LIFE&STYLE

[The Palate] Cool and crisp lettuce wraps, ssambap

By 이우영

Korean cuisine’s signature wrap style of eating

  • Published : Aug 19, 2016 - 17:13
  • Updated : Aug 19, 2016 - 17:13

In the midst of this unusual heatwave, most locals tend to rely on the usual “go-to” summer foods in an attempt to cool off during these record-breaking temperatures. But, how many chilled noodle soups and chicken based dishes can one eat before the appetite starts craving something new?

Abroad, salad is the summer “it” food and takes on many creative forms as a refreshing and cooling meal. A dish that requires little effort and zero heat to prepare, enjoying fresh raw greens and vegetables is the perfect complement to any warm season. 

A bowl of barley rice with greens at Jeongtong Babjip (Christine Cho)

However, here in Korea it is rather uncustomary to eat a whole salad as a meal, as it is usually served as a first or side course. Though what is unique to Korean food and something very much a signature to its cuisine is ssam, meaning to wrap, and most often with fresh lettuce. 

A fun and deconstructed way of eating salad greens by way of wrapping foods, these self-made vegetal bundles are a mainstay on the Korean dining table and a great contribution to the cuisine’s current global phenomenon.
Ssambap, Korean cuisine’s unique style of enjoying greens (Christine Cho)

This style of wrapping foods is also customary within the food culture of Vietnam, but there is really nowhere else in the world that showcases this kind of interactive eating bite by bite. Whether you are wrapping a piece of grilled meat or freshly made multigrain rice, ssam takes on many forms which can be anything from a crunchy spicy mustard leaf to dashima seaweed laver sheets. The addition of garnishes such as raw garlic, long green pepper and ssamjang (soybean paste) sauce all complement one another. On a closer look, what one is technically eating is a salad. 
Greens offered to wrap food at Jeongtong Babjip (Christine Cho)

Ssambap is a dish that is unknowingly very “summery” as well as being a light and healthy meal to be enjoyed during these warmer months. Fresh lettuce and rice are the extent of the ingredients list, but the addition of meat can also be an accoutrement taking a backseat to the freshness of the greens. The cool crunchiness of the leaves balance each bite and make this effortless meal the perfect summer dish.

Places to enjoy ssambap:

Dumulmeori Bapsang
Address:
582-1, Yongdam-ri, Yangseo-myeon,
Yangpyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do
Telephone:
031-774-6022

Jeongtong Bapjip
Address:
91-26 Tongui-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Telephone:02-738-3579

By Christine Cho (thepalatekorea@gmail.com)