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World Dish: Bossam at Jang Su Jang, Duluth

Bossam, ready to eat (all photos by Gene Lee)

In Korea, the word ssam translates as “wrapped.” Around the table, ssam refers to a do-it-yourself dining experience generally consisting of rice, protein grilled tableside and dabs of ssamjang (fermented soybean paste mixed with red pepper paste) all bundled into a bite-size, leafy outer vegetable. If you have gone to any of metro Atlanta’s multitude of Korean barbecue and samgyeopsal (pork belly) restaurants, then you probably have experienced ssam.

Duluth’s Jang Su Jang offers a variation — prepared in the kitchen rather than tableside — called bossam (small $13.99, large $24.99), which is made with boiled pork belly and served with a colorful array of radish kimchee fused with chopped raw oyster, vegetable wraps and sauces used for dabbing. To Western palates, bossam’s mixture of pork and seafood flavors can be a funkier taste experience than fatty marinated galbi (marinated beef) grilled to caramelization. But let the funk in: Jang Su Jang’s bossam reveals the familiar flavors Korean cuisine is known for.

Bossam, typically served as an appetizer, can be considered a type of “anju,” or dish consumed while drinking. Koreans generally snack while drinking alcohol, and bossam’s salty profile complements a round or two of libations. Jang Su Jang’s owner Shelly Lee tells me the kitchen prepares its bossam by “boiling a slab of pork belly in a mixture of water, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and sugar for 100 minutes.” (It also can be prepared by steaming the pork belly instead of boiling it.)

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“We keep the pork belly warm and moist in a steamer before serving it,” Lee continues. Then to serve it, the kitchen slices the pork into bite-size cuts and offers it with strips of the radish oyster kimchee, thin circular sheets of pickled radish and Napa cabbage for wrapping, and small side dishes of ssamjang and saujeot (briny fermented shrimp sauce with strong seafood taste) on the side.

The radish wraps will instantly grab your attention. One is stained hot pink from soaking in beet juice, and the other is faint green and slightly sharp in flavor from a wasabi preparation. The Napa cabbage wraps, typically used for Korean cabbage kimchee, have been relaxed with salt to make wrapping and eating it easier. For heat, a crunchy serving of radish kimchee heavily seasoned with red pepper and pickled slices of jalapeno peppers also can be thrown into your wrap.

The best way to eat Jang Su Jang’s bossam is to just dive in. Try taking a single radish wrap or cabbage leaf, lay a piece of pork on it and top with kimchee and a slice of jalapeno. Grab the wrap with your chopsticks, or use your hands if you want, and eat.

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OK, now go all in and make a wrap with cabbage, both types of radish slices, a piece of pork (or two), kimchee, jalapeno and dabs of both ssamjang and saujeot.

One caveat: Watch out for the hard and chewy remnants of rib joint in the top corners of the pork. If you’re like me, you may relish them, but they’re not everyone’s cup of tea.