Korean lettuce wraps (ssambap) are perfect little packages made of boldly flavored seasoned meat, rice, a zingy sauce (ssamjang) and a crisp, cool leaf vegetable. Ssam means "wrap" in Korean, and bap means "rice." Besides the rice and the wrap (usually lettuce), there is a ton of variation in what can be inside the handheld package.
In Korean restaurants in the West, it's most popular to make ssambap with galbi (short ribs) or bulgogi (thinly sliced ribeye meat), but bo ssam (pork belly wrapped in cabbage leaves) and jok bal (pig's feet) are also traditional Korean ssam combinations.
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Rice, white or brown, is almost always included in ssambap (hence the name "rice wraps"). Some people don't put rice inside their bo ssam (pork belly wrapped in cabbage) but prefer to eat it on the side.
Some low-carb eaters happily eat ssam with no rice inside it. You also can substitute thin noodles for a different ssam experience. The great thing about wraps is that each person can prepare theirs exactly as they like it.
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Beef, Pork, or Fish Wraps
The most popular fillings for ssam are galbi (short ribs) or beef bulgogi (thinly sliced ribeye) and both are fantastic. These are also picnic and outdoor barbecue favorites since they're easy to cook on the grill. But pork (like daeji bulgogi), raw fish (hwe), chicken, and other types of seafood also are popular inside Korean lettuce wraps. It might be helpful to start with more familiar proteins and then ease your family into other more exotic ones.
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Leaf Vegetables in Korean Wraps
Red leaf lettuce is probably the most common modern ssam but other lettuces, steamed or parboiled cabbage leaves, and kaenip (also known as perilla) leaves also are popular. There are countless other types of ssam though, from milssam (thin crepe wrap) to ssam made of dried persimmon.
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Condiments and Sauces for Ssam
Many like seasoned ssamjang for ssambap, but you also can just use kochujang (red pepper paste) or daenjang (soy bean paste) for yours. Some people also add kimchi (pickled cabbage) to their ssam, but the variety of additions are endless and include raw or cooked garlic, raw sliced hot peppers, and sweet onion slices.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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How to Make Ssam
To successfully make your own ssam, think of it like filling a taco. Follow these steps:
- Start with the vegetable leaf of choice, ripping it in half if it is too big.
- Place the leaf in your hand, add a small mound of rice, stack meat (or seafood) on top, and finish with a dollop of ssamjang and other optional condiments.
- Wrap the whole thing into a neat package (about the size of a golf ball) and eat it in one bite.
Try not to make the whole thing too big, because then you're stuck with two messy options: stuffing it in your mouth or biting into the ssam and spilling its contents everywhere.