Soft, jiggly pork belly. Decadent, luscious sauce. Pungent. Spicy. My North Korean Grandmother’s Braised Pork Belly is so good, you’ll be scraping the bowl clean.
In the summer of 1947, my grandparents paid someone to smuggle them out of North Korea.
For two weeks, my newly married grandparents traveled across rivers and mountains. They walked at night and slept during the day. They defecated in holes dug with sticks and covered up their tracks so that no one could follow them. They went up and down so many mountains (Korea is called the land of 1000 mountains) that my 18 year old Halmoni thought she was going to die.
Eventually, they found their way to Seoul. And many years later, they immigrated to America with their sons. This was one of the dishes they brought with them.
I grew up eating and loving this dish. We called it Doenjang Daeji Gogi. Roughly translated, Fermented Soybean Paste Pork Belly.
In the summer, we ate Doenjang Daeji Gogi with lettuce wraps, perilla leaves, rice, and a smear of Gochujang Sauce.
In the winter, we ate Doenjang Daeji Gogi with rice and kimchi, sometimes alongside soup. Mmmm, I loved to mix the sauce with rice and eat one spoonful after another. So comforting, so delicious.
This dish was such a ubiquitous part of the family table, regardless of the season, that I never questioned its authenticity as a Korean dish.
Until I realized, well into adulthood, that I’d never eaten this dish at a Korean restaurant. I’d never seen a recipe for it on the world wide web, either. And when I asked around, no one seemed to know what it was.
So I asked Halmoni about the origins of this dish. And she told me it was a happy accident — a random experiment in the kitchen when she was trying to think of what to cook for dinner one day. Everyone loved it so much, she never stopped cooking it! A family favorite, she’s been making this dish for over 50 years now.
This is not a famous Korean dish. No one’s heard of it, even. But everytime I cook this dish, everyone loves it.
We’re talking about scraping the bowl, no leftovers, spooning the last of the sauce over rice (when all the pork belly is eaten) kind of love. Every drop is savored. Nothing is wasted.
My friends love this dish. My family loves this dish. Multiple people have told me, this is their favorite dish when they come over for dinner. They love it more than Korean Fried Chicken. More than Cheese Buldak. More than Galbi Jjim or Neng Myeon. More than anything else I’ve cooked for them!
Which leaves me slightly floored. Compared to the labor-intensive behemoths that so many Korean dishes are apt to be, this is simple dinner food. Stewed in one pot. With a handful of ingredients. Reheats easily in the microwave, even.
The only caveat: if you don’t like Doenjang, you will probably not enjoy this dish.
What is Doenjang? Doenjang is Korean fermented soybean paste. I like to think of it as an extra-potent Japanese Miso. Like all other fermented foods, it’s a bit stinky and absolutely delicious.
(Incidentally, this dish is very strong smelling. My grandparents used to cook this dish outdoors on a hot plate because of the strong smells. But I use the exhaust fan while cooking and spray Febreeze afterwards. TIP: if you cook stinky food, Febreeze is a lifesaver. I like Crisp Linen.)
But if you like Doenjang, you will LOVE this dish. Korean Braised Pork Belly is all kinds of savory, pungent, spicy deliciousness. Enjoy!
How to Make My North Korean Grandmother’s Braised Pork Belly:
Slice pork belly into 1/2-inch strips and place in a large pot. Add remaining ingredients and water.
Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer (covered) until pork belly is tender and soft, about 30 minutes. The sauce will be watery.
Remove lid and simmer until sauce is thick and reduced, about 10-15 minutes. The pork belly and sauce should darken.
Serve with lettuce wraps, rice, gochujang sauce, and kimchi. Enjoy!
North Korean Braised Doenjang Pork Belly
- Stock pot
- 3 lbs pork belly
- 1/2 cup Doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste)
- 2 Tbsp Mirin
- 1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
- 1/2 inch ginger, minced
- 1 Tbsp instant coffee (optional)
- 1-2 Jalapenos, sliced *see notes below
- 2 cups water
- Slice pork belly into 1/2-inch strips and place into a large pot. Add remaining ingredients.
- Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer (covered) until pork belly is tender and soft, about 30 minutes. The sauce will be watery.
- Remove lid and simmer until sauce is thick and reduced, about 10-15 minutes. The pork belly and sauce should darken.
- Serve with lettuce wraps, rice, gochujang sauce, and kimchi. Enjoy!