Tucked away in a quiet corner of Guangzhou's well-known Korean Street is Master Li's Jokbal and Bossam, a haven for authentic Korean food enthusiasts. This delightful eatery is one of the few remaining establishments that has held onto its roots amidst the economic and cultural shifts of the locale. Still run by a charming Korean family who migrated to China in 1998 following the Korean Financial Crisis, the authenticity of the fare here is beyond reproach.
The restaurant is located down a narrow side street off Yuanjing Lu. Image via Dianping
The restaurant itself is a quaint testament to the enduring spirit of the Li family. Since their move to China, they have weathered several changes - from the shifting location of Guangzhou Baiyun Airport to the rise in economy and rent. Through all this, their passion for serving genuine Korean food remains undeterred, which perhaps explains why, according to the eldest son, they are one of the last three true Korean establishments on Yuanjing Road.
At the heart of Master Li's menu are two Korean staples: jokbal (pig's feet) and bossam (boiled, thinly sliced pork belly). Both dishes embody the culinary ethos of 'anju,' a traditional style of food meant to be consumed with generous amounts of alcohol. This aspect alone invites you to a delightful night out, filled with flavorful dishes and high-spirited camaraderie.
Like Korean barbecue, the meat is meant to be wrapped in leaves with a variety of pickles. Image via Master Li's
The bossam is a particular standout. The dish, true to its meaning 'wrapped' or 'packaged,' features succulent slices of pork belly that have been boiled in a medley of aromatic herbs. Served alongside a variety of sides such as spicy radish salad, salted shrimp, and fried garlic, each bite offers a harmonious blend of textures and flavors. These ingredients can be swathed in the crisp embrace of lettuce or perilla leaves, along with a smattering of ssamjang paste or piquant kimchi, to create delightful parcels of culinary joy.
Hearty stews are also a staple of Korean cuisine. Image via Master Li's
The tradition of bossam traces back to 'gimjang,' the traditional Korean practice of preparing kimchi for winter. In older times, a pig would be slaughtered and prepared as bossam to give strength and comfort to the workers laboring in kimchi preparation. This act lends a heartening historical significance to every mouthful of bossam enjoyed today.
Master Li's Jokbal and Bossam is more than just a restaurant; it's a preservation of culture and tradition within the rapidly evolving landscape of Guangzhou's Korean Street. The Li family's steadfast dedication to authentic Korean cuisine offers patrons not just an exceptional dining experience, but a tangible connection to the deep culinary roots of Korea. With every visit, you're not just eating—you're partaking in a rich cultural history, one delicious bite at a time.
[Cover image via Master Li's]