Review: Wonjo Dakhanmari in Gaepo (개포동 원조 닭한마리)

As globalized as Korean food is rapidly becoming, there are a few dishes in Korea that I have found oddly less prevalent outside Korea.

One of those is a dish known as dakhanmari (닭한마리). It literally means "one chicken" (dak = chicken, han mari = one of) and the dish is as simple as its name- you take a whole chicken, boil it with vegetables and seasoning and eat.

You may have heard of similar chicken soup dishes in Korea such as samgyetang and baeksuk. Dakhanmari is like the poor man's version of those dishes and is usually simpler (no ginseng, stuffing, or special herbs) and cheaper.

There's a famous alley for dakhanmari in Dongdaemun but its simple yet homely appeal has resulted in a number of restaurants around Korea specializing in it. The restaurant I'm introducing today, Wonjo Dakhanmari, is rather famous in the Gaepo-dong area, just south of Yangjae, and is pretty packed on most nights. It's even more busy during the cold winter season, such as now, when a pot of boiling chicken and vegetables has an almost universal attraction in frigid temperatures.

So did Wonjo Dakhanmari live up to its fame?

Wonjo Dakhanmari is closest to Yangjae Citizens' Forest station but still a good 700 meters or so from it and not too far off from Guryongsa, or Guryong Temple. As the restaurant highlights, the recipe and method of making dakhanmari here has been passed on over three generations and it toots its own horn that it has been featured on various television shows.

Here's the restaurant showing that they make and pull out their own noodles (for kalguksu).

In addition to dakhanmari, the restaurant sells other chicken dishes like samgyetang (12,000 won), dak bokkeumtang (25,000), baeksuk (25,000), and chicken feet (10,000) but Wonjo Dakhanmari's signature dish (as its own name states) is its dak hanmari- and you can't end a dakhanmari meal without cooking some kalguksu in the broth (each serving of kalguksu is 2,000). A 2 person order of dakhanmari is 1 whole chicken, 3 person is 1.5 chicken, and 4 person order is 2 whole chicken.

You can tell the restaurant is a booming business not only because of its own parking lot and valet service next to the restaurant and the (usually) packed house, but because the dakhanmari is actually already all lined out on a cart with cooking supplies and ready to bet set on your table.

In fact, the restaurant operates in machine-like efficiency; just a few seconds after ordering, the server will bring out side dishes, utensils, and your dakhanmari to your table which they will turn on before leaving- all in seemingly a blink of an eye. On one hand, I understand the reasoning behind such expedited speed and how it would help keep things moving during peak times, but I couldn't help but feel like it was less a dining experience but more akin to the process of being impersonally run through a businesses' whirling, mechanical operations. It didn't really help that the servers were rather gruff too...

While the dakhanmari is being brought to a boil at your table, the side dishes are spread out which is a basic kimchi, baek kimchi (broth-based kimchi), peppers, ssamjang, and an onion and chives mixture. That onion chives mixture, for those who aren't familiar with dakhanmari, is intended for the special dakhanmari sauce.

Even the dakhanmari sauce here is pre-made and laid out to order. The dakhanmari sauce, for those unfamiliar with the dish, is a combination of tart, savory, sweet, and just a touch of spicy from the mustard. But mixed together with the chives and onions, it is a simple yet perfect vehicle to draw out the best in the simple yet moist chicken. 

After a few minutes of boiling, the dakhanmari is ready to be dished out in individual serving bowls. As the chicken and vegetables are already pre-cooked, the wait isn't too long- it's essentially just a reheating. With the cut up chicken are some sliced potatoes, onions, and green onions that makes for a simple and homely soup.

To eat, take bits of your chicken and dip into the sauce and eat with the chives and onion mixture.

All simple but jolly good and the dakhanmari here was nice enough- chicken was moist and vegetable slices were tender. But part of the draws of a good dakhanmari is the ample and flavorful broth and the one at Wonjo Dakhanmari- as pleasant as it was- lacked a certain depth to it. It didn't lack in taste but there was something amiss in its flavor. I suspect that, for its speedy service to meet demand, the food here is  mass made in a factory-like unconscious manner so while there is uniformity in the taste of the dakhanmari, there's little attention given to its details nor to each dish. That isn't to say the dakhanmari here wasn't good but it just wasn't exceptional, nor the best I've had.

Nevertheless, there was no problem getting through the dakhanmari (as it is hard to entirely mess up dak hanmari after all) and after nearly polishing it off we made an order for the kalguksu. Though the noodles are allegedly made in-house, you can tell they're pulled through a machine for cutting. I'm not nit picky about it but some allege there's a big difference between machine-pulled and knife cut by hand.

The kalguksu is nice enough but again, with that broth lacking that little bit to take it to the next level, it was a fine but nothing particularly noteworthy bowl of kalguksu.

Walking out, I was satiated but certainly not blown away. In fact, I was rather puzzled as why Wonjo Dakhanmari was so particularly famous in the area as everything about the restaurant- from its service to food- was average at best. If you're in the area and craving the dish, Wonjo Dakhanmari will do just fine but it's certainly not the best dakhanmari.

In fact, be on the lookout soon for an introduction to, the hands down BEST dakhanmari in Seoul. But Wonjo Dakhanmari, you are a disappointment...

2.5 out of 4 Stars
While the food is just fine here, it's certainly not exceptional nor noteworthy and it seems Wonjo Dakhanmari is one of those cases where the establishment has let its popularity and fame take precedence over effort and soul. In fact, its setup is practically fast food-like and its owners are clearly in it for the profit and unfortunately not for the love of the food.

서울특별시 강남구 개포동 1193-7
1193-7 Gaepo Dong, Gangnam Gu, Seoul

Come out exit 3 of Yangjae Citizens' Forest subway station and walk 150 meters until you get to the intersection of Dongsan-ro. Cross to the other side before turning left and up Dongsan-ro for 100 meters until you get to a bus stop. You can get on the Seocho 09 bus or the 8442 bus to go two stops, getting off at the Gugak High School 4-way intersection bus stop. 

From the intersection, head back towards the 4 way intersection (about 50 meters) and turn left. Walk up 50 meters and Wonjo Dakhanmari should be on your left.

In case those directions were confusing, here's a map showing the route of those directions.



Valet parking (free) available for customers

The usual Korean beer, soju, and such are all available

Like most dak hanmari restaurants, the dak hanmari dish (with a whole chicken) isn't meant to be served for less than 2 people so they may refuse to serve you if you're here solo... unless you tell them you're willing and able to finish everything off by yourself!