I always tell visitors who come to Korea that the restaurants they see are not representative of how Koreans eat. I mean if they did they would assume that all Koreans did was drink coffee and eat fried chicken and barbecue. For most Koreans a typical meal consists of rice, soup, and side dishes. Because soup is such an integral part of the meal, Koreans are experts at this type of dish. They can do soups that are boiled for a long time or they can do ones that come bubbling to the table. The bubbling soups often scare my foreign friends, and they ask, “How can you eat it?” I say, carefully with long metal spoons. One sip of the hot, complex soup, and the visitors understand why Koreans find these soups and stews so refreshing.
For Koreans, eating a hot stew is the ultimate comfort food. If they are very hungry, after they finish the bowl they will say what translates into English as “Now I am alive.”
Popular Soups and Stews
The essential soup is doenjangguk or doenjang-jjigae (bean paste soup or stew). This soup is made from fermented soybean paste, veggies, and tofu. It is a dish that many Koreans can have daily. It’s fast to make and it goes perfectly with rice and side dishes. Sometimes people will add seafood like crab or shellfish. Others like to put in some thinly sliced fatty beef called chadolbagi. However the classic recipe is what is commonly on every table. Another version of this is called cheonggukjang, which is made with less fermented beans. This tends to add a more pungent small and aroma to the dish. Some people refer to this as “dead body” soup because it is said to have such a strong flavor. I really don’t feel it is that strong at all and the taste is more like a navy bean soup.
Another very popular home soup is miyeokguk, or seaweed soup. After mothers give birth they eat this soup at every meal in order to strengthen their bodies and help with the creation of milk for their babies. When children have their birthdays, mothers make a special meal in the morning with seaweed soup, rice, and many side dishes in honor of the child’s special day. The soups are made with meat bones: seolleongtang with oxtail and galbitang with beef ribs. These soups often take long hours to make, so many people will have these at restaurants.
There are also casserole-style soups, such as beoseot-jeongol (with mushrooms and beef), that are slowly simmered in a pot. Gopchang-jeongol has beef trip simmered with vegetables.
If you enjoy seafood, try maeuntang (spicy seafood soup), which Koreans love to have after eating raw fish. There is also haemul-jeongol, which has assorted seafood and clams in broth.
For chicken, a classic dish is dakhanmari, which is a whole chicken boiled in a pot. The chicken is boiled with oriental herbs, puffy rice cakes, Korean leeks, potatoes, and other vegetables. After enjoying the meat, noodles and kimchi are added to make a satisfying chicken and kimchi noodle soup.
For something more modern, there is also budae-jjigae, which is made from assorted sausages, spam, baked beans, macaroni, kimchi, cheese, and more. The casserole was first made from ingredients that were introduced to Korea by Americans after the Korean War.
Recommended Soup & Stew Places in Korea
Recommended Seolleongtang Restaurant: Lee Mun Seolleongtang
This relocated restaurant has over 100 years of history. It’s nothing fancy, but it brings the classic flavor to the present. You get a rich broth, many thin slices of brisket, and soft wheat noodles. You can put in your rice some green onions and some turnip kimchi juice to add some spice and saltiness. The dish has a wholesome flavor that will warm you from the inside.
Add: #88, Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Recommended Gomtang Restaurant: Hadonggwan
One of the most famous places for gomtang, this place has been around for 70 years. They say that the quality was maintained because the head chef stood by the pots for over 40 years coaxing the flavor out of the top-quality Korean beef to make the incredible broth. They use the best rice, which is added immediately to the broth, and it is served with, according to Koreans, the best turnip kimchi in the country. This place shows how the broth is the blood and the rice is the body. Their high-quality rice has the perfect pop and the taste accentuates the nourishing broth.
Add: #10-4 , Myeong-dong 1-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul
Recommended Galbitang and Seolleongtang Restaurant: Deo Keun Jip (The Big House)
This place is all about the broth and using high-quality beef cuts, bones, and offal for its soups and barbecues. Its galbitang is nourishing and full of beefy goodness. For me it is better than a hamburger for it has that umph of flavor. I like to add rice and let it soak up the broth. The hearty soup needs to have green onions added to balance it out. They also do oxtail soup and doganitang, which is beef knee cartilage soup. I know it sounds strange, but the unique texture makes for a really complex meal.
Add: #7-15, Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Recommended Budae-jjigae Restaurant in Uijeonbu: Odeng Sikdang
Sometimes you can just get overwhelmed by the number of places you can eat at, especially when there is a whole street dedicated to the same food. In Uijeongbu, there are some 20 restaurants all serving budae-jjigae, so how do you choose? Well, I go where there is a wait. Food tends to be fresher there and service tends to be faster as well. However, this place is said to specialize in odeng, or fish cake. It was only after I tried their budae-jjigae that I understood: the odeng broth is good and so is the kimchi. It adds that right amount of heat and adds flavor to the sausages and spam. I like to finish the dish off with some ramen.
Add: #220-58, Uijeongbu-dong, Uijeongbu City, Gyeonggi Province
Park Sung Eun firstname.lastname@example.org
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