Los Angeles’s Korean barbecue scene is well-established: most Angelenos have become lovingly familiar with thin cuts of brisket, strips of pork belly, and little melting marbled slivers of short rib. But gopchang, or small (usually beef) intestines, may be less familiar to non-Koreans, despite its ubiquity on AYCE menus and the growing number of restaurants specializing in it. At Chadolpoong, Byul Gobchang, Ahgassi Gopchang, and Songhak, there’s an explosion of soju-fueled Korean chatter and diners huddled around one thing and one thing only: sizzling plates of the almighty gopchang.
Unlike the more straightforward Korean barbecue meats, gopchang sets itself apart with its textural contrast — from the golden brown, crunchy exterior to the softer lining, and finally the soft inner paste (called “gop” in Korean). The exterior contains plenty of fatty, beefy flavor and the gop adds mellow, minerally notes. Dip the meat in some garlic-infused soy sauce that’s been provided to cut into the richness, and it all comes together perfectly paired with a swig of cold beer or shot of soju.
A question that always comes to mind when dealing with a cow’s small intestines is always “Is it clean?” In short, yes — perhaps painstakingly so at Korean restaurants. Gopchang undergoes a rigorous cleaning process involving the use of water, wheat flour, salt, and some type of alcohol, usually soju. This video from a Korean home cook preparing gopchang does a detailed job visually outlining the process of breaking down gopchang fresh from the butcher. The title, roughly translated, is “For God’s sake, just go eat gopchang at a restaurant.”
Thankfully, gopchang is pretty easy to find in restaurants. Koreatown’s Byul Gobchang is an OG of the genre, where gopchang arrives on shallow-bottomed, round steel pans to be heated at its wide tabletop grills. This cooking method is a departure from the standard grill grate for a key reason: The shallow-bottomed dish ensures the fat renders and crisps the exterior of the gopchang like a good confit, and also flavors and browns the mushrooms, onions, and potatoes that usually arrive alongside. The meat’s longer cooking time leaves a brief intermission to get the soju flowing — for many Koreans, an essential element of any gopchang outing.
As part of the restaurant group that owns the popular Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong Korean barbecue, Ahgassi Gopchang on 6th Street brings out the goods on a shallow steel wok, with wider walls than the steel pan at Byul. Rendered fat and fond from the cooked meat works to grease up the fried rice that caps the meal. Though most people are there for the gopchang, Byul Gobchang and Ahgassi Gopchang offer a variety of other Korean barbecue meats for those who aren’t hip to offal.
At more recently opened gopchang specialists like Song Hak (multiple locations), or Koreatown’s Chadolpoong, which opened in 2018, the gopchang arrives on a dolpan, or stone plate, sliced, partially cooked, and still sizzling, along with sliced king oyster mushrooms, potatoes, and flat-leafed garlic chives. The heavy stone dish is a bit intimidating at first glance, but the fact that it arrives screaming hot is a helpful clue. The meat continues cooking at the table until it reaches the desired doneness, which is mostly a matter of preference.
Gopchang cooks to optimal doneness when the exterior begins to turn golden brown, with much of the gop, or the warm, iron-y filling that’s essentially cooked membranous fluid from the cow’s stomach, still intact. Cook it longer, and the gop spills out while the exterior resembles a crunchy morsel of tripas (which is what I prefer). The gop tastes funky but savory, a flavor that’s been prized throughout Korean history.
Gopchang’s place in Korean cuisine dates back to some time during the Joseon Dynasty (somewhere between the 14th and 19th century), where it was seen as a healthy delicacy to be enjoyed by the wealthy. Until fairly recently, this cut of cow’s small intestines was considered a pricier indulgence for elder Koreans. In Seoul, a street near Wangsimni station is dubbed “곱창 골목,” (gopchang golmok, or gopchang alley) — and yet that’s probably only the second best-known place in the country to get the offbeat cut.
The honor of Korea’s most popular gopchang restaurant would go to Shinsadong’s Daehan Gopchang in Seoul’s Gangnam District. The restaurant was made famous in a June 2018 episode of I Live Alone, a Korean TV show that chronicles the single lives of celebrities. In that episode, Korean singer Hwasa of the group Mamamoo famously tucked into a platter of the restaurant’s grilled cow intestines with such zest that it inspired a bona fide national craze. Gopchang sales following the episode skyrocketed by 150 percent and meat suppliers across Korea claimed shortages.
Luckily for those Stateside (and in Los Angeles in particular), passion for gopchang is still growing and the cut is in plentiful supply at restaurants like Ahgassi Gopchang, Byul Gobchang, Chadolpoong, and Song Hak. And if there’s one way to celebrate a return to normalcy for California, a buttery, crunchy cut of meat that complements a never-ending fountain of soju and beer might be the perfect way to ring in the return of Korean barbecue.