Making Makan: Korean meat marinades (with vego option)

Degree of difficulty:  


The degree of difficulty is even lower if your pantry contains the standard Asian condiments.   The cooking process itself is blind-Freddy easy.

Will do again? 

YES.  Delicious one-pot meals.


Vegetarian option:  OK, this isn’t orthodox, but I reckon both dishes will also taste great if you use cubed hard bean curd in place of chicken.  The best thing is, all else in these dishes is already vegetarian, as there’s no fish sauce or oyster sauce.

For a low-carb option, instead of serving with rice, heap a generous, wet ladleful over shredded lettuce. 

Marinades, Korean beef and our homegrown beef(cake)

As my favourite Korean butcher expounded, Korean meat marinades come in two colours – red (chilli base) and black (soy sauce base).

For example, there are two flavours of bulgogi.  Koreans pronounce it “pull-goh-gi”.  “Gi” as in “gill’.

Note to readers: Purple text = Digression

  • While we’re talking about pronunciation, there’s no gang action in Gangnam Style.  It’s pronounced Kahng-nahm, both with “ah” sounds, as in “far”.
  • Gangnam Style is so ubiquitous that it’s in my local Zumba dance class!  Caribbean instructor Tamara Vahn tells us we’re “almost flash mob-ready”.

Back to bulgogi.  Beef bulgogi uses the black marinade.  At its most basic, this comprises soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic and onions.

Now, pork bulgogi (dwaeji bulgogi) isn’t just a pork version of beef bulgogi.  Pork bulgogi uses a fiery red marinade made with gochujang, the red chilli paste that Koreans cherish.

Why the difference?  The chilli masks that porky, gamey smell which is a big no-no to many an Asian palate.

Industrial-strength gochujang, the Korean red pepper paste.

Despite the different marinades, it is logical for both dishes to be called bulgogi.  That’s because bulgogi doesn’t describe the marinade.  The literal translation of bulgogi is “fire meat“, ie meat grilled over a fire.  (Putting aside the fact that people may also cook bulgogi in a griddle or an earthenware pot.)

Be that as it may, the mere mention of bulgogi takes me to a happy place.  Here’s why.

Picture this:  Hugh Jackman working out intensively to sculpt his body for the nude scene in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  Oh alright, here’s a link to pictures of Jackman in that film.

He says he often enjoyed bulgogi as a protein source at the time.  It was “not greasy and had a light taste”, so he never got sick of eating bulgogi

If it’s good enough for Our Hugh, it’s good enough for me.  Oh yeah.

Warning: Bad multilingual joke coming up. 

Q: Why did the duck cross the road? 

A: Because it was actually a chicken.

Explanation: Dak (pronounced “dahk”) is the Korean term for chicken.  Boom-tish.

Getting back to the point, this Making Makan post is about two favourite Korean chicken dishes:

  • the red dak galbi (chicken marinated in chilli paste and stir fried with cylindrical rice cakes and veggies), a specialty of the Chuncheon region; and
  • the black jjimdak (chicken braised in soy sauce with potatoes, chillies, veggies and sweet potato noodles), a specialty of the Andong region.

In a restaurant, both dishes come in whopping portions.  They often arrive in a shallow circular receptacle with an imposing diameter of ≥40 cm.  Four adults would struggle to finish it.

My advice?  Bring many dining companions.  Or bring many takeaway containers.

Jjimdak (black)

Jjim = steamed.  Dak = chicken.  But jjimdak refers to braised chicken.  This is a rough-and-ready, rustic kind of dish, with no julienned anything.

Like most Making Makan blog posts, this one doesn’t contain a recipe.  The internet abounds with jjimdak recipes and jjimdak-making videos.

Below is a gallery of the ingredients and of the dish coming together.  It’s a versatile dish, in that you may use different veggies, and even add rice cakes (tteok).
Hover your mouse over each pic to read the caption.

Chillies are optional

Without chillies, jjimdak becomes completely child-friendly.  It has the familiar, comforting taste of meat braised in soy sauce, a childhood staple for me.  The carrots become mushy and sweet and salty.

With chillies, you achieve an extra dimension.  Be judicious with the chillies and you’ll discern a hint of warmth in the dish – three large dried chillies will do the trick.  Be generous with the chillies and you’ll achieve a sharp kick, if that’s your poison.

Dak galbi (red)

Dak = chicken.  Galbi = ribs.  But all the versions I’ve encountered in Seoul and Sydney use boneless chicken.

When I think of dak galbi, a sea of crimson swims into my mind’s eye.  It’s involuntary.  Just like when I think of bulgogi, Hugh Jackman swims into….

Anyway, this is the reason for the crimson image.  The night MOTH (Man of the House) and I ate dak galbi in Seoul, South Korea was playing Uruguay in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.  Everything was crimson:
~ the soccer supporters’ tee-shirts,
~ the dish in front of us,
~ and even the bibs provided by the restaurant (to protect your clothes from stubborn crimson gochujang stains).

Preparing and eating dak galbi

Restaurants usually serve this dish raw, for table-cooking on a built-in gas stove.  The waiter uses two “paint scrapers” to stir the food around the pan, and tells you when it’s ready.

Chilli smokiness and savoury deliciousness will make their way to your tummies, faces, hair and clothes.

To tone down the spiciness, you could have it with rice, or wrapped in a salad leaf.

Hover your mouse over each pic to read the caption.


Even if I can only handle only 3 mouthfuls of this searingly spicy dish, I never, never agree to order cheese dak galbi Cheese tempers the chilli burn.  It’s not just for non-Koreans wimping out.  This is actually a standard menu item at many authentic, traditional dak galbi specialty restaurants.

At one such restaurant in Strathfield recently, almost all the Korean (!) customers were eating cheese dak galbi.  The owner and our Korean friend tried coaxing us to have it.  We declined, being resolutely hardcore, or maybe just plain twisted.  I ate my 3 mouthfuls and panted away.

Let’s end with a test, shall we? 

Can you tell which dak galbi below is from Seoul, and which is from Sydney?  There are 3 parts to this test.
Hover your mouse over each pic for the answer.

Part 1: The raw version.


Part 2: The cooked version.


Part 3: The remnants (very, very difficult).


No penalties for getting it wrong.  The point is this:  you get very similar offerings in Sydney and Seoul.

That’s why I keep banging on about Sydney’s good fortune.  Sydney has so many authentic eateries that serve The Real Deal.  You just have to go with someone in the know to find them (wink).

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