that it’s served with a sunny-side up egg in a plastic bowl instead of being topped with a raw egg in a stone bowl. But the serving was quite generous, and you get virtually the same effect when you break up the egg and mix it all up together. Combined with a heaping helping of gochujang, mouthfuls of this vegetable, pork, and rice mixture are equal parts sweet, crunchy, soft and spicy, with the chopped up bits of nori toppings beautifully rounding things out with a good dose of umami. Trust me, ending up face deep into a bowl of this stuff really takes the edge off a rough week.
Ultimately, what I love best about Samgyupsalamat is that their fare actually makes me enjoy loading up on veggies despite my lifelong aversion to salads and their leafy kin (my author profile pretty much makes that clear). Of course, the affordable prices as well as the friendly and efficient staff don’t hurt either, although I should warn you that you do need to scrub up a bit harder in the shower after a binge session here to get rid of that barbecued pork perfume.
Have you ever tried Samgyeopsal? Do you have any favorite Samgyeopsal haunts that you’d like to share? Tell us all about it in the comments below!
Address: 911 Kapitan Tikong St. cor Leon Guinto St., Malate, Manila