SSAM: Villeray’s Korean culinary outpost

Hyeok Jung and Hyoseong Kim offer up traditional cooking at its most convenient

Hyeok Jung became the owner of SSAM after helping out at the restaurant and eventually being asked to take it over. Photo Eric Pahmer

In 2008, a friend asked Hyeok Jung to leave Korea and work with him at a restaurant in Montreal.

“I simply decided to come, not thinking about a longer plan or [the possibility of] immigration. But ever since I made that first step, I still live and work here in Montreal [after] 14 years,” he said. 

Today, Jung is the owner and head chef at SSAM, a Korean restaurant a stone’s throw from Plaza St-Hubert. The name, which means wrapped, refers to a bite-sized dish consisting of a piece of meat—usually pork—wrapped in a leaf such as lettuce or cabbage and topped with garlic and other vegetables.

Jung started his cooking career in 2000 while completing his military service in the Korean Navy. Once his service was completed, he got accredited as a Korean food chef and proceeded to work in a variety of restaurants across the country. He gained experience with many types of cuisine, but Korean food remained closest to his heart.

Jung and his wife Hyoseong Kim put their focus on food that could easily be delievered after the pandemic hit. Photo Eric Pahmer

SSAM was originally started by an old friend of his, Jade Seo, in 2017, with much the same menu and ambience. He offered to help with the workload and eventually, she asked him to take over.

Before the pandemic, his wife, Hyoseong Kim, said they focused on multi-course meals meant for large parties, but when dining in was prohibited, they decided to shrink the menu. “We focused on deliverables,” said Jung. “Delivery culture has long been common and very convenient in Korea, but it seems that delivery is becoming more and more common here too."

Jung strived to make the menu representative of Korean cooking as a whole, but also as accessible as possible to Montrealers. Today, Kim said that bibimbap—a quintessential Korean dish consisting of white rice topped with sautéed vegetables, a fried egg, and a topping of your choice—is their most popular order.

Read more: Maison Choma: more than just food

However, if any Korean food is currently in the spotlight, it’s kimchi. A Korean staple, “it is made by mixing salted cabbage or radish with seasonings such as red pepper powder, green onion, and garlic and fermenting it,” Jung explained.

Jung aimed to make the menu representitave of Korean cooking while also making it accesible to Montrealers. Photo Eric Pahmer

According to a study conducted by South Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs and Yonhap News Agency, the dish is the country’s most popular among foreigners, with bibimbap a close second.

2021 was also a record year for kimchi, with South Korea exporting $160 million of it to nearly 90 countries, a 66 per cent increase from 2012.

The dish’s popularity can also be attributed to its many health benefits. “As a fermented food, it is rich in lactic acid bacteria and low in calories,” Jung said. As scientists continue to uncover the links between gut health and the rest of our bodies, kimchi’s probiotic properties have made it a potent health food.

Although customers often purchase the kimchi itself, it also serves as a key element in many of Jung’s dishes. Most notable among these is jjigae, a spicy stew filled to the brim with tofu, vegetables, and thin slices of marinated beef. 

While SSAM has managed to roll with the pandemic’s punches, Jung is nevertheless eager for dining in to resume promptly. He takes his role as a culinary ambassador seriously, and looks forward to giving Montrealers a fuller experience.

In the meantime, he is happy to simply help others eat better.

SSAM is located at 756 Bélanger St., Jean-Talon Metro.