One of my fondest summer food memories of my childhood in Korea has to be this Ssambap. "Ssam" means to wrap, and the "bap" means rice. It is the Korean lettuce wrap. Typically served with thick fish stew as a topping sauce and the various kind of lettuces, leafy vegetables, and seaweeds, Ssambap is a wholesome and nutritious summer meal in the countryside of Korea.

If you like rustic flavor and want a healthy meal to enjoy with your family without costing too much, Ssampbap would be the top choice. I made the fish topping sauce with a can of mackerel pike. You can use canned tuna or other canned fish. If you can find fresh anchovies, that would put this stew through the roof. 

FYI, the two side dishes that are shown on the photo above are the Korean bean sprout salad, and the braised potato called gamja-jorim.

Look for different kinds of lettuces to wrap with. Along with lettuce, Kketnip (깻잎), fragrant Korean perilla leaves, is a typical type of herb to add. Steamed green cabbage leaves are also great. Fresh seaweed would be a great choice, too. Anything green that is edible would work with Ssambap.

A can of mackerel pike is used for the topping sauce. You can get this for less than $2 in most Korean grocery stores. You can also use tuna, or tofu if you want to make it as vegetarian instead.

In a small pot, saute the onion and garlic first, until softened. Add the drained canned fish and break the pieces into small chunks with a spatula or fork.

Add a little bit of water. You don't want to submerge the fish in the water. Just enough to make it runny.

Add the sauces, smearing them on the wooden spoon or spatula. Mix well.

Add the zucchini and fresh chili, if you like more heat. Bring to a boil and simmer over med-low heat for 5-7 minutes or until the sauce thickens.

Finished! Sprinkle some green onion on top to garnish, and the topping sauce is good to go.

Next, grab a bowl of rice. I would recommend using brown or multi-grain rice instead of white rice.

Layer the lettuce as much as you want, top with the sauce, and pop it in to your mouth. We don't bite off the ssambap. Just shove it in in one shot! (So don't make it too big, otherwise your mouth won't be able to handle it.) Enjoy all the great flavors of the sauce, fresh lettuce, and the leafy vegetables all slobbered over rice. So, so good~!

If you are not daring enough to make the wrap, you can simply top it over the rice directly and eat as is. Either way, this recipe is a great way to enjoy a summer meal, Korean style. How nice~! You will love it.

Ssambap (Lettuce Wrap)

serves 4


  • assorted lettuces 
  • leafy vegetables
  • brown rice or multi-grain rice to serve with
For the topping sauce
  • 1 canned mackerel pike or tuna, drained
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1/3-1/2 zucchini, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoon Korean soybean paste, doenjang
  • 1 tablespoon Korean chili paste, gochujang
  • 2 tablespoon Korean chili flakes, gochugaroo
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 green chili, chopped, optional
  • 1 green onion, chopped, optional


  1. In a small pot, heat the oil, and saute onion and garlic in oil over medium heat until soft. Add the fish and the water and bring to boil.
  2. Add the soybean paste, chili paste, chili flakes, say sauce, and sugar and stir. Add the zucchini and bring to boil again. Reduce the heat to med-low and simmer for 5-7 minutes or until the mixture thickens a little.
  3. Add the chili and green onion, if using, and let it cook for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and let cool. It will thicken more as it cools.
  5. To serve the dish, place 1 tablespoonful of rice in the middle of lettuce, top with the fish topping sauce, about 1/2 Tbsp, and gently bunch the lettuce together and eat in ONE bite!

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