Cooking, Miss Kim

BBQ ssam platters, beaches, and the original Airbnb

I haven’t been to Korea in summer since I moved away when I was 13.

Our summer break was about 6-7 weeks long – I can’t recall exactly. Around that time my Dad usually got a week off work as well and we’d go on a family vacance – that’s what we called family vacations in Korea. For some reason, we used the French word.

Being a peninsula, South Korea has two seaboards. Seoul, where I lived, is on the western seaboard and we’d go to the beach for a weekend sometimes. The southern beaches are quite nice, too, but for vacance my family always went to the Eastern seaboard. We thought it had better beaches. The drive to the eastern seaboard was pretty stunning—we drove through mountains to get to the coast.

We weren’t very wealthy when I was growing up. We couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel and we didn’t eat out much. When we got to the coast, we’d find a little village and then we’d find ourselves a villager who was willing to rent us a room in their house for cheap. The original Airbnb!

These were old homes, with the structure built around an internal courtyard. All the rooms opened into this courtyard so there was a little bit of privacy. The amenities were all in the courtyard. My family got a room in one of these houses and we all slept in it. Sometimes, some of the other rooms were also rented to visiting families and if you wanted it, there was camaraderie to be had with the other visitors or with your host family. Have you ever seen one of those Airbnb ads with all those beautiful people living in those amazing houses and they start making friends with the owners? That happened if you wanted and it was kind of cool.

Since we couldn’t afford to eat out even when we were on vacation, once we were all settled into our courtyard room, my mom would go to the local markets. She’d buy meats, fish, and accoutrements – typically lots of greens, different kinds of lettuce, always perilla leaves, often the Korean version of young swiss chard or mustard greens. She always packed kimchi, ssamjang, and rice from home. My dad had always brought along his camping kit, and then off we’d go to BBQ on the beach.

ssam suckling pig at Miss Kim

Once the grilling was done and the rice was cooked, it was time to eat. Basically, you looked for the biggest lettuce leaf you could find. Then you piled up as much stuff on it as you could fit in your mouth – and pop! – in it went! That’s how it’s meant to be – just one bite.

Ssam BBQ is one of my favorite parts of Korean food. Those bite-sized ways to express yourself. Your mom might show you how to make a bite when you were little but then you were on your own. You could make your own bite however you wanted it. You could try all kinds of different things.

I know it all sounds very romantic, but back then all I wanted was to live in a Marriott and eat in a restaurant. Now, I feel such nostalgia for those summer vacations. I yearn for that picnic on the beach and that feeling you got as a perfectly constructed bite exploded in your mouth.

Luckily, I now have a restaurant of my own, Miss Kim, so I took that Ssam BBQ and made it a party! Come try it on Monday, July 8th at our monthly Suckling Pig dinner, and help me keep the memory of those summer vacations alive!

Buy tickets here before it sells out!