First comes the cool crunch of the lettuce, then the zing of the condiments resonates on your palate before the steamed pork crescendoes like a fiery symphony. This vibrant textural delight is what ssam is all about.
The ssam, roughly translated to “wrapped” to indicate the lettuce wrapped around the protein and condiments. However variations such as those that feature kimchi, napa cabbage or seaweed in lieu of lettuce exists. The filling usually consists of steamed pork, beef or some other protein like tofu. A cornucopia of condiments are then added along with the meat filling inside the wrap to impart the savory component. To this end, Koreans use kimchi, ssamjang (a thick spicy paste), oysters, fermented veggies, brined fish and sticky brown rice.
While ssam may have exploded in popularity in recent memory, this dish is an established and mature delicacy enjoyed since Korean antiquity. Historical studies claim that the ssam traces it lineage back to the wraps eaten by maids of the court during the Goryeo period.
The number of ways you can personalise your ssam experience is limitless. But the Koreans love it when you can taste every bit of the experience in just one bite therefore try to keep your wraps small. Secondly, try to utilise every component laid out for you. You can completely tweak the ratios, but do be mindful to the fact that some condiments are quite strong and should be used sparingly. Nevertheless, try to included every condiment, or you will be missing out! Lastly, ssam is finger food so feel free to lay down the chopsticks once you have assembled your wrap.
To wrap up (no pun intended), the ssam is a nod to the playful and experimental side of the Korean dining experience. Diners know best on what they wish to taste out of their food. The ssam provides the core flavors and textures but then enlists the taste bud’s insights to build a perfect medley of wrapped goodness.