We all love Korean BBQ. I’m truly blessed to be living in Los Angeles where I can go to Koreatown for real Korean BBQ anytime. But I still salivate profusely over the thought of going to a Korean BBQ restaurant in Japan. Why? For the simple love of organ meats.
I love my kalbi, my sirloin, my filet mignon, my chateaubriand, and all the fine red meat cuts, but what I really love are organ meats- the parts that actually keep the animals alive, and the parts that often get tossed as waste. Offals are incredibly fresh, well prepared and delicious at Korean BBQ restaurants in Japan.
On a recent visit back to my homeland, my friends took me out to Ooyama Hanten in Gotanda, Tokyo 五反田の大山飯店 for an evening of grilled organ meats.
We started off with a few wonderful cold appetizers:
Chanja, a staple Korean appetizer, is made of spicy marinated cod fish stomach. It has a bit of a tough texture so it’s chopped up in small pieces, and absolutely great on warm white rice.
Nobody else seemed to appreciate the senmai beef tripe, one of my favorite delicacies. The cow has 4 parts to its stomach, and technically tripe is the muscular lining of the beef stomach. The third stomach, called ‘senmai’ in Japanese, means ‘1000 layers’ because of the appearance of the fine fringed villae that we see above. Although prepared very fresh, it does has a slightly gamey aftertaste, though the consistency is soft, slightly chewy and tender like fresh mozzarella. Sprinkled with lemon juice and dipped in a spicy red pepper miso paste, this was truly heaven in a bite.
In Japan, it’s somewhat of a tradition to start the BBQ portion of the meal with thinly sliced beef tongue as their first cut to grill. Dipped in sesame oil with salt and pepper, these hearty and slightly chewy cuts are delectable.
Some more organ meats….
Raw beef liver, and only the finest, came with 3 dipping sauces: garlic soy sauce, ginger soy sauce, and a simple salted sesame oil. I liked how the ginger balanced out the dense iron taste of the liver. For liver though, I must say, this was light, easy on the palate, and did not leave much of an aftertaste. It was slippery, cool, and quickly melted in my mouth. I’m not usually a fan of beef liver (though I love foie gras, chicken liver, fish liver), but this was a delightful surprise dish for me.
After a quick palate cleanser of spicy marinated perilla leaves eaten with warm white rice:
Marinated perilla leaves with a bowl of warm white rice is a simple comfort food that hits the spot even when I don’t have much of an appetite. These leaves can be purchased at almost any Korean supermarket in Koreatown.
The 4th stomach, in Japanese, is called ‘giara’ ギアラ. It was derived from the word ‘guarantee’ ギャランテイー, for unclear reasons. Guaranteed to please your palate? Guarantees the cow to be able to digest its food? Well, it guaranteed a good final dinner for me in Tokyo. On the BBQ grill it started to shrink and become slightly firm and white, and the texture was slightly chewy though tender on the inside. It was marinated with spicy soy sauce to counteract that gaminess.
We also had honeycomb tripe (second stomach) as a cold appetizer. It was a popular dish and went fast. Honeycomb tripe is what is commonly used in European dishes- like Italian trippa stew, Trippa a la Fiorentina, a wonderful Florentine dish of tripe stewed in a tomato sauce, that melts in your mouth like butter.
I wanted to continue ordering more cow innards, but since I was dining with 7 other friends who didn’t share my same enthusiasm, we finished off the evening with the standard red meat cuts, like kalbi (fatty juicy cuts of short rib with beautiful marbling and exquisite flavors.
Random trivia: Did you know that the methane gas released by cows’ burping and farting is said to be one of the leading causes of holes in the ozone layer?