Where to eat in Seoul: Goryeo Samgyetang

Thursday, July 09, 2015

I've always been intrigued with samgyetang. I imagined it creamy, piping hot, and comforting like the sopas that may mom and my aunt expertly make. Korean shows say that eating the dish will make the person physically stronger. The glutinous rice inside the young chicken seemed so flavorful, like congee or the local lugaw.

During our trip to Korea, we decided to eat in Goryeo Samgyetang, which is one of the oldest establishments in Seoul. It was established in 1960. It was summer during our visit and we were going to eat something scalding hot. Well.

The facade of Goryeo Samgyetang

Samgyetang is a soup dish with a 49-day-old chicken stuffed with glutinous rice and cooked with several Korean medicinal herbs including ginseng. It is typically served in an earthenware bowl to preserve the heat.

It was nearing the end of lunch time when we entered the store. Each of the customers were eating on one bowl, meaning we have to buy two expensive bowls for our meal. We were hungry so we thought, no big deal.

The ahjumma looking at me taking photos of the store :))

The banchan served included cabbage kimchi, radish kimchi, gochujang, garlic, and ginseng wine. As expected, the samgyetang was still boiling when served. As expected, our tongue burned once we took a sip of the soup. As expected, the bones fell from the meat - showing how tender the chicken has become after hours of boiling. As expected, there was a glaring piece of ginseng in the bowl, indicating its health benefit.

But what was not expected was the taste. It was bland and we don't know if it's the real taste of samgyetang. The broth was almost clear, meaning that the soup used was not from chicken bones. The chicken was the same - it was bland. Same with the glutinous rice. My sister and I were dumbfounded. Is this the flavorful samgyetang that we read about and watched so much?

Finishing my bowl was a challenge and I'm the type of person who don't want to leave my bowl half-eaten. Eating the dish was reminiscent of my meals during my confinement when I had amebiasis. The congee was bland, so bland.

Of course I'm not saying that you shouldn't eat samgyetang - it's just that my fantasies were reduced to smoke. I felt that the dish needed more ginger rather than ginseng and more salt.

However, other patrons seemed to express their delight in eating the dish. One old man even bowed deeply to the person behind the cashier (maybe it was the manager/owner) before leaving the establishment. Other customers also ate with gusto.

I was confused that I downed the ginseng wine in one gulp. The banchan did not help the dish too - the kimchi was too spicy so we were not able to complement it with the dish.

Maybe it's a matter of taste of even acquired taste to appreciate samgyetang. Or maybe we were just used to eating congee or arroz caldo smothered in salt, ginger, and a little MSG. Maybe samgyetang is just so healthy, it doesn't have any taste. :)

I'm willing to sample other samgyetang restaurants to prove that it is flavorful but for now... it's a failed lunch for us.

Location: Naver

By subway: Alight at the Gwanghwamun Station

Other blogs featuring Goryeo Samgyetang: Blog 1 Blog 2

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