In traditional Korean drinking culture, when you toss one back, there’s always something to eat with it. Dishes you eat while drinking even have their own term: anju. And one of my favorite anju of all is also one of the heartiest and most delicious. It’s called bossam.
Bossam is boiled pork shoulder accompanied by sides such as rice, brined cabbage, lettuce, radish kimchi, raw garlic, raw green chile slices, ssamjang (which is a dipping sauce), and seujot (briny shrimp paste). You’ll sometimes have the option to add raw oysters, which I highly recommend. The pairing is how I realized that shellfish and pork pair perfectly together, because the mineral flavors of shellfish offset the fatty richness of the pork.
The term ssam in bossam means “wrapped” in Korean, so it should come as no surprise that you’re meant to wrap the pieces of pork in lettuce before you eat it. The sides are there to pack into the little bundle, and you should really add a touch of every little condiment in it to create the perfect bite. Ratios are everything, as you’re supposed to eat the wrap in one mouthful, so don’t overpack it.
Bossam was popularized in America when David Chang served it as a signature dish at his restaurant Momofuku back in the early 2000s. (There’s a recipe for it here in The New York Times cooking section.) The hype around his recipe has long since cooled, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less exciting to seek out. Chang’s version is big, showy, and cheffy, involving a pork shoulder weighing eight to 10 pounds. But that’s not particularly necessary. Going to a locally owned no-frills Korean restaurant is the way to go to get the unadulterated experience.
First off, no worries if you’re not drinking. But if you are imbibing while eating, you can either throw back some soju, which is Korea’s signature session drink (it’s a liquor with an ABV usually between 13-20%), or drink an ice cold beer. Koreans favor a crisper and lighter beer flavor, which compliments the rich flavor of the fatty pork and the bold flavor of bossam’s accoutrements. There’s rarely ever a better match of hearty bossam and a bracingly refreshing sip of booze.
No matter what, though, bossam is best eaten with friends and family. Part of the joy of Korean food is the community and the interactivity of it. You reach in, grab everything you need to make a perfect bite, and can catch up over one of the best drinking foods in the world.