Old School Bulgogi–Neobiani
The Chosun Ilbo published an article on July 24, 2010 detailing the evolution of bulgogi, tracing it all the way back to the Goguryeo kingdom, which ruled over most of Manchuria and North and Central Korea from 37 BC to 668 AD. In Goguryeo times, the dish was called maekjeok (맥적). The Chosun Ilbo described the dish as “a generous serving of beef, chives, and garlic seasoned thoroughly with soy sauce.” Notice no sugar listed.
As Buddhism took hold during the last few generations of the Goguryeo and into the Koryo period, meat consumption declined and so did the popularity of maekjeok.
Mongolian influence in the 13th century made meat consumption more popular again. During the Chosun dynasty, the dish was called neobiani (너비아니). This version relied even more upon soy sauce for flavoring than its predecessor and was cut a bit thicker, according to Ms. Yoo Jeong-im, a chef specializing in royal court cuisine. Here’s what she said in an interview with Korean Broadcasting System in 2002.
“Bulgogi was called neobiani in the olden days and it was a little thicker than today’s bulgogi. Beef slices have gotten a lot thinner in recent years and people mix in many different vegetables. But neobiani shouldn’t be mixed with any vegetables and should be thicker. And neobiani shouldn’t have any stock poured into it.”
The best cut of beef to use if you want to make neobiani would be a medium-thick beef rib eye slices with some decent marbling. Also use perilla oil rather than the more pungent sesame oil for grilling.
Watch Chef Lee Jeong-Seop teach a Japanese student the secret of this Chosun dynasty delight.