Like eating beef flavored sweet butter. A texture that is silky and velvety, but with pleasant chewy teeth. Unctuously carnivorous yet purely pristine presence.
These are words typically reserved for such fan favorites as bone marrow or dry-aged rib-eye. Well, clearly you know then, I’m about to take this another direction. But I’ll give you a moment, before your mind is transformed…what if I told you that these are how I would describe Korean charcoal-grilled cow intestines? Not tripe. Not stomach. But the actual poop-shoot of the beast? O yes. Now, we are enjoying the genuine flavor of cow. My gopchang, Korean intestines, eating experience in Seoul is one that I’ll remember for a long time, and just had to share.
This world continues to get smaller and more connected. Yet sadly, there are still some culinary imports to America that have not made the successful journey. Gopchang is one such dish. It is the small and large intestines of a cow, grilled table-side over charcoal. This is a most popular Korean culinary item. Restaurants typically specialize in offering this dish, and serve only that. Because, to do this right, requires remarkable technique and, more importantly, access to the freshest cow intestines available.
Obaltan is legend. It is a food chain located throughout Seoul, Korea. It is a house that does one thing, serve some of the best gopchang in Seoul, thusly, in the World. When I told my cousin and grandma I was meeting a friend there, both their eyes lit up and smiled from cheek to cheek. What they told me next was only a foregone conclusion at that time, “Eric, you will love it. It is one of our favorite places in all of Seoul.” Well, score! And of course, my grandmother told me that I must drink whilst eating, because one cannot properly enjoy gopchang without soju and beer. Cannot disappoint grandma.
Gopchang may be intimating for the uninitiated, but it is a surprisingly delicious food. Again, this isn’t your normal tripe, this is the small and large parts of the intestine. I’ve had my fair share of animal intestine’s, and it really is a crap shoot (no pun intended). Sometimes, it will taste fantastic, but then, other times, it is highly unenjoyable. A mixed bag for sure. Ultimately, this variety in experiences is directly correlated to the quality served. Intestines are not fancy food, it is cheap. And sometimes, you get what you pay for. If the intestines are not fresh and not cleaned properly, this dramatically impacts the experience. At Obaltan, the cow intestines are fresh beyond belief. I’m told they are also cleaned rigorously, which keeps the flavors neat and elegant.
Beyond extremely fresh and clean product, there is one other secret to Obaltan’s delightful gopchang. Unlike here in America, where many of the Korean BBQ places use an electric flame to cook the meat, in Korea, they bring out huge chunks of wood charcoal. This authentic charcoal truly chars and smokes the gopchang in a manner that is true, bold, and regrettably absent from places in America.
If you have the opportunity to visit Seoul, do yourself the pleasure of stopping by a local Obaltan. There’s one in Gangnam! And in addition to the gopchang, order some spicy tripe rice on the side. And here in the States, if a Korean tells you of an amazing grilled gopchang spot, check it out! And do as grandma says, and drink a lot throughout the meal too.