There’s a time for ginseng chicken in Korea and there’s a street full of ginseng chicken soup. Unlike the Korean, we like our ginseng chicken soup during cold months of autumn and winter – they take them during summer.
Korean summers are always humid and hot, especially in July and August. Even though it is hot weather, Koreans love to eat certain kinds of hot food. Samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) is one of them.
On the three traditional hottest days of the summer (based on the lunar calendar) Korean locals are drawn to the samgyetang restaurants all across Korea. It is believed that eating this hot chicken soup filled with high calories will restore all the nutrients lost from sweating during the humid hot summers.
Ginseng chicken soup restaurants did not become popular in Korea until the 1960s and Jangan Samgyetang was opened in 1971 in this location. You’ll be able to find many variations of samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) in Korea, and this store definitely has a unique offering that will delight your taste buds. We’re referring to adding ingredients like octopus and abalone into samgyetang and serving chicken gizzard as one of their side dishes.
Besides the most well-known napa cabbage kimchi, there are actually many varieties of kimchi in Korea. Kkakdugi is a type of kimchi made from Korean radishes called mu 무. This quick pickle can be made in three days for the radish to remain crunchy and tasty.
Yeolmu kimchi uses pul 풀, a starchy porridge for kimchi, to speed up the fermentation process. In all kimchi, as with other preserved vegetables like sauerkraut and dill pickles, naturally occurring lactobacillus bacteria consume the vegetable sugars, producing lactic acid (preserving the vegetables). The young radish had all been picked away from the pot.
The soup is served in skillet-hot black earthenware pots like the ones bibimbap comes in. Before boiling the chicken, glutinous rice, a chestnut, a Korean dried date and ginseng are put inside and then cooked on a low fire for a long time.
A small shot of ginseng liquor is served together with the boiling ginseng chicken soup. You can bottom-up the ginseng shot or pour it into the soup for greater flavour.
The soup will be far too hot to eat when just served. So tear the chicken apart and let pieces of chicken cool down in a separate dish before it. Try adding salt and pepper, or even kimchi juice if you would like it to be spicy.
My favourite part was not the chicken meat, but the glutinous rice within which had absorbed flavours of both the chicken and the broth. If you manage this remove all the bones first, it actually feels like a nutritious bowl of ginseng chicken congee.
An inexpensive cosy place that’s slowly readjusting to life post pandemic, Jangan Samgyetang is one of those old-fashioned, no-frills gems among Korean eateries. What matters here is the food, and it’s done very well for a low price. The soup, in addition to being delicious, is also thought to have both healing and preventive health benefits. Worth a detour if you are around Seoul City Hall.
Jangan Samgyetang 長安蔘鷄湯
서울 중구 세종대로18길 8 (Just behind The Plaza Seoul at Seoul City Hall)
8 Sejong-daero 18-gil, Seoul, South Korea
Visited Nov 2022
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