Saturday, December 15, 2018

[Food] Galbi (갈비, Korean Rib BBQ)


[Food] Galbi (갈비, Korean Rib BBQ)

A typical Korean BBQ restaurant. Long silver hoses drain smoke out of the grill.
It is part of Korean culture (almost convention) to buy dinner for somebody when there is something to talk about or to give serious cheer or comfort. The serious and the greater the matter, the more Koreans will bring you to a better and more expensive restaurant. If Koreans say they want to buy dinner at a BBQ restaurant, it means they have something to talk to you about like the examples above, or they think you are an important and precious person, or they want to welcome you with warm hearts (if it is your first time meeting them). So it seems like the rule of 'there is no free lunch' is occasionally exempt in Korea.

When I was young my dad used to bring his family to a nearby BBQ restaurant at the weekends. He was a successful businessman so he wasn’t concerned about spending much money eating out. My family's favorite BBQ place was Poong-nyeon ('rich harvest') BBQ restaurant. My parents usually ordered sweet soy-sauced Galbi (갈비, Korean Rib BBQ), then additionally ordered cold noodle and Doenjang jjigae with bowls of rice.

I still remember the neon sign shaped with a running wild boar with green and red lights. Many families like mine went there to enjoy its famous Galbi. When I last visited that town, where my family lived when I was young, the BBQ restaurant was still there and it made me reminisce for a long time. Oh, how can I forget the sweet soy sauce taste of Galbi!
A Galbi BBQ restaurant in Korea

Galbi (uncooked)

Side dish of Galbi. Lettuce, garlic, Ssamjang (Mixture of Korean chili paste and Doenjang) and chopped spring onion.

Today, I met my dad at a BBQ restaurant in Busan. It is not the place where we used to go when I was young but it was enough to reminisce of our family’s old times. We ordered Galbi with Soju (for my dad, not mine).

"Hey, dad. How was work? How many boxes have you loaded onto the trucks?"

After his retirement as a 'successful businessman', he opened a woman's clothes shop but it didn't go well...and now he works as a delivery service man.

"Oh well...almost...I think more than 500 today. You know it is Christmas holiday season soon so we will have to deliver more boxes. Phew...
How’s your work going Jerry? Is your freelance work still so fun?"

"Yeah, like always. I like being 'free'-lancer - no boss and the more I work the more money I earn. The best thing is I can work alone, hahaha."

Soon the charcoal fire came to my table and I started to heat the grill. At the same time, I poured Soju for him then we toasted for our lives (I toasted with soda). However, having happy chit-chat was not the purpose of having dinner with my dad. I wanted to talk seriously with him - family things.

Soju (Distilled Korean rice liquor, best friend to a Korean dinner)

"Dad, I have something to talk to you about. It’s serious."

Dad raised his eyebrows.

"What’s that? Go on."

"Why...uhm...why did you divorce? Is that true that you cheated on mom?"

I could see dad's face was stoned with embarrassment. Well, I already knew everything about their divorce because mom had told me everything. Dad would not have known that I knew their story. I just wanted to know if it was truth or not from dad's mouth.

"Yes, is true...but listen, you are grown-up now. And your mom and I are also adults and grown-ups. We had been having personal problems with differences of character and...."

"Dad, but you should have at least told me before signing the legal papers. I understand you and mom had been in conflict over many things, but...cheating? Oh is the worst-case scenario. It's like abandoning being with your family including me and Liz (my elder sister)."

"You never know, you don't understand how much you and mom suffered from each other. And...."

I crossed my head.

"Uh-huh, but the bottom line is that you cheated on her. You should have not done that, dad. As father and, I think you have to apologize to mom."

I could see he was a bit angry and his complexion reddened, but I didn't want to stop my criticism of him because I was angry when I had heard about the divorce.

Dad gulped a cup of Soju and poured another one again, then said:

"I've already paid her so much money as an alimony (compensation). I have nothing more to say. Sorry, young man."

"I'm not talking about a legal thing, dad. You are so guilty and must be sorry to mom, Liz and I. You are the one who tore this family apart. Don't you understand? Mom had to go through a long and painful menopause right after you left her. I know you didn't like each other at the end of your married life, so I would have understood it if had all cheated on one another...but it is not."

Charcoal for Korean BBQ
He was silent. I was silent too. Only the crackling sound of charcoal and the sizzling sound of Galbi filled the air.

"So it is very true...phew....sigh...Okay...I don't care now wherever and whoever you live with, but I think you should be ashamed of what you did not and rationalize it."

" drop it please. Eat your Galbi, son."

Galbi on a charcoal grill

"What? Still have something to blame me?"

"I'm sorry for shouting at you now but I was so angry, I hope you forgive me."


"Please know that you are still my dad whom I proud of. You have been such a good father to us except for being a heavy drinker. I just couldn't accept you cheating on mom and giving up on being with the family."

"Sigh....I'm sorry. I disappointed you."

"You did, have your life...I understand that."

".....Thanks, Jerry. Thanks...but...did I do that wrong?"

I could see his eye were filling up with tears. He was sniffling.

"Dad, come on. Eat some Galbi with Ssam, it's for you."

"Thanks, Jerry...thanks...(sniffle)"

Koreans make 'Ssam (Ssam means 'bundle' or 'pack' in Korean)' when they eat meat. You put meat, onion, garlic, ssamjang and other things you want to put on wide lettuce and wrap them to make a small pouch-shape and eat :) It is a very healthy way to eat meat with vegetables and also good because garlic sterilizes meat.


"Aww! What the....what did you put! How much garlic and chili have you put in! You son of...!!"

"Ahahahaha!!! Sorry, dad, it's punishment for what you did to mom and us."

Well, I have just put so much garlic and chili in Ssam :) I brought him some more cups of water and he looked so painful.

"Dad, do you remember you did the exact same thing to me last time? It's payback time."

"Jerry, but I don't think this is the right time to do that...aww..."

Pork for BBQ

Pork BBQ grill with Doenjangjjigae

After that I didn't say anything else about the divorce and family matter. However it made me so sad that my family couldn't have happy Galbi time together ever again like when I was young.

You can do many and more things as you grow up but you have to know some things you don't want either. And sometimes you can lose some more things too. It is so shame that the life cannot be so sweet as always like Galbi.

Bon appétit!

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