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Debate rages over ‘overly fatty’ samgyeopsal

Excessive fat content in pork belly cuts sparks online controversy, calls grow for industry oversight

By No Kyung-min

Published : May 4, 2024 - 16:01

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An online poster shares a photo of fatty port belly cut on the grill in online community Bobaedream. (Bobaedream) An online poster shares a photo of fatty port belly cut on the grill in online community Bobaedream. (Bobaedream)

As much as "samgyeopsal," the quintessential Korean pork belly cut, translates to three-layered meat, its deliciousness hinges on the perfect balance of fat and meat. This balance delivers a satisfyingly chewy texture bursting with juicy, meaty flavor.

In online forums in South Korea now, a heated debate is underway over just how much fat is too much in fat-rich samgyeopsal, as people share their experiences of being served cuts they deem “overly fatty” at restaurants.

The debate was sparked by an online post on the website Bobaedream last week. An anonymous user posted photos of sizzling Jeju black pig samgyeopsal at a Jeju Island restaurant. The poster claimed the cuts have a "98 percent fat content." For two servings of the fatty pork cuts and one bottle each of soju and beer, the bill was around 150,000 won ($109), the person claimed.

The poster added that the restaurant is a well-known one, garnering media attention with frequent visits from Korean celebrities.

As the post garnered traction, attracting both public and media interest, the restaurant owner issued an apology and said they would offer a complimentary serving of 200 grams of ogyeopsal, a five-layered cut, to restaurant consumers for one month.

However, the dispute over the level of fat content in samgyeopsal seems to extend beyond an isolated incident, with more people stepping forward with similar complaints.

On the same website Wednesday, another user posted a photo of fat-laden samgyeopsal which the person claimed was served at a restaurant in Daegu. Bewildered by what appears to be disproportionately fatty, meat-deficient cuts, the poster questioned whether it was meant to season the grill for the main barbeque. The response from staff was that it was a "delicious cut.”

As of Friday morning, the post has amassed around 110,000 views, with the most-liked comment stating, "As someone who runs a butcher shop, that cut leaves me speechless."

The fatty samgyeopsal controversy prompted a response from Gov. Oh Young-hun of the island province of Jeju, renowned for its black pork cuts.

At a press conference Thursday, he announced the provincial government's internal review to assess the necessity for stricter management of the livestock sector. He confirmed that relevant authorities have initiated inspections of restaurant management practices.

However, recognizing the difficulties in regulating private businesses, Gov. Oh also called for consideration of "differences among local food cultures."

The thickness of fat in samgyeopsal has been a long-debated topic, even prompting government intervention this year.

In response to upset customers about excessively fatty pork cuts sold as part of the "Samgyeopsal Day" promotions last March, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs established new guidelines in January this year for businesses in the livestock industry and store chains, limiting fat in regular pork belly cuts to less than 1 centimeter thick.