Review: Seoul's Best Samgyetang at Tosokchon (토속촌)

I generally shy away from using superlatives like, "the best _____" but sometimes you've got to acknowledge and give credit to what's due and today's review does exactly that.

Tosokchon is no secret of an establishment having long been revered for its samgyetang. But what they serve is not just samgyetang but the samgyetang. There's a long list of perfectly fine samgyetang establishments all over Seoul alone, from Myeongdong to Gangnam. But when it comes to Tosokchon, there is just no comparison. It is the one definitive samgyetang to rule them all.

Located near Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace), this longtime establishment grew in popularity and recognition over the years and has expanded to now be able to accommodate some 420 guests at one time. It was also a beloved dining spot for the late Korean president Roh Moo Hyun and, according to political rumors, the administration of the previous president (and rival) Lee Myung Bak, even had Tosokchon's taxes investigated solely on that basis.

For those unfamiliar with it, samgyetang is cooked by taking a whole chicken, stuffing it with sticky rice, ginseng, chestnuts, dried jujubes and then cooking the whole thing together with spices to make a sort of chicken soup. The dish has long been esteemed by Korean for its health properties and is especially popular in the hot season of summer when Koreans fight the heat, with heat (). Tosokchon serves chicken and chicken only, and the bird only comes in two options- spit roasted or in samgyetang.




While the roasted chicken is fine in itself, it's the samgyetang that is the undeniable star at Tosokchon and the samgyetang comes in four different varieties: regular samgyetang, samgyetang with wild mountain ginseng, black chicken samgyetang, and black chicken samgyetang with wild mountain ginseng.

The regular samgyetang is what's most commonly ordered and is priced at 15,000 won per bowl, while the most expensive, the black chicken samgyetang with wild mountain ginseng, goes for 28,000


Basic menu

Not long after placing your order, the workers will bring out big pots of regular kimchi and kkakdugi (cubed radish kimchi), some garlic and ssamjang and a few bowl to dish out the kimchi into.

Kimchi and kkakdugi

Very simple but great side dishes

Both the kimchi and kkakdugi are delicious and fermented just right. Many soup establishments in particular provide kimchi still in its early fermenting stage but both the kimchi and kkakdugi at Tosokchon come right in that middle state which is just right for the samgyetang.

Tosokchon's samgyetang

Those already familiar with samgyetang will immediately notice here the broth is a milky golden color in which the chicken comes swimming in. This marks a big departure from the samgyetangs at other places in which the broth is generally more clear and white. Not just visually but scent and taste-wise, the broth here has got some sort of secret that's clearly working for Tosokchon. There's hints of garlic, a slight nutty tone to it (perhaps some ground seeds?) and yet it all takes a back note to the clean flavors of the chicken. 

With each bowl, a shot of ginseng-infused spirit is provided on the side. You can even see the large vials of these spirits with thick ginseng roots in them by the payment counter near the front door when you enter. Ginseng is highly regarded by Koreans for its alleged health and stamina benefits and the shot of ginseng spirit, along with your samgyetang, is supposed to help bring up your energy. Be forewarned, they don't skimp out on either the ginseng or alcohol so don't one-shot it if you're a little weak on the strong tastes other wise you may end up spewing it out. 

Ginseng infused spirit

As the chicken has stewed for hours, the chicken meat is tender to the point one can use a pair of chopsticks to effortlessly split the meat and  get to the treasure inside. The glutinous rice inside is plump full of the rich broth while nestling the split chestnut and dried jujubes. Each has its own way of going about digging into samgyetang. I like to split the chicken open and focus mostly on the rice first (before the rice gets completely soggy) with a bit of broth and chicken and taking in bites of the kimchi in between. 

Treasure. Pure treasure inside.

For many older folks, the highlight of the samgyetang is the piece of ginseng that's found inside. Everything from energy to stamina is allegedly revitalized by this bitter root and it's usually gobbled down quickly by adults while children tend to dislike the strong and bitter taste. If you spot a family nearby you, you can often catch sight of a parent insisting his or her fussy child finish their ginseng. 

Ginseng root

I can't comment on the other samgyetang varieties as I've never tried them but unless you really feel like it, just stick to the regular samgyetang and you'll do just fine. 

Take heed that on busy days (weekends, holidays, "복" days, etc) the wait time can get long and the service tends to suffer when there's big numbers here. Don't take it personally and just do as the Koreans do and be boisterous for attention when needed. You'll be building up your energy and stamina from the samgyetang anyways. 

Ratings: 4 out of 4 stars

Address: 
서울 종로구 체부동 85-1
85-1, Chebu-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-045

Telephone: 02-737-7444

Parking: There's a valet parking lot right across from the main street by Tosokchon which offers free parking.

Alcohol: Beer, soju, etc available as are the ginseng spirits. You can even buy some ginseng spirits to take home!

Tip: Tosokchon opens year-round and even on holidays so you can get your samgyetang fix even on your days off!

Comments

  1. On the first day of arrival, my family went to have lunch at Tosokchon.....We didnt was that the effect of hunger or cold weather combined or not but samgyetang were really good. We had samgyetang from Korean restaurant before in our country, but certainly they could not beat the Samgyetang of Tosokchon....The soup is flavourful but yet not too rich , chicken are tender plus the added ginseng wine and ginseng fortify the entire package....to give you the kick..." oomph".... Serious good stuff, we hope they always maintain the qualityin the future

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great article!
    Your photo and its’ source have been featured on the World Food Guide website:
    http://worldfood.guide/photo/samgyetang_1311/

    ReplyDelete

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