Sam gyup sal, a popular Korean dish, is uncured pork belly, fried crispy and eaten dipped in fermented soybean paste, wrapped with lettuce, and washed down with a cold shot of Korean soju. It’s a lot like bacon, except unsalted and unsmoked so that the natural savory flavor of the pork can shine through without distraction. I call it “crunchy fat” because when grilled to perfection, the outside layer of the pork belly is crispy and crunchy, giving way to a tender layer of meat in the middle. Carnivores and omnivores who appreciate the velvety, rich texture and taste of kurobota pork will love the juicy, savory perfection that is sam gyup sal.
Japan’s fondness for extra-marbled, extra fatty meat has ensured an abundance of sam gyup sal restaurants throughout Tokyo, but one of the city’s best is Macchan in Shin Okubo. Macchan is the katakana-ized version of the Korean for “Mat jjang” which literally means “best flavor.” The slices of pork belly arrive at your table about 3 centimeters thick, which one of the busy servers will grill for you on a sizzling cast iron grill. After the meat has browned to the desired crunchiness, dip a piece in the salt-sesame oil sauce or dwenjang, Korean fermented soybean paste similar to miso, then wrap in a lettuce leaf and enjoy. Mmmm…crunchy fat – delicious!
After you’ve had your fill of crunchy fried pork fat, ask for a serving of fried rice, which is prepared on the same grill so that none of the pork fat goes to waste. If the main branch of Macchan is packed, as it often is, try Macchan #2 or #3, located on the same street to accommodate the overflow of hungry customers in search of sam gyup sal.
1F, Maison Soyez
1-3-20, Hyakunin-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo