Words by Stephen Revere
You may have trouble locating the potato in Korea’s “Potato Stew” but don’t let that stop you from trying this classic dish.
Being chilly February, we’ve got to stick with another hot and spicy dish to beat the cold this winter. Gamjatang is a beauty for just this purpose, full of spicy goodness and slow-burning pork that will keep you warm well after you throw on that jacket and head back out into the cold. The funny thing about this dish is that you may have trouble finding the potato despite its name. Rare restaurants won’t even put potato in the stew, but most places will include at least one potato per two servings; you get half a potato. You may find the name translated as “pork bone stew” or “pork spine stew” for this simple reason, but I prefer sticking to the original. That way you know that the word “gamja” means potato.
What you are guaranteed to find in Gamjatang (vegetarians jump to the next paragraph) is a nice big hunk of pork backbone. This is a tremendous, tender piece of meat—although it does take a little work to get at it. You may have to pull apart some vertebrae to get at the good parts, but it’s tasty nonetheless. My favorite restaurant for Gamjatang also offers extras to add to the soup. You can get additional “sari” (사리추가) orders of potato, sujaebi (a flour noodle), u-geo-ji (dried Napa cabbage), glass noodles (dangmyeon) and more.
You’ll rarely find Koreans eating this dish at home. Ask 10 Koreans if their moms cook it at home often and you’re likely to get 8 to 9 negative responses. But ask what they think of when they think of Gamjatang, and you’re certain to hear “soju” from the same percentage. The spiciness of this dish along with its heavy pork flavor make it the perfect accompaniment to imbibing the bitter national liquor, and both are required to be followed by a strong, “Khaaaa” exclamation to show your true appreciation. No, really, try it. It’s certain to come naturally after a few practice swings.
Hoho Gamjatang Busan
Hoho is the most famous Gamjatang restaurant in Busan. One order contains absolute mountains of meat. The cooks use only fresh ingredients and no MSG, guaranteeing an authentic taste. “Sari” orders of sujaebi are free, so feel free to add as many doughy pasta-like noodles as you like. Hoho also has a kids’ playroom to distract the little ones while you pig out. Be sure to also try bokkeumbab (fried rice) made of your leftovers after you’re done. 399-8 Bujeon-dong, Jin-gu, Busan. 051-817-7227
Eungam Sigol Gamjaguk Seoul
Taste Gamgjatang history when you visit this restaurant. Sigol Gamjaguk is located in Eungam-dong on a street dedicated to Gamjatang. This place has over 36 years of history, and was the first Gamjatang restaurant on the street. These days Gamjatang Street is not as popular as it once was, but this particular spot hasn’t changed. It still serves its signature dish in a big tall pot—the traditional cookware—full of spicy meat and potatoes. 602-32 Eungam-dong, Eunpyeong-gu, Seoul. 02-302-8484