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What and where to eat during the heat wave in Seoul this week
Koreans masochistically welcome the hottest day of the lunar year with piping hot chicken soup and sweet red bean porridge
Korea isn’t coping well with this heat wave.
Hundreds have been rushed to the hospital and the death toll has reached 10 as the country entered the 10th consecutive tropical day, with daily highs hitting 35 C five days in a row.
Power blackouts have been occurring all around the country, leading Korea Electric Power Company to issue a power shortage warning this morning.
While the heat wave is expected to continue into the middle of the week, today is the official hottest day of the year (malbok) according to the lunar calendar.
Best dishes for the heat
The seeming contrariness of the traditional Korean custom of “yi-yeol-chi-yeol” (fighting fire with fire) dictates that no baths should be taken on the hottest days in order to preserve energy, while certain foods should be eaten to replenish the body’s energy levels and health.
Traditionally, the most popular of these dishes was boshintang -- a hot stew made of dog meat.
“Back when I was young, all the dogs would run away around this time,” says Kim Chang-duk, 60, a taxi driver in Seoul. “They knew what was coming to them.”
These days, however, most Koreans prefer to eat samgyetang -- chicken stew.
Tosokchon, one of the most famous of these samgyetang restaurants, has been serving samgyetang at its location near Gyeongbok Palace for 29 years.
“I’ve been coming here ever since it opened,” says Lim Min-sook, 40, who lives in the neighborhood. “It’s very difficult to find another samgyetang place where the meat is so tender and the taste is very smooth. I have brought countless acquaintances and family here for the past few decades.”
29 years of history
A small chicken is stuffed with sticky rice, dates and ginseng, cooked into a thick stew and served with diced scallions.
“Tosokchon’s samgyetang tends to be thicker and creamier than those at other restaurants,” says Hye-lim Chung, 30, a frequent patron.
“The restaurant’s popularity however, seems to have made the cooks a bit complacent these days though because the soups are served when they are just warm, rather than boiling, which is the way they should be," says Chung.
Although it does not look that big from the outside, inside, it is a sprawling maze of interconnected hanok estates that were added one by one as the restaurant became increasingly popular over the years.
At mealtimes, the lines stretch around the block but move fairly quickly. Even during off-hours, there is still a wait, albeit a much shorter one.
And despite its location in a tiny alley and the daunting lines, valet parking (there is also a parking garage across the street) and an efficient takeaway service makes it quite convenient for patrons.
The restaurant is also a favorite among tour operators.
“Our guide recommended this place,” says Wayne Ko, 51, who is traveling in Korea with a party of 18. “He said it was very famous and good.”
While most come for the samgyetang (₩15,000/US$13), the more adventurous opt for the otgetang, “Lacquer Chicken Stew with Ginseng” (₩15,000). The chicken is black, and the taste and smell can be rather difficult for first-timers, especially foreigners, as it tends to have a stronger, more pungent smell than regular samgyetang.
“Honestly, I didn’t like it very much, but I have awesome photos that my friends back home are going to freak out about,” says Catherine Malloy, 28, who is traveling in Seoul for a week and read about the restaurant in a guidebook.
For dessert, the traditional choice for malbok is patjuk, or sweet red bean porridge.
Try it at “The second best place in Seoul” (서울서 둘째로 잘하는 집) in Samcheongdong.
Just be sure to allot around an hour for the wait, at least today, anyway.
Tosokchon (토속촌), 85-1 Chebu-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울시 종로구 체부동 85-1); +82 2 737 7444; 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
The Second Best Place in Seoul (서울서 둘째로 잘하는 집), +82 2 734 5302; (28-21 Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul) 서울시 종로구 삼청동 28-21; noon-9 p.m.; patjuk: ₩6,000