If you need proof of the restorative power of a good soup — whether you're nursing a hangover or battling whatever bug is going around — look no further than Koreatown. You'll find places specializing in beef bone sullungtang, the hearty pork neck and potato stew called gamjatang, and the ever-popular bubbling spicy soup known as soondubu.
But one Korean soup that the neighborhood hasn't seen much of yet is dwaeji gukbap, a soothing pork and rice elixir that is often associated with the city of Busan, South Korea's second largest metropolis (after Seoul), where pork and seafood play prominent roles in the local diet. At Jinsol Gukbap, a small, dinerlike space off Third Street in Koreatown, dwaeji gukbap is pretty much the thing to order (the menu is quite small, so there's little chance of being overwhelmed by choice).
The soup arrives steaming in a small cauldron, milky-white in color, showered with a handful of green onions. Does it taste a bit bland? Yes, but that's actually the point. The subtle and unfettered porky flavor is what comes through, the result of simmering pork bones for hours until they create what amounts to a simplified ramen broth — or a homespun predecessor of what the kids now call “bone broth.”
The key to dwaeji gukbap, your waiter will tell you, is to season it yourself. On the table you'll find a container of crushed wild sesame seeds that add an earthy mellowness and some thickness, and a bowl of tiny, fermented shrimp, which are as funky as they are briny. There's also the usual array of banchan: well-fermented kimchi, cubes of crunchy pickled radish and slivered green onions mixed with chili paste. You'll also be given a small bowl of noodles, which you can pair with a metal tin of steamed rice for a double dose of carbs.
But the real star of Jinsol Gukbap — more than the slippery cold noodles, more than grilled pork ribs — are the strips of braised pork belly that arrive in your bowl or on the side on a large platter if you opt to order the slightly pricier “set menu.” The slices, which practically melt under a pair of chopsticks, are shaved razor-thin and fanned out like a set of playing cards. You will eat more than a few.
In an age where pork belly seems to find its way onto every gastropub menu in town, Jinsol's lush but subtle version is a quiet reminder of the power of the pig. Is it any coincidence that Korean culture credits pork belly with having certain cleansing properties?
Jinsol Gukbap, 4253 Third St., Koreatown; (213) 908-5636.