At first glance, the special Korean entrée known as jokbal, at the new Jang Choong Dong Jokbal Restaurant in Chinatown, might not seem designed for Western tastes.
But that’s before you try the dish that, in English, means braised pig trotters — the cut of pork consisting of a pig’s front hocks, typically from the ankle down.
Considering that they have been braised for hours, until the meat has fully absorbed flavors of soy sauce, ginger, black taffy and other ingredients, the adventure is well worth it.
A bit of a spectacle at first glance, the huge plate of seasoned pig hocks is a bit chewy, with a gelatinous texture, as the waiter explained before our first bite.
He was right. But with the lettuce leaves served on the side, one can add the provided soybean paste, sliced garlic and a dash of sliced jalapeno to the meat to create a wrap. Then dip the wrap in saewood ju, or Korean fish sauce, and the result is sublime as you bite down on it.
Other eaters agreed that a jokbal night out is well worth it.
“I had a similar dish in Seoul,” said Xiao Shi, a Beijing businessman visiting Houston who tried the restaurant with colleagues based here. “I think this is authentic and just as tasty as what I had in Korea.”
A complete meal – jokbal jungsik –goes for $20.99, including side dishes like kimchi, shredded radish and rice.
The meat’s high-calorie fat content might not be your cardiologist’s first recommendation, but its gelatinous substance is thought by Koreans to promote firm, wrinkle-free skin. What’s more, the amino acid methionine, found in pork, is thought to counteract the effects of alcohol and prevent hangovers.
Since nothing is better with jokbal than a $6 bottle (or two) of soju (the Korean liquor that is most often compared to gin), the Koreans may have a point.
Others may want a more western-looking, one-person dish, the galbi jungsik, beef ribs marinated with special-recipe house sauce. They are served on a sizzling metal plate. The dish comes with a soybean paste soup and is priced at $26.99.
Still another very tasty entrée is the ttagui haejang kuk, a beef neck bone soup with cabbage, bean sprouts and jalapeno slices. The soup is garnished with chopped green onion and black pepper. It goes for $14.99.
But getting back to the pig feet, the restaurant’s website states this: “Jokbal is the most hardcore Korean dish and it’s damn delicious.”
Jang Choong Dong Korean Restaurant
9114 Bellaire Blvd (DIHO Shopping Center)
Monday-Thursday, Sunday, 11:30am – 9:30 p.m.,
Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. -11 p.m.