Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Nolbu-ne Has Guts

Sizzling sogopchang, beef intestines

Do you consider yourself a brave person when it comes to food?

Well if you have the guts to eat them, Nolbu-ne Gopchang (놀부네곱창) has the guts to serve you — cow guts to be exact. 

Gopchang before cooking. It is flanked by cuts of fresh liver.
I visited the small barbecue restaurant in Hapjeong-dong, Pyeongtaek last week after succumbing to months of longing for small intestines. Called gop-chang (곱창) in Korean, it used to be a regular dinner among my male hagwon friends. Late at night, after hours in front of excited or indifferent kids, we vented our spleens, eased our livers, and forgot the galling students by grilling tender rings of pig intestines. Soju, which is commonly drunk with gop-chang, played no small part as well. Those friends have since moved away, but the occasional craving for gopchang remains. 

Nolbu-ne is not my old gopchang restaurant standby. Nevertheless it is especially good, and it excels in an area where my former restaurant did not. Nolbu-ne has more guts.

In addition to gopchang, the menu consists of a range of beef offal including makchang (막창) and daechang (대창), sections of the intestinal tract dressed in different ways. I had never encountered daechang before, but the owner said the main difference between it and gopchang was that daechang was completely cleaned out. Yes, this implies that gopchang still has digested stuff inside. If that doesn't deter you from trying this adventurous dish, Nolbu-ne's side dishes might. 

Saeng-gan, raw liver (bottom)
The three sides are also beef offal. One is seonji-guk (선지국), congealed cow blood stew. The other two are saeng-gan (생간), raw liver, and cheon-yeop (천엽), raw tripe. Seonji-guk is a rich and often peppery stew that is great on cold-weather days. It has that warm, affirming boost that makes the cold bearable. Saeng-gan is a little harder to stomach. In your mouth it is soft almost to the point of jello. It tastes less minerally than cooked liver. In fact, it is quite mild. But it is almost unbearably bloody. I have a Korean friend who loves the dish because it makes her feel like a vampire. I, on the other hand, while I enjoyed it, had to ignore the bright, crimson streaks left behind on the white, plastic plate to be able to psychologically bear the liver. The cheon-yeop, however, wasn't as hard to stomach. It essentially resembles a thin, grey shag rug cut into strips, and doesn't have much flavor. 

While the menu at Nolbu-ne comes from an umm... poopier part of the cow, everything that I tried smelled and tasted fresh and clean. There were no foul flavors or strange aftertastes. The gopchang did have a lot of fat attached. However, as in bacon, the fat only enhanced the flavor of the intestines. 

A strip of cheon-yeop, raw tripe
Some Americans may wonder why Koreans eat such things. When eating in Korea, one should bear in mind that modern Korean cuisine is heavily influenced by the nation-wide poverty that lies only a generation away. My friend Jerry Park, who ate with me, mentioned that he normally didn't eat saeng-gan and cheon-yeop because they were "ajashi food" — dishes more common to his father's generation. That generation grew up in a very different Korea than the one that we see now. Even in America, though, eating offal has not always been so taboo. Foi gras, beef tongue, scrapple, pickled trotters or chitterlings anyone? And if those dishes make you uneasy, sausages are a strong reminder of just how prevalent animal intestines still are in our own cuisine. So if you do happen to enjoy meat, take courage and at least give gopchang a try. Think of it as traditional Korean sausage.

Nolbu-ne Gopchang

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2014.12.9 | 지도 크게 보기 ©  NAVER Corp.

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