Review: Baekbujangjib Dakhanmari (백부장집 닭한마리)

For all the love the various Korean dishes featuring chicken gets, dakhanmari is often the one that receives less fanfare. It doesn’t have a crunchy, spiced coat like the notable Korean fried chicken nor does it come simmered in an addictive spicy-sweet red sauce like dakbokkeumtang. But instead, chops of a whole chicken comes in a beat up tin pot and swimming in a clear liquid with just a few green onions and potatoes joining it.

Sure, dakhanmari is not exactly the sexiest of chicken dishes in the pantheon of Korean chicken dishes but for those who think it’s just chicken pieces boiled in water, let me stop right there to tell you:

1.     You’re wrong

2.     Baekbujangjib Dakhanmari will prove that to you

Situated just about halfway between Jonggak’s four way intersection and Jogyesa Temple, one reason for this restaurant’s immense success is that it smartly made the move out here early on – out from its original location in the cutthroat competitive dakhanmari alley near Dongdaemun- to essentially become the only dakhanmari restaurant in the vicinity for the many office workers nearby. A restaurant that sells kimchi jjigae or spicy pork or whatnot is common in any neighborhood, but when you’re looking for dakhanmari the options dwindle considerably city-wide.

Which isn’t to say that Baekbujangjib succeeded merely on strategic location alone. After some 30+ years in business, they’ve got the movements down to the "t". The standard rate for the dakhanmari on the menu is 20K for 2 people but you don’t even have to worry as once the server knows how many are in your party, they’ll bring out the appropriate-sized dakhanmari (sometimes in seemingly mere seconds). You can essentially think of it as 20K for the standard 2 people serving with 10K per person after that. Adding extra rice cakes or potatoes is 2K each while ordering rice is 1K and noodles 2K. They also have dak kalguksu on the menu for 7K which is a popular lunch time option I heard. Last but not least, dakbokkeumtang is also on the menu for 35K for a medium size and 42 for a large. Interestingly I have never heard or seen anyone try this option but it's available so if anyone does go for it, feel free to share how it was!

Come most lunch or dinner times on any day of the week and you’re likely to see long lines snake out from the restaurant’s entrances. Yes, entrances as in plural as this restaurant is so popular it has an annex building. If you arrive and there's a line at the main restaurant, you may want to try the annex one (or they might just tell you to go to the annex building.

On every table is a gas burner upon which your dakhanmari will arrive, closed lid. Having been pre-cooked, the dakhanmari takes only a few minutes to eat. Sides are quite simple at just kimchi and their signature mustardy vinaigrette with a spicy kick. Those familiar with dakhanmari know this sauce is standard across most Seoul-based dakhanmari restaurants but each one has their own recipe. The sauce here is not as spicy or strong but a good balance that even those who can’t handle spice well normally should be ok.

Before we get to the dakhanmari, let’s talk kimchi. The classic, can’t-be-a-Korean-meal-without-it, kimchi is consumed so commonly and frequently that it’s sometimes easy to overlook how fantastic the pickled cabbage can be when it’s done right. Without any expectation the kimchi at Baekbujangjib is so remarkably well done that it momentarily stunned even kimchi-loving me. First, the chilled temperature it’s served in. Because kimchi is so common, 9 out of 10 times the kimchi at restaurants will be pre-dished out making it room temperature when eaten. But here the kimchi is chilled enhancing its flavor profile to be refreshing. Think the difference between a crisp, snappy dill pickle straight from the fridge jar and then think a pickle that’s lukewarm. Even if it’s the same brand and same pickle, there’s something about that chill factor that elevates that simple pickle to be much more. Such is the case with the lovely kimchi here.

Seasoning-wise it has a nice natural heat from the big chili flakes. Some may be surprised to know that the standard chili flakes in Korean cuisine can vary greatly in flavor depending on what type of peppers are used, the age of the peppers, size, etc. The chili flakes here are fresh giving it both a natural hint of spice and just a smidge of paprika-like sweetness. The cabbage itself has been pickled enough to give it its natural kimchi funkiness but not overly so that it loses its texture.

What results is kimchi that’s refreshing, lip-smacking, and well balanced. I’m surprised at myself that I’m discussing so greatly in length about this restaurant’s kimchi for three paragraphs now but it’s that good. Seriously, I still dream about that kimchi.  

After a few minutes (or, in my case, after consuming about half a bowl of the kimchi) a server will let you know when the dakhanmari is ready to be eaten (because of how busy the servers are, you may have to call one’s attention to ask). 

The rice cakes can be eaten early on and they’re the standard flour-based kind that soaks up the broth better than rice-based. There’s also some potatoes and leeks that adds a bit of contrasting flavor and texture to the entire dish.

The rice cakes are what’s recommended to be eaten first as they tend to lose their texture the longer it stews. The chicken pieces look chopped hap-hazard but take a closer look and you’ll see they’ve been expertly cut at all the right joints and cut into the meat in where it’s needed for it to cook properly. As I mentioned, the chicken is pre-cooked but also done with precision as one can tell by the meat’s tenderness which still retains its texture. The juicy meat is fine on its own but the most popular way to eat the meat, as well as the potatoes and rice cakes, is to dip it into the Korean-style mustard vinaigrette sauce. It’s a lovely balance of sweet, savory, spicy, and tart flavors that works exceptionally well with cooked chicken, as evidenced by similar flavor profiles in dishes like the famed dakmuchim at Pyeongraeok. The balance between the sauce and the chicken is particularly well done as the sauce aids in getting the chicken from being too heavy and the chicken serves as a neutral counter to the complex sauce. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself asking for refills of the sauce.

Another popular method of enjoying the dakhanmari is utilizing that delicious kimchi. Visitors who prefer their dakhanmari to have some spice simply adds the entire kimchi to the dakhanmari pot from the get-go. This is not my recommended form of enjoying this dish as I fully believe the two should be respected and enjoyed on their own but it’s a free country so enjoy it as you wish!

When you've had your fill of most of the chicken and veggies, it's time to cap the meal off Korean style, aka, carbing out. Noodles are the popular option here and they're brought out pretty quickly on plates. If you're running a little low on stock, no worries as asking for more of it "yook soo duh joo seh yo (육수 더 주세요)" is not a problem. Once the stock starts boiling again, toss in the noodles and let it cook for a few minutes before enjoying. This is also where you can toss in the kimchi for some kalguksu with some heat. Whichever way you enjoy, it's hard to fault plump noodles that have soaked up that golden goodness. If you still have room in your stomach after, you can order some rice to toss in and cook into a porridge. Unlike other places, there's no extras for the porridge like diced vegetables, egg, etc as you're literally just ordering a bowl(s) of rice to add in. Young kids will gobble it up though, I'm sure!

Final thoughts: 
The simple but soul-comforting and nourishing properties of this dish is one that can be enjoyed across the spectrum by all ages and backgrounds. At their basic level, the chicken is cooked superbly so that it’s tender and without a gamey scent. But add to that the addictive sauce and that refreshing and appetite awakening kimchi and that makes this the best dakhanmari I’ve come across yet. 

서울특별시 종로구 삼봉로 100-1
100-1 Sambong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul




Soju, beer available

Closed on Sundays.

Break time is between 3-5PM