Culture

K-food: 'Ssam' with fresh vegetables

In the previous article, we talked about how various vegetable-based banchan are in Korea. There are lots of dishes using vegetables but we also enjoy eating fresh vegetables as ‘Ssam’, the Korean DIY-style wrap.

Ssam is vegetable wrap and you can wrap any food inside depending on personal taste. In general, we put a piece of meat and bap(rice) with ssamjang in lettuce. Lettuce, beefsteak plants and any kind of edible vegetable could be used for ssam. The only thing you should follow when making ssam is the size; the size to eat in one bite.


When it comes to ssam vegetables, we can’t say how much Korean love the beefsteak plant. This herbal plant has been consumed only in Korea. With its strong savor and slightly piquant taste, it perfectly goes well with greasy or spicy foods like grilled meat.  

How and when do we enjoy ssam? First off, you need to pick your favorite vegetables and spread them to cover other ingredients. Then put a piece of samgyeopsal(grilled pork belly), garlic, chilli pepper, and ssamjang(a mixed paste for ssam) or kimchi in vegetables; we love lettuce and beefsteak plants so we usually eat both of them. You can add some pickled onions, Myeong-i herb(seasoned garlic leaves) other than ssam vegetables. These two are a bit sour, giving the zest to ssam.

In addition, there is a dish called ‘Bossam’. The ‘Bossam’ is a combination of ‘Bo(a cloth)’ and ‘ssam’. It was named after the behavior of wrapping something up in a cloth. Bossam is a menu to eat Suyuk(steamed pork) wrapped up in cabbage leaves or Kimchi: Geot-jeori(Fresh Kimchi), Bossam Kimchi. Bossam is a great pair with Makgeolli. (Please find more about Makgeolli in this article.)

Bossam with cabbage leaves and Kimchi


Korean also wrap up raw fish in vegetables. You might feel curious about the idea of eating raw fish with ssam. Is it great to eat raw fish with vegetables? The answer is yes and this idea came from cultural and geographical differences. It surely has geographical influences: The fish with white firm flesh have been caught a lot in the sea of Korea. Since it is firm and easy to transport, people could eat them almost right away after they are caught in the sea. It is okay to eat this raw fish in the ssam because it stays fresh and firm after being delivered. Moreover, the fresh raw fish boasts its chewy texture even wrapped in the ssam.

So the raw fish in Korea became a good combination with ssam to keep this biting texture in the mouth. The vegetables for raw fish ssam are quite similar to meat ssam but only sauce can vary to cho-gochujang(red chilli-pepper paste with vinegar). There is a menu called Hoe-deopbap(Raw fish bibimbap). It is another version of bibimbap adding the raw fish and cho-gochujang instead of fried-egg and gochujang.


You might have noticed that there are some special condiments for ssam or bibimbap. The sauces are called ‘jang’, and their main ingredients are soybeans. So, it could be said that even the sauce is made with vegetables. Types of sauces are Gochujang(Red-pepper paste), Doenjang(Soybean paste), and Ganjang(Soy sauce).

Gochujang, Doenjang and Ssamjang (Image Source: cj.co.kr/kr/brands/haechandle)

Gochujang is a typical of Korean sauce. It consists of liquid squeezed from malt, chapssal-garu(glutinous rice flour), gochu-garu(red-pepper powder), meju-garu(fermented soybean powder). Korean use it for various dishes like Bibimbap, Tteokbokki, and stew. Along with gochu-garu, it is one of the essential condiments responsible for the Korean red foods.

From the general Gochujang, people made other versions of it: cho-gochujang and ssamjang. The former is a mixture of gochujang and vinegar. So it tastes sour and goes well with seafood. The latter is a blend of gochujang and doenjang. As we can associate the name with use, ssamjang is the best sauce for ssam. This is why ssamjang matches vegetables well and Korean eat vegetables like chilli pepper, cucumber, steamed cabbage by dipping it.

About Doenjang and Ganjang, they vary slightly from country to country but they are the common sauces found in East-Asia. Korean Doenjang is made by fermentation of meju in salted water, and this water becomes Ganjang with a sifting and boiling process.


We’ve looked into Korean special eating culture ‘ssam’ and the sauce for it. I guess you would get how much vegetables Korean eat in daily meals from banchan, ssam and soybeans-based sauces. Thanks to these vegetable-based foods, Korean eating culture could have developed in the way of preferring chewing tastes. Korean foods are lots of kinds with many ingredients. It is so varied that I would continue to explain the food culture more. Once you eat them, you would be in love with K-food. ?

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