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Gamjatang: Korean Pork Bone Soup

October 30, 2015

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Come! The weather’s getting brisk. Turtlenecks are re-emerging. Noses are running. Girls are singing like birds. Now is the time for you to get in front of a nice hot stew, so let’s share one of our favourites with you, one that we’re surprised we didn’t have before: Gamjatang, Korean Pork Bone Soup!

감자탕 is such a delicious and underrated soup! It’s not the sexiest looking, but it tastes damn great. Even though it literally translates to potato soup, the focus is actually on the pork, so most translations in English call it Spicy Pork Bone Soup. Weird, isn’t it? The Korean version doesn’t mention pork in the title, but it’s known, while in English it’s translated to something that makes more sense. Kind of like how MTV should get the M out of their name, you know?

I always think it’s amazing when a culture uses all the parts of an animal. If you’re going to raise and eat an animal I think it’s only respectful to use everything the animal has to offer, rather than just the “pretty” looking pieces. I think this is something chefs are starting to come back to with the snout-to-tail movement. What’s funny about this movement is that while modern chefs are now starting to serve bone marrow appetizers, crispy pig ears in salad, and pork cheeks as a fancy pants main course, so many other cultures have been using the whole animal just naturally in their everyday cuisine. When we first arrived in Korea we absolutely had an adjustment phase where we had to deal with shrimp served whole in soup (you’re gonna have to learn how to peel it), fish being served whole with bones in (you’re gonna have to learn how to de-bone it), and pork skin being fried as a yummy dish (you’re gonna have to learn how to love it). It took us a while, but now I can’t imagine what it would be like to NOT eat this way, and to avoid the delicious parts just because of aesthetics.

Gamjatang fell into that category of “um how do I eat this” in our first years of Korea. It wasn’t a perfect piece of pork presented to us in pork roast format; it was a giant awkward backbone that had been boiled for hours until the remaining pork was so tender it just fell off the bone. But we didn’t see it for the deliciousness of the meat as much as we saw it for the scariness of the bone. Glad we got over that! Also, I don’t want people to feel intimidated by this soup because it has spicy in the name as well. The broth itself is a wee bit spicy but in my opinion it’s more black peppery than spicy. It’s not a burning spice, as much as it’s a flavour spice, you know? It does more to warm you up than to make you feel uncomfortable.

Since most gamjatangs have kimchi in them, I think the spice depends on how spicy the kimchi is at the restaurant. We’ve had gamjatang at many different restaurants in Korea, and while the broth always differs, it’s never really spicy. When I think of spicy soup in Korea, I immediately think of fish soups (MaeunTang 매운탕) which are loaded up with both gochujang and Korean chilli powder so you can guarantee those will burn you inside and out.

BUT WAIT I WANT TO SAY SOMETHING IMPORTANT! In our last TL;DR, Martina mentioned how I tell people I need to go to the bathroom if I want to get out of a conversation. Well, right after we filmed this video, we talked to someone in the restaurant who was totally awesome. We stood outside and talked for a good 20 minutes at least, but I really had to go to the bathroom. Like, really bad. IF YOU’RE READING THIS, I WASN’T BLOWING YOU OFF! I REALLY HAD TO GO! HONESTLY!

Ahem. So, I hope you liked this video and will give Gamjatang a try! I’m curious if anyone had the chance to try gamjatang and if they enjoyed it? Also, does your culture have a snout-to-tail attitude? If so, what’s a dish you like that might be intimidating to people outside of your culture? Let us know in the comment section below!

And we’ve got some extra scenes, if you feel like a little more Gamgjatang in your life. Boy!

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Gamjatang: Korean Pork Bone Soup

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  1. Hey so I’m going to Seoul in 3 weeks and was wondering if you could give me the address to this place! Thank you

    4 years ago
  2. I had this by accident (ish) my first night in Korea. There was a place right next door to our Airbnb and as we had just gotten in from a long flight we didn’t want to think too much on what to eat. So I remembered seeing the shop and said “that sounds like that soup I’m sure I’ll like” and got some for the mom and I to share. Only…I realized later I had been thinking of GALBItang not GAMJAtang… I don’t eat spicy foods well. We had to get rice to help cut the heat and add more water when we boiled it again. But in the end it was still so delicious. My mom and I both agreed that Korean spicy is so much better than a lot of other spicy foods because it is spicy but also super flavorful.

    Despite it burning my mouth, I do want to eat this again and again. And hopefully, one of these days, I’ll also get to try that Galbitang I was thinking of… Haha.

    4 years ago
  3. Are there a lot of options food wise in South Korea for people who may not eat pork or a lot of seafood for religious reasons?

    4 years ago
    • Yeah! We just went to a great place today for a vegetarian friendly dish. They’re definitely out there :D

      4 years ago
      • DD

        You could check this : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_temple_cuisine
        It is definitely pretty expensive but worth try for. 봉은사Bong-un-sa have their own festival for temple cuisine and 조계사 have their own restaurant 발우공양: Sorry for instant commercial. I’m not related to this temple but this restaurant is one of the rarely recognized places for temple cuisine.You can taste simple version of this by having temple stay.

        4 years ago
  4. I love this stuff. Every week – without fail. I live 2 minutes from a good place so I bowl down there in sweat pants and a hoodie, get a 뼈해장국 and a beer, and chow down while watching the Joe Rogan podcast. Come out less than $10 down, which for a meal and a beer where I live is no mean feat. Life-boner. I always say this and 된장찌개 will be the hardest tastes to give up when I eventually go home.

    4 years ago
  5. Hi Martina, can I please have the address of the restaurant so I can try it as soon as I land in Korea this December. Thank you so much.

    4 years ago
    • These places are absolutely everywhere. They’re all a little different but always just variations on the theme. There’s a chain called 서울감자탕 which is what I most often go to – but the little one of places are almost always good too. 뼈해장국 is also basically the same food, so anywhere that sells that :)

      4 years ago
  6. Simon, sometime your overcompensation for that mangina is a bit much. You need to book yourself a hunting trip, or at least find yourself some man friends.

    4 years ago
  7. DD

    Thanks Simon and Martina, this dish is exactly “the dish” that I desire in New York now, and probably every year when winter starts. Winter makes me recall the memory of my friends(all girls). We sit at the small hot ondol room and taking Gamjatang with Soju and joking that we have so manly taste. But if this dish only for man, it is serious gender inequity issue that supposed to be fixed. It is sooo good. Oh my god. I need to check flushing to find Gamjatang restaurant now.

    4 years ago
  8. Fried pork skin? Like chicharrones? Cracklins? Pork Rinds? I’ve never thought of that as something unusual. It’s pretty common in both Latin America and the U.S. Unless it’s a different texture. Cracklins/chicharrones are very crispy and crunchy. It’s a snack food, like chips.

    4 years ago
  9. O cruel world ! Why can’t I have pork !

    4 years ago
  10. Did they stop making fruit chicken already? I was hoping you guys would try it xD

    4 years ago
  11. “감자” also means pork backbone (감자뼈) :) It’s just that the word “감자뼈” is not commonly used anymore.

    4 years ago
  12. So where exactly is this place you had 감자탕? I’m planning my holiday and would love to incl this is my list of potential pig out locations :p

    4 years ago
  13. There’s a Korean take out place right by my office; they have set dishes as well as ‘pay by weight’, which is GREAT because I’ve been able to try a lot of things you guys have on the FAPFAPs that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Gamjatang is on their regular menu and I’ve had it a few times. It’s definitely messy because of the bones (and I won’t eat it by my colleagues because of that) but it’s SO GOOD. Soondubu Jigae is also on their regular menu…and on my list to try this winter. :D

    My cultural background (Portuguese) has a ‘snout to tail’ food culture; whole fish, tripe, liver, etc…it’s all on the menu. My dad hunts deer and turkey north of Toronto, and I’ve been peeling shrimp and eating whole fish since I was a toddler. A dish that would be intimidating to others would probably be ‘Arroz Cabidela’. It’s braised rooster (sometimes duck or rabbit) and rice. The rice is flavoured with a mixture of vinegar and blood. The blood is collected from the animal when it’s killed. The finished dish a dark brown colour, and tastes more vinegary than anything else…the rice has a risotto consistency. It’s SO good; but understandably when you tell people the ‘secret ingredient’ they freak out. My aunt still makes it the old school way (going to a farm and killing the rooster herself) for Easter; we all go over with our track pants and stuff our faces once a year.

    TlDr: Portuguese people are vampires. :P

    4 years ago
  14. Haggis. It boggles my mind that it’s still illegal in the U.S.
    Sheep heart, liver and lungs ground with oatmeal, onion and spices. Served in the stomach of a sheep or -more commonly these days- sausage skin. It is the bees knees and no one should be scared of trying it if ever they visit Scotland.

    4 years ago
  15. The first time I tasted this in a Korean restaurant here in our city, I fell in love with it. It didn’t take me that long to like gamjatang coz it’s kind of like a spicy version of our pork bone soup… the restaurant that serves this dish does not have the mustard dip thingy though.. and they’re using a different pork meat part… most of it is meat (yey!) it has bones, too, but you won’t need to scrape the meat off with your chopsticks… plus they include 3 huge blocks of potatoes (yey! yey!)…

    Anyhoo, I’m 19 weeks pregnant and it’s 11pm in my country… I am eating a cucumber while watching you guys eat this :D I’m torturing myself… :D

    4 years ago
  16. Here in Brazil we have feijoada – it’s basically black beans cooked with all the “unsavory” pig parts (ears, tail, etc) and severak other types of meat, plus a bunch of side dishes (rice, oranges, a type of kale fried with bacon, cassava flour and some other things). It actually has the most flavor the most “types” of parts you use, but people frequently make “fancy” feijoada just using the pretty parts.

    4 years ago