As the well known Korean phrase "eat healthy and you will stay healthy" suggests, no medicine beats a fine-cooked meal. This belief is well reflected in Korea's boyangsik food, which literally means food that invigorates the body. The most popular boyangsik foods in Korea are those that have a meat-based broth like Samgye-tang, seolleongtang, and gomtang.
In terms of traditional Asian medicine, boyangsik food replenishes the body, helps circulate energy, and balances the ying and the yang. Traditionally, boyangsik was consumed to maintain balance of the body (especially during the changing seasons), or to replenish the body in times of weakness. Nowadays, it is consumed throughout the year regardless of the season. So, try some of the popular Korean boyangsik foods for their great taste and healthy benefits.
Samgye-tang is the most popular boyangsik food and is consumed year-round. It is made by boiling a young chicken stuffed with glutinous rice, ginseng, jujube, and other ingredients. Its nutritional and caloric value help replenish a weakened body. The chicken meat is easily plucked from the bone and can be dipped in a salt and pepper mixture, while the glutinous rice and broth are equally delicious. The ginseng and jujube, which are used to add flavor to the soup, are very tender as they have been boiled for a long time.
Samgye-tang is well known to help with maintaining a healthy body temperature and as a result is eaten in the winter to stay warm and in the summer to feel refreshed. The dish is considered a special treat during sultry summer days and is often eaten on the three hottest days of the year, which are chobok, jungbok, and malbok, the first, middle and final of the hottest days of summer, respectively. Recently, samgye-tang dishes are being made with the addition of new ingredients like abalone and other nutritious ingredients.
Hwanghu Myungga serves samgye-tang in a traditional royal presentation.
Tosokchon is famous for samgye-tang made with 30 medicinal Asian herbs and a variety of grains.
Korea Samgye-tang has served a rich flavored samgye-tang since the 1960s.
Photo courtesy of Hwanghu Myungga
Opened in 2010 in Insa-dong, Hwanghu Myungga (formerly known as Hwanghu Samgye-tang) is now located in Tongui-dong. The restaurant still serves royal-style boyangsik dishes and its main menu item is Insadong Samgye-tang (14,000 won), made of young plump chickens and 19 medicinal ingredients like glutinous rice, glutinous brown rice, fresh ginseng, chestnut, jujube, and garlic. The chicken broth is boiled for 24 hours and thickened with grain powder. Other menu items include Myeongga Samgye-tang (28,000 won), which is made of cultured fresh ginger and silkworm cordyceps, and Hwanghu Samgye-tang (38,000 won) made of wild ginseng and abalone. These are considered the best in flavor and nutrition. Visitors can also try the chicken porridge (8,000 won) and Chogye-tang (14,000 won - 30,000 won), a summer treat combining chicken, beef, pine nuts, cucumber, and mushroom in a mustard dressing. Duck dishes including duck bulgogi marinated in a spicy sauce (35,000 won - 60,000 won) and duck bossam (napa wraps with duck) are also available.
Seolleongtang is made by simmering parts of the bones, head, meat, and entrails of an ox for about 10 hours. The milky broth is served warm in a bowl filled with noodles and thin slices of beef brisket. The hearty yet simple broth is a familiar dish for many Koreans and a favorite during the winter season. The many hours of simmering results in a broth rich in both amino acids and calcium, which aid in digestion and help replenish a weakened body. It is also good for the skin because it is high in collagen from the ox bone. Seolleongtang was first eaten around 600 years ago during the Joseon dynasty. The soup was shared with the commoners following a ceremony led by the king to appease the gods and pray for a good harvest. The widely popular dish is available in restaurants throughout the nation.
The soup is usually seasoned with some salt and pepper prior to eating. The noodles and beef brisket are usually eaten first, while the rice can be added to the broth or enjoyed separately. To eat in the Korean way, add some kimchi or kkakdugi.
Imun Seolnongtang is the oldest restaurant in Korea and has served this dish in the same location for over 100 years.
Gammiok Seolleongtang was selected as a recommended tourism restaurant in Korea.
Sinchon Seolleongtang is a chain restaurant with several locations.
Photo courtesy of Imun Seolnongtang
Korea's history is marked by many tumultuous events the 1900s, making restaurants over a hundred years nearly impossible to find. This makes the old wooden structure of Imun Seolnongtang restaurant even more valuable. Near Jonggak Station in the heart of Seoul, the restaurant has maintained a strong reputation by preservation and careful preparation of its recipes. Customers can count on the same taste time after time. Delicious seolleongtang (7,000 won) is the restaurants signature dish. The restaurant enjoys a clientele of both young and old Koreans as well as international tourists who have heard about the restaurant. The special seolleongtang (9,000 won) adds more meat. Also popular is the suyuk (28,000 won), which is a platter of ready-to-eat slices of boiled meat.
Gomgtang is made by boiling beef brisket, shank, entrails, oxtail, and tripe for several hours. It is not easy to distinguish gomtang from seolleongtang, but gomtang has a more transparent broth than seolleongtang as it made with more meat than bones. The hearty broth is comforting in cold weather or when fatigued. The dish was once reserved for the upper class because of the sizable portion of meat and is still considered a pricey dish today. A number of famous gomtang restaurants have run for several generations and are listed below.
A famous restaurant specializing in gomtang, Hadongkwan has been family run for three generations since 1939. The recipe comes from an upper-class yangban family in the Bukchon area of Seoul and has been preserved to this date. Only the best local beef is used in the broth. The kkakdugi and kimchi are also made of locally produced ingredients. Though simple in appearance, the side dishes have rich traditional flavors. The menu includes regular gomtang (10,000 won), which comes with only red meat, and the special gomtang (12,000 won), which comes with both red meat and slices of entrails. For more flavor, some customers add the sauce from the side dish of kkakdugi or a raw egg. The restaurant opens early in the morning (7am) and closes in the early afternoon (4:30pm).
Galbi-tang is a representative boyangsik food and favorite winter dish. Galbi-tang is estimated to date back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Also called “garitang,” galbi-tang is made by simmering beef ribs as its main ingredient. The beef ribs are chopped into 5-6cm lengths with slits made on the inside of the bones to make flesh separate easily from the ribs when eating. The cut ribs are boiled with a whole radish at high heat initially and then at a medium heat for a total of 4-5 hours. When the meat is fully cooked, the radish and the ribs are scooped out. The boiled radish is flatly sliced into 3cm squares, and the ribs are marinated in a mixture of minced garlic, diced green onion, pepper, soy sauce, etc. The broth is cooled down and fats are skimmed off before it is boiled again with the marinated beef ribs and sliced radish.
Recent variations of the galbitang also include traditional asian medicinal ingredients such as ginseng, jujube, and pine nuts or even seafood like small octopuses and abalone to add a special flavor to the traditional taste. Galbi-tang is widely recognized for its effects in helping to prevent anemia thanks to its high levels of amino acids, vitamins and iron. It is a perfect meal to warm up with on a cold winter day.
Budnamujip serves just 100 bowls of galbi-tang a day with a generous portion of beef ribs and is only available during lunch time.
Hanuso makes galbi-tang using prime Korean beef of cows pastured in the meadows of Hampyeong in Jeollanam-do.
Budnamujip is a noted restaurant specializing in Korean beef dishes. The restaurant sells galbi-tang (15,000 won) only during the lunch hour. Galbi-tang served in this restaurant makes for a hearty meal with its generous portions of beef ribs and thick, rich broth. Only 100 bowls of galbi-tang are served daily, so it is advised to get there early. Opening hour is from 11:00 am and meals are served starting at 11:20 am. The restaurant closes at 10:00 pm.
*Last updated, January 6, 2014