I walk around Adelaide with a camera and a tripod.
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Published June 14th 2018
Fire, smoke, seasoning and charcoal
Ten years ago I spent many cold evenings crammed into Korean Barbecue booths, a grill before me laden with dizzying combinations of meat, seafood and vegetables cooking in thick clouds of steam and smoke.
It's almost too easy to get nostalgic about such moments: the combination of wintry conditions outside yielding to the warmth of a grill; the confluence of convivial conversation and hot food on a long evening bathed in the glow of soju; a simpler time.
Walk into De Jang Gum on Glen Osmond Road and the tantalising aroma of meat and vegetables grilling over charcoal is expected and welcome. What may be slightly less familiar are the multiple copper toned vent arms reaching over, arching around and hovering above the sizzling grills. Like the many tentacled arms of a nameless Lovecraftian horror or the mess hall of a steampunk airship fantasy, powerful suction whisks any smoke from grilling food away from the tables, keeping the air clear, apart from a shimmering heat haze and the lingering scent of fragrant smoke.
Enter and to the left is a row of stainless steel warmers; popular Korean side dishes glisten within including Japchae, Tteok-bokki, glazed sweet potato, fishcakes and kimchi pancakes alongside rice, steamed vegetables and potato gems.
A fresh bucket of glowing charcoal is lowered into the centre of the table, a gleaming grill positioned above. Pressing a button at the table sounds a chime. Attentive wait staff are happy to explain different meat and vegetable options ranging from beef ribs, brisket, oyster blade steaks, pork belly, chicken and lamb to the more exotic ox tongue, pork intestines and pork jowl.
The charcoal grill adds a pleasing smoky char. As the cutlet I am nursing sears, droplets of oil roll and drip to sizzle on red hot charcoal. For a moment there is a flash of crimson, a flare of vermilion, and a tail of incandescent, coruscating fire licks up to crackle against the edge of the morsel where fat, protein and seasonings brown and caramelise. Alongside, a thinner cut of pork belly curls and crisps as heat rises through it, the paper thin strip of marbled meat turned semi-translucent in the flickering heat. A hastily arranged pile of spring onion and lettuce steams at the periphery, grill marks black against verdant green, the delicate texture shrivelling in places.
The grilled meal pairs well with the assorted pungency and spice of sauces, some sweet and some, like ssamjang and gochujang, complex with sinus-clearing fermented soybeans and chilli. Japchae (Korean glass noodles) and Tteok-bokki (chewy cylinders of springy rice cakes in spicy sauce), provide a welcome change in texture to the juicy meat and crunchy charcoal-roasted vegetables. The ever present, piquant kimchi is a refreshing palate cleanser. Vinegary, salty-sour-spicy, pickled flavours of garlic, ginger, chili and onion released from crunchy cabbage and radishes.