A mountain fortress village’s hearty specialty

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A mountain fortress village’s hearty specialty

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Dakjuk, or chicken porridge, is the specialty of a small village in Seongnam, Gyeonggi. Provided by the Korea Tourism Organization

Not all dakjuk, or chicken porridge, tastes the same. That’s the message of the dozens of restaurants clustered in Namhansanseong, a small village in Seongnam, Gyeonggi.

The original “Chicken Porridge Village” sat right at the foot of the Mount Namhan Fortress that gives the village its name. Starting in the 1970s, its old-fashioned Korean homes, with families living off wild vegetables, rice and, of course, the eggs and meat of domestic chickens, gradually became a big draw for tourists eager to get away from the Seoul rush and step back in time for a day.

In fact, so many visitors started coming to the village on the weekends that many families began converting their living rooms into restaurants.

With no fixed prices - pay whatever you can, mister! - these modest home establishments were a big hit. So big that their matron-chefs needed a dish that they could serve to many people at the same time. That’s when someone struck upon chicken porridge as the perfect specialty. The idea spread, and soon restaurants serving the dish flooded the village.

According to some of these chefs, Namhansanseong’s chickens are so muscular and strong, from half-flying, half-running around the steep mountain passes nearby, they require a longer boiling time to cook - three to four hours compared to just an hour for a Seoul bird. Whether that’s true or not, the practical side effect of the longer cooking time is a richer broth that separates Namhansanseong’s dish from every other place in Korea.

When, in 1998, developers bought up the land from under the “chicken porridge village,” threatening to end the happy clucking of poultry and patrons alike, Seongnam City Hall took action, providing the restauranteurs with a new plot of land, full of traditional Korean hanok homes, across the main road in Dandae-dong. The new village still draws at least 3,000 tourists a day during the peak season.

Namhansanseong’s dakjuk, like varieties from other regions, is served with a whole chicken stuffed with glutinous rice and ginseng. But local varieties also include several herbal ingredients, added to give a special kick to the thick soup.

Though traditionally eaten during the summer (it’s said hot food helps the body sweat out toxins), visitors enjoy its warming effects on a winter’s day too, since the dish is popular among Koreans for its minor curative properties.


By Yim Seung-hye Contributing writer [estyle@joongang.co.kr]
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