Chicken soup with a powerful kick is too much for a commoner to takeWhat kind of food is fit for a president? For Roh Moo-hyun, it’s the samgyetang, or ginseng chicken soup, served at Tosokchon in central Seoul.
Samgyetang is a must-have for health-seekers in Korea, especially in summer. Early last month, President Roh invited the heads of several jaebeol for a healthy dose of the dish at Tosokchon. The president has reportedly been a big fan of the place for years. He even asked the restaurateur to share the soup’s secret with him ― only to be denied.
Whether the soup made the powerful people who dined there last month healthier is unknown, but it certainly helped the restaurant gain publicity.
I’m not (yet) in the Blue House. But in need of a healthy dish to soothe my soul, I decided to check the place out.
Housed in a chic hanok, a traditional Korean home, Tosokchon looks like the kind of place where a head of state would hang out. The smell of boiled ginseng wafted over me as I took off my shoes and moved to my seat on the floor.
Along with the standard samgyetang (11,000 won; $9), another specialty is ogol samgyetang (17,000 won). It’s basically the same formula, but with one special ingredient ― black chicken. Ogol means black bones, and the chicken used in the soup remains true to the name from the skin to the bones. Ogol samgyetang used to be served at palaces, for the health of the king.
I had high expectations, but both soups didn’t quite mesh with the taste buds of this commoner. The samgyetang’s spring chicken was so tender that it practically disintegrated in my mouth. The soup’s ingredients ― black sesame, chestnuts, jujubes and ginseng ― might look enticing, but leave too strong an aftertaste. The ogol samgyetang requires a bit of courage to enjoy; the black meat isn’t a pleasant sight. It was a little tough and had a peculiar smell. Both soups came in large portions for afficionados.
The most enjoyable dish was fried chicken (10,000 won), while perhaps not regal enough for a president.
Leaving Tosokchon, I was thankful for my plebeian title. If President Roh ever gets around to asking me out to lunch (hint, hint), I think I’ll politely shirk the soup and stick to my tried-and-true fried chicken.
Theme: ginseng chicken soup
Telephone: (02) 737-7444
Address: Chebu-dong, Jongno-gu. Subway line No. 3, Gyeongbok Palace station, Exit 2.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Credit cards: Accepted
by Chun Su-jin