Korean rice porridge not just for the ailing
Juk franchises such as Bonjuk and Jukstory are as noticeable on the main streets of Korea as Starbucks. No longer a dish exclusively for the sick, one can notice a wide spectrum of customers in these chains, from well-suited businessmen and women getting a quick, light breakfast, to hung-over revelers soothing their stomachs mid-morning.
However, there are still a few traditional juk restaurants left in Seoul that have survived the test of time. A lot of these are located near hospitals, where the families and friends of patients can come in to buy Korean porridge to take to patients.
One such is Songjuk, which is more than 40 years old, near Inje University Paik Hospital in northern Seoul. The restaurant’s roots as a take-out spot for hospital visitors were apparent as I arrived and noticed the waitress greeting customers with a simple, “For here or to go?”
Best-known for its special Abalone Porridge (viscera included) (12,000 won, $13) and Mushroom and Oyster porridge (6,000 won), Songjuk is noted for the glutinous texture of its signature dish that comes not only from the rice but also from the essence of bone marrow soup in which it is cooked. The menu is short and simple, with only seven varieties ― no fancy fusion experiments here.
I first tried the abalone porridge, with abalone pieces, rice and viscera mixed together and topped with gim (seaweed paper) and crushed sesame seeds. Although it was a little over seasoned with salt and pepper, I noticed a dense, rich flavor with the occasional piece of fresh abalone. The mushroom and oyster combination has rice, mushrooms, oysters and spinach topped with an uncooked egg yolk, crushed sesame seeds and gim. Because it is not oyster season in Korea at this time, the oysters used were not fresh and this dish was a bit disappointing.
Compared to juk chains around Seoul, Songjuk’s dishes were heavy and rich, but the main ingredients ― the oysters and the abalone ― were merely on the verge of being satisfactory.
by Cho Jae-eun
Songjuk is located near Chungmuro station, line No. 3, exit 5. Store hours are from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday.