My aunts, who usually come back from their travels effusive with praise but lacking in usable advice, did have one piece of wisdom to impart: eat the ginseng chicken soup.
Ten years ago, that advice would have fallen flat on my ears. Ginseng, pungent and bitter, reminds me of the herbal concoctions my mother used to force-feed me with the intent of helping me grow taller, or develop a better immune system, or accomplish something similarly practical. They were gross—though, admittedly, I was a finicky eater who rejected most foods with too much structural integrity to be swallowed in two bites. I also doused everything in Sriracha sauce.
In an effort to make up for all the food opportunities I squandered in my youth, I have spent much of the last few years eating the most idiosyncratic thing I can find everywhere I have gone: sheep’s brain in Morocco, reindeer—and the lichen they eat—in Sweden, Southern fried alligator, a veritable zoo of Australian wildlife. I worry sometimes that this is a symptom. M. F. K. Fisher once wrote that the ability to delight in a gamut of flavors is a result of dulled taste buds. Maybe, after all that Sriracha, mine are dead.
Ginseng chicken soup is served with a cup of ginseng liquor on the side, and always, always, I am tempted to pour the latter into the former. This, of course, will not actually help the flavor, but in an effort to revitalize my taste buds, I want to be punched in the jaw with more pungency, more bitterness, more ginseng.
Mind-boggling how tastes change.
Tourists now outnumber locals at this samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) restaurant, but for many, it’s still the go-to place. A young chicken is stuffed with glutinous rice and jujubes and stewed in a rich ginseng broth. The ginseng liquor with which the soup is served is to be consumed separately; don’t mistake it as a condiment.
Name in Korean
5 Jahamun-ro 5-gil, Sajik-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
02 737 7444
Around 20,000 KRW per person