If my mom and I had our way, we would probably eat at Todam (토담) — a restaurant in Northern New Jersey specializing in samgyupsal (삼겹살, uncured pork belly) — more often. However, since my dad is trying to cut down on meat and David is anti-pork, we save the restaurant for special occasions. Last month it was a very special occasion, my mom’s birthday, and without a second’s hesitation I suggested Todam. My mom eagerly agreed as did the rest of the family. David and my dad had no choice but to come along for the porky ride.
At Todam, there are at least eight types of pork belly to choose from. My mom and I are fond of the wine samgyupsal ($19.95 per order), samgyupsal marinated in red wine. Besides adding extra flavor to the pork belly, the wine tenderizes the meat. Some people also like the wine/samgyupsal combination because they say the wine cuts the pork smell, but I rarely find pork bad-smelling. However, I just read about boar taint online. Supposedly, it’s the odor and taste of pork derived from non-castrated male pigs. I never heard of such a thing. What’s weirder is that “75% of consumers are sensitive to boar taint.” I guess I should be glad to be in the minority. (For once, SCORE!)
They don’t use charcoal at Todam, but what the restaurant has going for them is their sloped grill à la George Foreman but better. Better because the delicious rendered pork fat isn’t wasted. The pork belly is placed at the slightly inclined end, and over-fermented kimchi at the other. As the fat renders out, the grease trickles down and fries the kimchi in its wake. Any extra oil empties out through a spout at the edge. As a result, not only do you get pork belly fried extra crisp, you also get fried kimchi fragrant in glorious pork drippings. Dip the samgyupsal in salted sesame oil, put it on a lettuce leaf with fried kimchi and a chopstick full of pa muchim (파무침; shredded scallions tossed in a garlicky, soy-sesame dressing), shove it in your mouth, and I guarantee your eyes will roll. It’s pure bliss. People always ask what my last bite would be. Give me some samgyupsal, a bottle of soju, and I’ll be ready to go.
For David and my dad, we ordered chadolbaegi (차돌배기, thinly sliced beef brisket; $21.95 per order). The brisket was good too, really thinly sliced so the edges of the beef crisped up instantly as soon as it hit the grill, but given the choice, I rather eat samgyupsal over chadolbaegi. That’s just my preference.
At Todam, after the meatfest is over, you either get a bowl of mul naengmyun (물냉면, noodles in cold beef broth) or an earthenware pot of hot, bubbling denjang jigae (된장찌개, fermented soy bean stew). (If you want to eat either with the grilled meats, you can, but it’s best to reserve your stomach space for the meat.) Since it’s free, both servings are small, but still substantial and very tasty. The cold, acidic soup was a refreshing end to a delectably greasy meal.
Here’s hoping to another special occasion very soon. Loose interpretations of “special” quite likely to occur.
Todam Restaurant (토담)
344 Broad Avenue (b/n Magnolia & Elm Pl; map)
Leonia, NJ 07605