What's mine is yours: The bond of Korean barbecue
July 19th, 2012
03:30 PM ET
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Hieu Huynh is a writer producer at CNN On-Air Promotions. She is based in Atlanta, Georgia.

I could have taken the easy way out and made reservations for a nice Italian dinner, or even Japanese teppanyaki for a safe, fun entertaining evening. But this was no ordinary group - these were co-workers.

All week, I fretted about whether or not they would enjoy it; I wanted them to have a food experience they'd never forget.

When Judgment Day finally arrived, we met at one of Los Angeles' top destinations for All-You-Can-Eat (AYCE) Korean barbecue, Tahoe Galbi, located in Koreatown.

Welcome to the world of Korean barbecue, where the cooking rests in your hands.

“Is this meat cooked enough?” one adventurous co-worker asked.

“Meats should have a nice crust on the outside, and still be tender and juicy on the inside,” I said while turning over a slice on the grill right in the middle of the table.

“What is this cut of meat?” another slightly more cautious co-worker asked.

“That’s galbi, the Korean version of spare ribs,” I replied.

The tantalizing smell of the marinade came alive as the heat intensified the garlic, chilies and numerous secret ingredients.

The meat can be eaten straight off the grill, but the more traditional way is to wrap it in lettuce along with a smear of fermented bean paste.

Alongside the meat come intricate side dishes, known as banchan. Ranging from thinly sliced radishes to kimchi and even potato salad, these small plates can either help subdue the spice, or amp it up.

"Fish cakes?" one co-worker asked as she suspiciously eyed what looked like cardboard slices and scrunched her nose.

"Just try it!" I coaxed.

She closed her eyes expecting the thin drab colored pieces to taste exactly as dull as they sounded. Instead, her eyes popped open with a surprised look: "Wow, this actually tastes pretty good!"

I nodded with a knowing smile, and in my best Zen master voice advised, "Don't question, just taste."

From Korean classics such as bulgogi - thin strips of marinated beef in a slightly sweet sauce - and decadent pork belly, plate after plate of fresh meat arrived ready for the grill.

Amid the shots of soju and bottles of Hite beer, I learned more about my co-workers in that one evening than I had ever learned about them sitting in a department meeting.

As another piece of meat hit the grill with a sizzle, I knew I had won them over.

There's something to be said about the universal glee of an open pit. From the Brazilian churrasco to the charcoal grill in your neighbor's backyard, there's no denying the unmistakable allure of barbecue.

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Filed under: Asian • Bite • Cuisines • Korean

soundoff (65 Responses)
  1. scott bleyle

    Love B-B-Q Korean but you have to slice them thin for the hibachi.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  2. rus

    A waste of time to read such stuff.
    I expected there would be some salient explanation of the bonds developed over food.
    Boring, lack luster article.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Ryan in Texas

      What exactly did you want? It's a pretty short piece that hopefully will tempt you to bring a few friends and try Korean BBQ.
      It's pretty good stuff (depending on the place of course).
      It's fun too.
      I have a friend who can BBQ circles around me, you and most Chefs. He loves Bulgogi – and he knows good BBQ!

      July 24, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • BD

      You've obviously never experienced the joy of Korean BBQ. If you had known the unblemished happiness of it you couldn't possibly be so sour. This post is about sharing something thats fun and unique with co-workers and finding out they not only enjoy it but that it provided an excellent chance for them to get to know each other.

      I had a similar experience recently, although a number of us had been for Korean BBQ before. Now we go, much to the chagrin of our waistlines, for lunch quite regularly.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  3. Aaron Chaney

    Romney vs. Frankenstein (Obama)

    Put simply, better the devil you don't know. Vote Romney.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • BD

      Aside from the fact that at no time in your incoherant ramblings did you approach a reasonable point; what the frack does that have to do with Korean BBQ?

      July 24, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  4. Blake

    I once farted in a Korean restaurant, but no one noticed because of the terrible smell of the food.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  5. blakestilwell

    I can't believe CNN still calls its website "news"

    July 24, 2012 at 1:45 am |
  6. GenericMan

    yummers. I want some.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  7. Andrew

    I enjoyed the article, but is there a reason to link "how to drink sake" when you're mentioning shots of soju? It's definitely not the same thing and not the same culture at all. As a Korean, this bothers me. I expect more from CNN.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • BD

      Dude, as a white as bread Canadian it made no sense.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  8. Bruce Jones

    Great article! Korean food is fantastic and even better while living in Korea. For those looking to get paid to live in South Korea, English teaching is one of the largest employers of Americans with nearly 20,000 English teachers in Korea every year. http://www.internationalteflacademy.com/South-Korea-English-teaching-jobs-abroad-asia/

    July 23, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  9. Solo

    This style is so much better than the usual Asian fare – a must try!

    July 23, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  10. t3chsupport

    Oh god, now I'm ravenous. LOVE Korean BBQ!

    July 23, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  11. Zidicky

    As a midwest whiteboy, I must say the best culinary experience I ever had was Korean Bar-b-q in NYC- and I have learned to appreciate the Korean culture because of the food. What an incredible sense of humor these folks have. Hard working. Friendly. Very pro-american.....We need more Koreans strengthening America. Love you guys!

    July 23, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • hmmm

      whoa whoa..hang on there. We're talking food, not politics. Koreans being pro-american is like saying that Vietnamese people are equally as American. I like Korean food as much as the next guy, but I also know that every culture has it's good and bad.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
      • BD

        Actually he's very right, Korea is one of the most closely aligned countries with the US in the world right now.

        As far as the food goes, I think a lot of people would be suprised at how good the food from virtually every nation is if you take the time to learn what's good, try it well prepared, and keep an open mind.

        Not to pick on Indian food (especially since I love it) but I find a lot of people try some crappy generic curry and decide they don't like Indian food general. To me that's the equivelant of trying a greasy chicken fried steak and deciding you don't like American food (again, nothing against chicken fried steak..... oh god I'm hungry now)

        July 24, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
        • BD

          Obviously this discussion is about South Korea, for the record.

          July 24, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  12. Crikes

    Me likey.

    July 23, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  13. Colleenh

    Makes me nostalgic for the many BBQ meals I had while living in Seoul as well as the countryside of South Korea. Try grilling some kimchi as well–it's delicious. Some commentators are really ignorant–one must really go out of their way to find dog on the menu in South Korea. It is not a common dish.

    July 22, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • john dough

      Oh darn. No dog meat to munch!

      July 23, 2012 at 4:49 am |
  14. fool

    “That’s galbi, the Korean version of spare ribs,” I replied.

    Galbi is beef dude. It's a beef rib.

    July 22, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • fool indeed

      Spare ribs can be pork OR beef, dude.

      July 22, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
      • Ira

        No–spares can only be pork.

        July 23, 2012 at 7:58 am |
        • Fool indeed, indeed

          No, spare ibs can be either pork or beef. Look it up.

          July 23, 2012 at 9:18 am |
        • BD

          backribs are pork, spare ribs actually usually refers to beef but can easily be either

          July 24, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Stormspeed


      beef or pork

      July 23, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • t3chsupport

      Only pigs have ribs. Cows have planks.

      July 23, 2012 at 11:48 am |
      • Errogant 2

        Ships have planks. Mammals have ribs.

        July 24, 2012 at 1:12 am |
      • ann

        Go tell the country of Korea it's a plank not spare-ribs. I think you'll hear a collective "NO" from the entire country. :)

        July 24, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  15. billybart

    Korean bbq is awesome and can be quite a social event as well. Beer, soju and loyalty shots all around and you are in for good food and a great time to boot.

    July 22, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  16. 이숭지

    I choose Korean barbecue over anything in this world.

    July 22, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • Ira

      Never had it–South Florida sucks.

      Our culinary choices are real limited.

      July 23, 2012 at 7:59 am |
      • Stew

        Not true at all. Gabose in Lauderhill is amazing! Korean BBQ traditional with charcoal, not gas.

        July 24, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  17. JourneyToSkinny

    I love this meal. It's got some good elements for losing weight. Fresh vegetables, lean grilled meat instead of battered or fried. Tea. Laughter to lower your stress level and lowering your stress level lowers your weight. Yummy!

    July 21, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  18. Rick Springfield

    First of all, in most of Asia, you don't have any specific kind of meat, its just meat. They pretty much eat any form of animal protein. Nothing is taboo. You could be eating yak, mice, dogs, cats, birds, snakes, turtles, frogs, fish, bugs, kangaroo, etc. You really won't know but it mostly tastes good becuase of the wide range of spices. In Korea, dogs and cats are grown like cattle in the USA. I lived in Chuncheon and left for a 2-week vacation in Thailand. I had a house sitter who I thought was trustworthy. I returned and he was nowhere to be found. We asked her what she did with him and she gave me 5000 won. She said, "Is your share", we ate out with the rest. Yes, she sold Shim to the neighbors who had a BBQ.

    July 21, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Kalli

      Rick, I'm sorry you had such a bad experience. However, I'm half South Korean, have several family members over in Korea, have had several dishes fixed, been in the markets, and not once have I ever seen dog or cat being sold freely. As a matter of fact, I have to say I'm slightly insulted you would feed the stereotype all Asian countries eat cat and dog. Is it sad that it's true? Yes. But it's no different than Americans eating horse, or Australians using Kangaroo as meat. Just thought I'd clarify one experience does not provide a reason for a generalizing statement such as yours.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:31 am |
      • Untoward

        Horse meat is rarely eaten in America and has never been common here. Not a good comparison.

        July 24, 2012 at 7:48 am |
        • Hana

          Actually, horse meat is making a comeback. Just because it's not marketed in large chain stores doesn't mean it's not being used as a meat/product source. I'm not a fan of the idea since I harbor most little girls' romantic notion of what a horse is, but I can't deny horses are auctioned as cheap sources of meat.

          As for the generalized comment that Asians will eat any source of meat, I would have to laugh. Yes, Asians eat stuff other cultures think is odd. Some sea critters that make it to the plate are very odd indeed. But is that only an Asian characteristic? I think not. Thanks Kalli for your very valid come back.

          July 24, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Mike

      I call BS on this. Or at the very least, it was a very very long time ago.

      July 22, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • An Ambassador for Korean Cuisine

      I am Korean, and I can assure you Koreans do NOT eat cat meat. Cats are generally detested by the culture, alive or dead. Pro-Westernization in the country has led to many opening up to the idea of cats becoming household pets, however, this is still not considered the norm.

      And while dogs are prepared for a special dish in Korea, this has become increasingly unpopular in consideration of the inhumane treatment of the dogs before preparation. Still, I can not deny that many still eat this dish in Korea. The people who eat it are mostly male (because apparently this dish is known to raise male stamina) and of the older generations who are used to this dish already. That is not to say that the younger generations have shunned this dish, but it seems that it is becoming increasingly frowned upon.

      Further, there is a strong hierarchy of the kinds of meats that Koreans hold dear.

      First is Korean-raised beef. Not imported beef, which is considered "second-hand," but beef of a specific species of cows that are raised primarily in Korea under strict diets, oftentimes organic.

      Second is imported beef. Most of the imported beef in Korea is supplied by the U.S. Many people still refuse to eat any imported beef from the U.S. because of the several Mad Cow Disease-related beef sales in the past.

      Third is pork. It is much cheaper than beef in Korea, but still widely-loved.

      Fourth would be poultry. While poultry used to be a delicacy during the Korean War, it has become incredibly cheap so that it has unofficially become the common man's meat.

      I do not include fish under meats because this is really not considered a substitute for other kinds of meat in Korea. Fish has its own culinary category. All Koreans eat fish (not withstanding the magnanimous variety of different shellfish and regular fish).

      Also, the Korean cuisine is so vast, even I can contest that I have not yet tried all Korean dishes. Thus, please do not assume Korean BBQ is the staple food of the Korean cuisine. It certainly appeals to the Korean masses (because of the delicacy of well-raised Korean beef) and much of the Western audience, however, Korean BBQ is a celebratory meal for mostly larger groups eating out.

      Koreans are very fond of food, and have had centuries to perfect each dish to their liking. I hope many will be able to experience the Korean cuisine(!), which is very closely tied to the Korean culture and national pride.

      July 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
      • Hana

        I have to admit the Korean hatred of cats saddens me. The animals can be abused easily because of the generalized concept of their unclean behavior and demon-like eyes. Koreans as a whole remain very supersticious. But I have to also agree that they are learning. My aunt is a great example. She hated cats until she discovered that my family had one and loved her very much. Because we were favorable towards the creature, she gave cats a chance. Now, she is the loving owner of two maine coon kitties who are loved members of her household. She is so proud of her vermin hunting, intelligent, loving companions.

        July 24, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Christy

      I think you just had a bad experience. I lived in S. Korea too, and found most Koreans to be honorable and most certainly not out to eat Westerners' pets. I knew several Koreans who had dogs for pets. Many more who don't like to eat dog soup.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • Rick101

      I was stationed in Chuncheon for 3 years, it is a beautiful city. I lived off post among the Korean people and was always treated fairly by both my landlord and neighbors. If what you charge is true, which I sincerely doubt, you could have brought charges against the house keeper. I see this remark as someone wanting attention, just trying to chime in and perpetuate a stereotype. By the way Korean cuisine is absolutely delicious and if you ever get a chance to visit with a Korean they are always trying to feed you, enjoy.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:00 am |
  19. kang

    secret ingredients... so secret that my mom and every other korean lady knows how to make galbi at home.

    July 21, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Guest

      Everyone knows how to make chili, too. But my chili doesn't taste like your chili, and neither does anyone else's. Even if we both season our chili with, say, black pepper, garlic, and jalapenos, it's how much of each we put in that makes the difference. It's something each individual has to work out to their own taste, and some is better than others. If there was to be a secret to my chili cooking, those seasonings would be it.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  20. ned

    my family and i love korean bbq.

    July 21, 2012 at 7:02 am |
  21. Rft

    It also reminds me that I bought the cookbook "Momofuku" after watching the author, David Chang, make bulgogi on the Martha Stewart show. I really should get that book out.

    July 20, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  22. Rft

    This brings back memories of a wonderful restaurant that I frequented years ago while working out of town. Bulgogi and Kimchi YUM

    July 20, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  23. KL

    Love samgyupsal.... this article is inspiring me to take my girlfriend out for dinner.

    July 20, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  24. What is this?

    So delicious! Once at a Korean bbq I asked
    "What kind of meat is this?" and was told "It is meat".
    Then I thought to myself ok.....camel, possum, skunk,mmmm???
    and then I thought ok....no more Korean BBQ's.

    July 20, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • billybart

      although times are a changin' in asia protein is protein. If the sun shines on it's back, as opposed to only it's head or shoulders, then it is destined for the table.

      July 22, 2012 at 1:17 am |
    • m

      Something must be lost in translation, if these stories are true. I have never ever had any confusion over what kind of meat I am eating in Korea or Korean restaurants. Nothing is referred to simply as "meat."
      These broad depictions of "Asian" protein consumption seem more based on biases toward meat consumption or Asian cultures.

      July 23, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  25. Don't ask, just eat. Good advice.

    Kalbi is better when grilled over charcoal rather than gas.

    July 20, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Beavis

      Gas comes later.

      July 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
      • Georgia BBQ Forever!

        Not if you omit the smear of bean paste.

        July 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
        • Errogant 2

          Bean paste is already fermented..no gas.

          July 24, 2012 at 1:18 am |
  26. Mildred

    I love Korean barbecue.

    But my favorite Korean dish is hwe dup bap: raw fish on top of a bed of lettuce, daikon, nori, and rice served with chogochujang (a red pepper paste) and a spoon. You mix the chogochujang in and it looks like a mess of fish and stuff... but *so* tasty.

    July 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  27. Chochi

    Wow, that brought back so many memories of my time in Korea! I loved eating at the restuarants there!

    July 20, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  28. David Emery

    Just stay away from the kegogi :-)

    July 20, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • Sir Biddle

      It tends to be a bit ruff!

      July 20, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • 426Hemi1

      Easiest way to remember, the first letter of each named item. Bulgogi (B = Beef); Kegogi (K = K9). Don't get tongue tied in Korea when ordering, be specific!!!

      July 20, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • j

      I never tried dog when I was in Korea but I tried to give some dog meat to a family's pet dog and he wouldn't touch it.

      July 21, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Billybob

      Really? Why stay away? I had some and it was quite delicious... did you have a bad experience?

      July 23, 2012 at 1:32 am |
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