Having little time left in Korea has given me motivation to try and do some of the things I haven’t yet. When my friend Meghan told me that she has eaten ‘intestine BBQ’ in Korea, and that is was actually good, I knew I had to force myself to go. Korea has it’s fair share of bizarre foods, and while I’ve already had live baby octopus and decided against trying dog soup (yes, it exists), intestine was a the best next choice on the list.
But ew…intestine? What if it’s not cleaned properly? What if it tastes as bad as it sounds?
So on a Wednesday night last week, I took the subway to the Konkuk University area to meet up with Meghan, and her friend Scott. Scott led the way as we made a few twists and turns through the brightly lit neon streets full of bars and restaurants, bustling with young, fashionably dressed Koreans. I couldn’t track how we ended up at the restaurant, because I don’t know the Konkuk area well and haven’t made it out there enough. Soon, I found myself on a small street with a few restaurants that advertised pieces of meat that were completely foreign to me. We entered a small, narrow restaurant and sat at one of the circular BBQ tables.
Scott ordered us the “beef intestine and mixed organ (소, 양곱장모듬구이)” platter, assuring an array of unusual meats. Starving, but nervous, I quickly drank my beer in anticipation for this mysterious plate to arrive. First, we were brought a collection of side-dishes, some of which were typical to Korean BBQ, others which weren’t so much.A boiling pot of “haejanguk” sat at the table, one of my favorite Korean dishes. Then, as Scott stirred the soup, I could tell this kind was different. This haejanguk didn’t include any meat, but large chunks of coagulated blood. Though blood is a typical ingredient in haejanguk, the kind I usually eat has it dissolved into the broth, barely making it noticeable except for the tiny oily red dots that are sometimes visible in the bottom. Up for the challenge to try the “real thing,” I took a small spoonful of the deep red jelly-like stuff and washed it down with broth. It wasn’t something I’d find myself gobbling up anytime soon.
Along with the other side dishes, came a plate of something completely unknown to me: raw beef stomach and liver. The beef stomach was sliced into small thin pieces. It was easy to eat, as it didn’t taste like anything. It was crunchy, and once dipped in the sesame dipping sauce we were given, it just took on that flavor. The raw beef liver on the other hand, was mortifying. After cutting a large piece into something smaller, and glaring at it in disgust, I forced it into my mouth. I soon encountered the worst taste of the night. Slimy and irony, I couldn’t help but gag a few times before I managed to wash it down with beer. While the texture and thought of it helped play a role in my disgust, it definitely didn’t have a flavor that was very pleasing either.
After the adventures in raw and terrifying side dishes concluded, our plate of mysterious mixed organs arrived. Though there was a grill in the middle of the table, the meat had already been chopped up and mostly cooked in the back, before being brought out to our table. I am not sure why at this particular place you don’t cook it yourself, but I was fine with it. How would I know how long to cook intestines anyway?
To my surprise it smelt fantastic, and the different pieces of meat sizzled in between onions and potatoes (which Meghan sneakily ate all of!). There were four different types of beef organs included: the small intestine, large intestine, heart and get ready for it….rectum. What did I get myself into? Wasn’t this only supposed to be intestine? I took a shot of soju and washed it down with my beer.
After trying all the different types of meat, I can say that it was actually good. Not going to lie though: I did stick to the smaller pieces. While the texture of some of the meats was a little out of the ordinary, it tasted good and wasn’t as scary as I originally thought. The small intestine actually was my favorite. The thin tubes became crispy from the grill on the outside and soft, and almost sweet, on the inside. Scott told us that places where you can see a decent amount of white filling inside the tubes are the best, as they are of the best quality. Not questioning what that white filling might be, I just ate on. Upon further research I came to find out this is actually the fecal matter. Sigh.
Koreans eat this type of BBQ for a few different reasons, other than just the taste. The different parts of the cow are said to have different health properties. As our waiter pointed and explained, “this one good for heart. this one good for man”. Unfortunately, I was taking a shot of soju at the time and don’t remember which he was referring too. Oops. The intestine of the cow is also said to have a lot of collagen, making it a popular meal for Korean women. If this is true, I guess going out with the girls to eat intestine BBQ is a good alternative to botex…
Once we were almost finished with all the meat, we asked for fried rice (볶음밥) to finish it off. The grill was taken, our meat was cut up into smaller pieces and then kimchi, rice and seaweed was added. Once it was brought back to our table, we fried it up in front of us. It was a good finish to the meal, and all the meaty flavors soaked up into the rice.
So would I eat it again?
Yes, maybe I would. It was good and it wasn’t so scary. One thing that would deter me from eating it would actually be the price. Too my surprise it was actually a bit expensive! Much more than the usual beef BBQ around Seoul. For the “modeum” (assorted) plate it was 33,000 won for 2 people and 48,000 for 3 people.
Bored of the same samgyupsal or galbi? Are you crazy enough to want an adventure in intestine eating? You can try all these strange meaty parts at any “gopchang” (곱창) restaurant, or by going to the one I visited which can be found on Google maps, here.
Thanks Meghan and Scott for taking me on this little adventure, and helping educate me on some more bizarre foods Korea has to offer!
For now, my adventures in strange cuisine are on pause. Tomorrow I fly home to California for two weeks of burritos, In-N-out, good beer and holiday foods! Merry Christmas everyone!