Samgyetang, the signature dish at Korea Ginseng Chicken Soup, is good for what ails you. By Lee Jee-eun
It was the day the Korea Meteorological Administration issued its first-ever heat-wave warning in Seoul.
What better way to overcome the heat than eating some chicken soup with ginseng? Tradition holds that the dish replaces nutrients lost through excessive sweating and physical exertion.
So I headed to Korea Ginseng Chicken Soup in Seosomun-dong, central Seoul. The restaurant opened in Myeong-dong, also in central Seoul, in 1960, becoming the first restaurant to focus solely on a hot chicken soup menu.
Samgyetang, or hot chicken soup with ginseng, is a traditional Korean dish that consists of a whole young chicken stuffed with glutinous rice and boiled with ginseng, dried dates, garlic and ginger.
Chicken soup is beloved in the West as a meal that can ease flu and cold symptoms; in Korea, it is widely believed that samgyetang can both cure and prevent a multitude of ailments.
Before our main menus arrived, we were served the usual side dishes of cabbage and radish kimchi, but some other treats also appeared on the table. There was a petite cup of ginseng liquor as an aperitif and a small portion of cooked glutinous rice.
When the waitress came with our soups, I could tell that I was going to do some more sweating as they each arrived in a boiling hot pot. The broth, which is usually bland and modestly made in many tourist restaurants, was thick and its aroma clean and satisfying, absent the fishy smell of some chicken soups.
The meat, including the chicken breast, was tender and juicy. When I finished devouring the meat, it was time to slice the remaining chicken in half and to have a proper "rice meal" with the stuffing.
What was unexpected was the abundant amount of whole ginseng found in the soup. Many restaurants are not enthusiastic about using so much ginseng, especially whole pieces, as they are quite expensive. But not at Korea Ginseng Chicken Soup, which is probably one of the main reasons why it has remained popular with tourists and locals alike and continues to be one of the best known samgyetang restaurants in Seoul.
The price for the basic samgyetang is 14,000 won ($12).
The best time to go if you want to enjoy a quiet and leisurely meal is for an early dinner. Located in an area dense with offices, the restaurant is typically packed at lunchtime.
It also is a favorite stop for tourists, so menus are available in English, Chinese and Japanese.
The Korea Ginseng Chicken Soup is located near the City Hall Subway Station, line No. 2, exit 10. (02) 752-9376. Open 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
By Lee Jee-eun Contributing writer