After the hike up Geumjeongsan and the visit to Seokbul temple thereafter, my friends and I found ourselves deserving of one hell of a meal. Luckily, being in Korea surrounded by the finest Korean cuisine, we were able to divulge ourselves and devoured a traditional dish called 족발 (jokbal).
Jokbal is literally braised pig trotters; they are boiled in a soy-sauce based braising liquid, normally infused with onion, garlic, ginger and green onions along with some dried chilli peppers, until the meat is just about to fall off the bone. They are then deboned and sliced in to individual pieces, each made up of three distinct layers; the collagen-filled, shiny dark skin (colour created by the soy-sauce liquid and shine provided by rice syrup), the white fat and the actual meat itself, ready to eat with lettuce or perilla leaves, 쌈장 (ssamjang – fermented soybean paste), sliced garlic and green chilli peppers and 새우젓 (saeu-jeot – tiny shrimp that have been salted and fermented, a normal accompaniment for pork in Korea).
Many jokbal restaurants add their own twist, through different spices (star anise, cinnamon, cloves and black peppercorns) or other ingredients, to the classic recipe believed to have been created by a North Korean refugee called Lee Kyeong-sun who ran a small restaurant in Seoul during the 1960’s. For sure, dishes using pig trotters have been a staple of Korean cuisine for years and years, however this particular recipe was borne out of a need to survive as the cut of meat itself was extremely cheap and Lee Kyeong-sun flogged the dish at a reasonable price. Therefore, undeniably, the dish became exceedingly popular with demand for it to this day; indeed many people crave the gelatinous goodness of jokbal and order it to their doors as late as 2:00am.
Furthermore, jokbal is a prime example of a Korean 안주 (anju), a term for food that is best consumed with alcohol. Indeed, as well as 삼겹살 (samgyeopsal – barbecued pork), Koreans love to eat their jokbal with soju, beer or 소맥 (somaek – a mixture of beer and soju together). The list of anju does not end here; Koreans tend to eat their fried chicken with beer and there is a long standing tradition of eating 파전 (pajeon – green onion pancake) with 막걸리 (makgeolli – Korean rice wine) on rainy days.
I first tried jokbal in September of last year; after filming ‘Perspective’, my friends and I converged at 족발고집 (Jokbal Gojib – Papago translates this as ‘sticking pig’s feet’ which I’m sure isn’t 100% accurate but let’s go with it) to both discuss our next film making venture and provide us with the opportunity of trying one of Korea’s more famous dishes. 족발고집 is located close to exit 2 of Myeongjang station, on line 4 and is owned and ran by a friend of a friend. As previously stated a lot of jokbal restaurants like to add their own twist to the classic recipe and the owner/chef at 족발고집 likes to add soju to his braising liquid; apparently it not only helps rid the meat of impurities and odour but also adds more overall flavour. I must admit I was rather hesitant to try the meat initially given the foot element but once I saw the dish in front of my eyes, and tried my first helping of tender meat, I was hooked.
Therefore, after traipsing all around Geumjeongsan and building up quite an appetite, I suggested a trip to 족발고집, merely a short bus ride away from our ending point at Mandeok station. We arrived and straight up ordered a large portion of both the spicy and non-spicy versions as well as two portions of 주먹밥 (jumeokbab – rice balls). The rice balls arrive in a large bowl, a mixture of sticky rice as well as a variety of vegetables, normally chopped carrot, green onion and 단무지 (danmuji – pickled radish) with a topping of dried, shredded seaweed, sesame seeds and just a drop of sesame oil. A plastic glove is also provided for you to dig straight in and mix it all together before forming and squeezing your very own rice balls.
A whole host of other side dishes are also provided at no extra charge; there is a steaming bowl of 어묵국 (eomukgug – fish cake soup, a stone pot brimming with 계란찜 (gyeranjjim – steamed eggs), a platter of 쌈무 (ssammu – thinly sliced, pickled daikon radish; different from the aforementioned danmuji which is yellow in colour), 무말랭이무침 (mumalleangi-muchim – seasoned dried radish strips), a double sided plate with ssamjang on one side and saeu-jeot on the other, as well as each person having a shallow dish filled with soy sauce, chopped onions and a little blob of wasabi on the side, free for you to mix in to the sauce or leave as is.
I absolutely love everything on offer at 족발고집. I personally love eating the non-spicy version of jokbal as 쌈 (ssam), taking either a perilla or lettuce leaf, placing a piece of meat on it with a slice of garlic, some ssamjang or saeu-jeot on top (one or the other as both have a distinct flavour and are pretty salty) before wrapping it up and putting the entire thing in my mouth. The combined flavours are an absolute umami winner and the meat melts in your mouth so perfectly complimented by the crunch of garlic and leaf.
For the spicy version, I like to wrap a piece in a thin slice of ssammu, for the sourness of the pickled radish hinders the spiciness just a little, allowing my taste buds the opportunity to relish the flavour a little more than they would if I just dove straight in. I must add here that the spicy sauce is normally made with some of the braising liquid mixed with both 고춧가루 (gochugaru – dried chilli pepper flakes) and extra hot dried chilli pepper flakes. It does give a spicy punch but is nonetheless delicious when mixed with the meat, chopped cabbage, sliced carrot and topped with sesame seeds.
The rice balls too and the variety of side dishes are all superbly tasty! 족발고집 is a real treat of a restaurant, a personal favourite place of mine to go and fulfill any burning jokbal desires. In addition, I find my skin also benefitting from my love of braised pig trotters, for I like to believe the collagen gives me a more youthful and plump complexion. Ultimately I strongly urge any and all visitors to Korea make trying jokbal, as well as other staple dishes such as samgyeopsal, 비빔밥 (bibimbap – mixed rice) and 떡볶이 (ddeokbokki – stir fried rice cakes) a number one priority. Furthermore, if you find yourself in Busan, keep 족발고집 in mind and head that way for a taste of Korean heaven!