It was cold on 4th Apr 2011 but both of us knew we need to walk even faster. We were behind schedule of our plan to reach the destination before 11.30 am. As CS’s leg is longer, have better physical fitness and he’s not wearing heels (damn the heels), I asked him to disregard me and go ahead. His mission… to beat the crowds to reach Tosokchon first!
Tosokchon, is a restaurant in Gyeongbokgung area, widely acclaimed to serve the best Samgyetang and it was frequently visited by late South Korea President Roh Moo-hyun. All my researches told me, the queue can get really long and I would hate to stand outside in cold.
11.45am, we finally stopped at Tosokchon’s door step, panting and catching our breaths. No queues, yet! My schedule remained perfect! And finally their staffs are the first batch of people who can understand our langguage as they speak Chinese quite perfectly. We felt as if we were given back our mouth and ears.
The restaurant is housed in a traditional hanok building with 3 sections for customer seatings. There isn’t any noticeable difference between the three except being separated by thin sliding doors. Most of the time, they were open. Chairs are alien entity here. We sit on the floor with cushion mats as buffer. I was thrilled. We are eating Samgyetang, the traditional way!
While waiting for our Samgyetang, I couldn’t help but started to munch on the kimchi, readily available to us in jars on our table.
These changed my perception on kimchi, Those that I had tried in Korean restaurant in Malaysia before, are too soggy and somehow just spicy, spicy and spicy. The kimchi here, emits stronger smell and despite the fermentation, the vegetable remains crunchy. The best part, it’s not all about spiciness. It has some tangy taste tinted with sweetness in it.
This was what we had been walkathon-ing the whole morning for. Samgyetang translated as Ginseng Chicken Soup is surprisingly a cuisine designated for summer even with the ‘hot’ properties (chinese herbs terminology) of ginseng. The Koreans used to have it in summer to replenish the energy (qi) or stamina lost in the heat. To make a Samgyetang, glutinous rice and a whole ginseng is stuffed into a spring chicken and finally cooked in broth with jujube fruits, garlic and ginger.
The chicken was already cooked so soft that a little push on it, gave way to the glutinous rice in it. Although a little bland, the meat taste good once compensated by soy sauce. The glutinous rice made me feel like asking the waitress what brand they’re using, because I would like to smuggle a pack back to Malaysia. It’s not because of the taste but more because of the right level of stickiness and texture it gave.
Samgyetang is an acquired taste. People who loves only strong flavoured food and with less regards for healthy goodness, might not like this cuisine. For me and CS, we welcomed this meal with gladness. It totally warmed us after getting abused by cold winds in Buckchon area.
Each order of samgyetang is inclusive of tea, water and a small cup of ginseng wine. (I remember I took the picture but I just couldn’t find it!) I only took a lick at the wine and gosh… my throat was burning and I was coughing. Took a second try, sipped it really slow and finally got the catch of it.
Turned the tag around, and it’ll become a menu.
Although Koreans generally have very little obese case, you should look at the amount they eat! They can finish a whole samgyetang each and still order for rice and other dishes while I’m struggling to finish mine. Two Korean ladies who sat beside me must have thought that we were saving money, that they shared their seafood pancake with us. (We met a lot of Samaritans today) The pancake has generous amount of squids, prawns and spring onions while the texture is close to our oyster omelette.
By the time we’re leaving, this is what greeted us at the doorstep. Longgg… queue. And I irritated them more by taking picture of them like saying, “Ha Ha, I got here earlier. But of course, you know me, I’m not that bad.
How to Get to Tosokchon Samgyetang :
In order to get there, walk pass the front of Gwanghwamun (gate into Gyeongbokgung) on right. Go straight and cross the road, you’ll see some policeman stationed at this junction. You are near the presidential house at this point. After crossing, walk on all the way until you see the exit 2 of Gyeongbokgung subway station. Turn right and walk until you see GS25 family mart on your left. Turn at the small lane beside it, and Tosokchon will be only a few steps away.