Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Meat, Spice and Lots of Fire at Hwatong Sam

There is a Korean barbecue restaurant for every leaf of kimchi in Korea, and it is hard to go wrong when choosing one. However, some do stand out. And Hwatong Sam (화통삼) is one of the chains that rises a little taller than its brothers.

There isn't much of a barbecue without meat, and that is one point in which Hwatong Sam stands out. The prices are reasonable. Around 10-12,000 won will buy one of a variety of quality pork cuts. And the servings are large enough to feed a single person. I ordered the samgyeopsal (삼겹살), pork belly with three layers of fat, and gabeurisal (가브리살), a special cut of pork loin. At many restaurants the meat comes out already cut into bite-sized pieces. However, these came out as solid chunks of meat which the waiter personally cut into smaller pieces at the table. 

Sometimes Koreans assume that foreigners do not know what to do in these kinds of situations and do all the cooking for them. However, this was not the case at Hwatong Sam. They practically had to wrestle the cooking tongs away from me each time they returned because they had a show to put on. After the gogi was flipped the waiter poured a quantity of oil over the meat, and, after cautioning me and the NetBot to sit back, turned the pork into a pyrotechnics show worthy of a MythBusters episode (sorry, no photos). When everything was done, the staff turned off the hot plate so nothing overcooked. 

Meat is important, but no respectable Korean barbecue would be complete without side dishes. And Hwatong Sam succeeds in that as well. Not everyone appreciates cooked veggies, but that is how the sides come at Hwatong Sam. Placed right on the large grill plate are mountains of kimchi, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and chives. A smaller amount of garlic sprouts, garlic, potato, and pumpkin are added as well. If that wasn't enough, there are also pickled perilla leaves called kkaennip jangajji (깻입 장아찌) and Korean hot peppers. And in a unique turn, the waiter cracks an egg inside a thick ring of onion, tops it with a little cheese and leaves it to fry. On the downside, they didn't give us much lettuce to roll our meat in, but I'm sure the waitstaff, a bunch of shy, kind, highschool-aged boys, would have given us more if we asked.

Perhaps what makes Hwatong Sam truly unique, though, are their dipping sauces. Sauces are not unusual at Korean barbecues, but this place's sauces have their own snazzy twist. Typically you get two or three sauces: ssamjang, sesame oil and salt, and some sauced onions. But Hwatong Sam serves five uniquely piquant sauces. They have something resembling ssamjang but spicier, curry powder that tastes boring until you dip your meat in it (the NetBot ate all of hers and asked for more), a surprisingly spicy sauce similar to but stronger than gochujang, a tart oil and vinegar sauce, and lastly their own citrusy twist on the onion sauce. 

There are two Hwatong Sams in Pyeongtaek. The one I visited (which has 9.7/10 stars on Naver) is located in the new development near LotteMart, down the street from the intersection immediately in front of Pyeongtaek City Hall. 

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2014.12.2 | 지도 크게 보기 ©  NAVER Corp.

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