The literal meaning of the Korean word samgyeop-sal (삼겹살) is "three layer flesh", referring to striations of lean meat and fat in the pork belly cut with the appearance of having three layers. In Korea, the word samgyeop-sal, meaning "pork belly", often refers to samgyeop-sal-gui (grilled pork belly), in the same way that the word galbi, meaning "ribs", often refers to galbi-gui (grilled beef ribs). Gui refers to roasted, baked, or grilled dishes.
One can also find ogyeopsal (오겹살), with o meaning "five". Ogyeop-sal includes the skin part of the pork belly, unlike samgyeop-sal where the skin is removed. This corresponds with the Chinese word for pork belly, wǔ huā ròu (五花肉) or "five flower meat", as the Chinese pork belly usually includes the rind.
Thick, fatty slices of pork belly, sometimes with the skin left on and sometimes scored on the diagonal, are grilled on a slanted metal griddle or a gridiron at the diners' table inset with charcoal grills or convex gas burners. Usually, diners gill the meat themselves, flipping and cutting them with tongs and scissors, and eat directly from the grill.
The meat is usually neither marinated nor seasoned, but marinated samgyeopsal in flavors such as ginseng, wine, garlic, herbs, curry, doenjang, and gochujang has gained popularity since the late 2000s. Slices of garlic, onions, green chili peppers, mushrooms, and kimchi are often grilled alongside using the fat trickling down from the pork belly.
Common accompaniments for samgyeopsal include ssam vegetables such as lettuce, kkaennip (perilla leaves), ssammu (pickled radish paper) and dipping sauces such as ssamjang (made with seasoned mixture of chili paste and soy bean paste) and gireum-jang (made with sesame oil, salt, and black pepper), jangajji (soy sauce-pickled vegetables) such as myeongi-jangajji (pickled Siberian onion leaves) or yangpa-jangajji (pickled onions), kimchi, as well as sliced garlic, onions, and seasoned shredded scallions. Garlic, onions, and kimchi can be either grilled with the meat or consumed raw with the cooked meat. Mushrooms, such as button mushrooms or oyster mushrooms, are also grilled with the meat.
Grilled meat is placed on fresh and/or pickled leaves of vegetables, with some ssamjang, and rolled up to make ssam (wrap) which is eaten in one mouthful. Any combination of accompaniments mentioned above can be added to the roll according to preference, the most popular being sliced garlic.
Cooked rice, stews such as kimchi-jjigae and doenjang-jjigae, as well as naengmyeon (cold noodles), can be served during the meal. Sometimes, leftover meat is mixed with rice, gim-garu (seaweed flakes), and seasonings to make bokkeum-bap (fried rice) at the end.
Samgyeopsal is often accompanied by, or accompanying (as anju) shots of soju. Somaek, a simple cocktail made by dumping a shot of soju into a glass of beer, is also a popular beverage consumed with samgyeopasal.
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