Some Ssam Summary

In food on 11/06/2010 at 6:22 pm

People are always asking me if I’m a vegetarian. Do I look like I don’t eat meat? If you knew me, you would know I talk about food all the time. And really, you can’t be a foodie unless you eat meat. And if you’re anti-animal flesh, you can’t eat at a David Chang joint because you’d miss the point.

During the holidays, Momofuku Ssam Bar starts advertising its Bo Ssam like crazy in anticipation of football-crazed fans who don’t care about eating turkey for Thanksgiving or Buffalo chicken wings for the Super Bowl. Who else would order a whole pork shoulder and wrap it up in lettuce (besides me)? And who could get 10 of their friends to agree to order it with them? Based on the extensive restrictive FAQs on this one dish, it seems pretty impossible to obtain anyhow.

Luckily for us, our Cereal friend decided to leave the dining decision to me while visiting the Big Apple for her bachelorette weekend. A happy occasion deserves a festive meal and for some reason the other half thought we could hit the jackpot by just asking the waitress if there was a spare bo ssam laying around. Since Momofuku is notorious for dishing out giant plates with very small portions, it was a no-brainer when she announced that yes, there was a giant hunk of pig with our name on it.

Ah well, the tripe, pufferfish and sweetbreads will have to wait for another day…

First we had to work up our appetite with a sampling of the country ham. David Chang gets misty-eyed when talking about our homegrown prosciutto. I wanted to see what the hubbub was. The other half wanted to order all four selections, but our wallets begged for mercy, as did our guests’. We went with the suggestion of the waitress, a full-bodied non-smoked one from Broadbent’s, hailing from the gourmet state of Kentucky.

Oh my Pig, if this is not a reason to buy a deli slicer, then I don’t know what is. Compared to the $450 primo Italian limbs they’re shilling at Eataly, this is true patriotic piggy love at nine times less the cost. I don’t care that my pig can’t oink in Italian, it tastes just as good, if not better! I wonder if I can stuff a ham in the other half’s Christmas stocking…

The ‘red eye gravy’ turned out to be coffee-infused aioli. The other half told me this later, because most of the time I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. For some reason, David Chang thinks blasting my ears with music and dimming the lights so I can’t see what I’m eating makes for a finer dining experience. I don’t think my ham needed any dressing; if anything at all, maybe something acidic to cut through the richness of each silky-thin slice. Or else some hot sauce.

I let you oogle at the pictures first, because you’d just be scrolling down first to see the main event anyways. The sauces at the feet of the bib lettuce were (L to R): house-made classic Napa cabbage kimchi, a pureed version, chopped scallions treading oil, and fermented soy chili paste. The oysters came without any dressing, not even a lemon wedge, but we didn’t mind as we slurped them down in their  naked, pure Canadian perfection. The waiter mentioned something about how real kimchi is made with oysters, to aid in the fermentation process.

But wait, David Chang once again taught me something: oysters are not just good raw by themselves. Inserted into the individual ssams, nestled amongst the perfectly cooked rice, slightly sweet and hot house kimchi puree, and the supple pulled pig flesh, it is a food epiphany you won’t likely forget. The oyster’s brine elevates the whole dish to another level by injecting an element of umami that you were never missing, and yet once you’d tasted it, and tried to eat another ssam without it, you instantly miss that sparkle.

The Niman Ranch roasted pork shoulder sat, gleaming like a jewel. Our Cereal friend asked for a knife but the busboy grabbed the short tongs and demonstrated how the flesh was falling off the bone, ready to be pulled. I dove in and grabbed a hunk of crackly skin for the other half. The steam wafted off the meat as it proudly glistened in the incandescent light. While the meat wasn’t as gamey and sweet as the pork we’ve had straight from the farm, it was pretty good. The amazing part was the skin, the brown sugar-basted crust just melted in your mouth, leaving a sticky gelatinous memory of its unctousness behind on your blissed-out tongue. This is something a vegetarian could never understand.

That’ll do pig, that’ll do.

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