November marks the beginning of gimjang in Korea, the ancient practice in which cabbage is harvested and prepared en masse to be fermented into kimchi. The process of preparing kimchi entails washing, seasoning, and storing the cabbage in earthenware jars, an incredibly labor-intensive process. Like most acts of labor during the Joseon era, gimjang was considered work unfit for yangbans, or the scholarly ruling class.
As a result, the yangbans would traditionally donate a pig to those preparing kimchi for the winter as a means of keeping them energized and motivated. They would usually then slaughter the pig and prepare dwaeji bossam, or pork wraps.
Dwaeji bossam takes a cut of pork (usually belly, though it can be other cuts) and boils it in a brine with some combination of alliums or medicinal herbs to help mellow out the odor of boiled pork. The boiled pork is then sliced and then traditionally served alongside crunchy, unfermented cabbage kimchi and Korean-style shrimp sauce, or saewoo-jeot. The three ingredients are then wrapped in a leaf of cabbage or lettuce prior to eating.
Though the humble, working-class dish lacked appeal among the cosmopolitan elites of early post-Liberation era Korea, it’s enjoyed a renaissance beginning in the late 20th century. Part of the dish’s popularity is owed to the purported health benefits of consuming pork becoming gospel in the early aughts and — perhaps more importantly — its status as a staple anju (or bar snack) to be consumed with soju.
Like many trends that wash ashore in Los Angeles’s Koreatown by way of the motherland, there’s no shortage of places to enjoy dwaeji bossam in Los Angeles to mollify homesick Koreans and curious first-timers alike. Here’s a quick rundown of the notable places to try bossam.
Kobawoo House slices their pork bellies thin to make them meltingly tender. The taste and smell of pork is a little bit more pronounced than its traditionalist competitors, but the kimchi is crunchy, the oysters (optional) are fresh, and it’s an able primer into a real dwaeji bossam experience. Come hungry, with enough room for an order of the pajeon (Korean-style green onion pancake). 698 S Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA
Jun Won’s known more for their jorim (dishes braised in special soy sauces) and jjigae (casserole) dishes, but diners (and Koreans) in the know also swear by Jun Won’s fantastic traditional banchan. Jun Won’s kimchi in their dwaeji bossam dish is crunchy, fresh and just a tad sweet. It’s the perfect complement to their thick-cut slices of pork, which depending on thickness, can run just a bit chewy. It’s a traditionalist’s bossam, one probably more popular with the older Korean folk who like their meat with a little more bite. Also: Jun Won is the only restaurant on this list serving authentic, homemade doenjang (fermented soybean paste) with their garlic and chili slices. 414 S Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA
This bossam specialist is still relatively new in the game, and while it might seem that the toppings on offer are a little gimmicky, they work out nicely in practice. Take, for instance, the garlic bossam: The pungent minced garlic slurry atop each slice of bossam is a more-than-welcome stand-in that saves diners from the heat of raw garlic slices. Mister Bossam also has the distinction of having the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture of all the boiled pork bellies on offer. Which they should, since they specialize in boiled pork. 338 S Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA
Chil Po Korean Restaurant
Chil Po specializes in haemultang, a fiery Korean bouillabaisse that’s brought out and boiled tableside using tabletop gas ranges, but diners in the know know not to skip the hwangsil dwaeji bossam. Literally translated as “Imperial Pork Wraps,” the pork belly is boiled in a brine of medicinal herbs including angelica root and bark from Japanese raisin trees.
The fragrant mixture imparts a unique scent that neutralizes the stench of boiled pork, leaving only mild, slightly chewy slices of pork belly. The kimchi at Chil Po is also one-of-a-kind pairing for the pork belly: Just on the verge of fermentation, it has a refreshing, almost fizzy finish that cuts through the more unctuous segments of pork fat. For fans of bossam or kimchi, it’s worth the drive. 17303 Pioneer Blvd, Artesia, CA
Jang Teo Bossam
Jang Teo is an “OG” of the bossam genre in Koreatown. The restaurant technically specializes in all forms of boiled meats, including a phenomenal plate of sliced pig trotters (jokbal) and a mean plate of sundae (Korean-style blood sausage). For those looking for great bossam, it’s all here: Pork that still gives off a tickle of its allium-and-ginger-based brine, the crunchy napa cabbage leaves, the unfermented kimchi a deep crimson, it’s as orthodox as it comes and a fine rendition to boot. Experience it authentic motherland-style by washing it all down with a cold glass of makgeoli, or Korean rice wine. 857 S Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA