Everyone who has been to Seoul knows you have to try the Samgyetang which is Ginseng chicken broth. It is a clay pot dish where an entire chicken and ginseng is cooked with glutinous rice and nutritious herbs. There are many debates on which restaurant serves the best Samgyetang and there are also many personal favourites. For me and many others, Tosokchon serves the best ginseng chicken in Seoul.
Tosokchon is a traditional restaurant inside a Hanok building that has been operating in this same location in the vicinity of Gyeongbokgung since 1983. The restaurant is very popular with both locals and tourist and there are usually long queues during meal times. The restaurant was also frequented by late South Korea President Roh Moo- hyun.
Right at the entrance, you can also see the huge oven roasting chicken which is also one of the popular dish in this restaurant.
The inside of the restaurant is typical of a Hanok home with wooden structures and doors and different halls separated by what used to be paper doors are now glass doors. Although the restaurant is very popular, there is ample space up to 400 seating capacity. There are 2 kinds of seating, the traditional floor seating with low tables where you sit cross-legged on a cushion and leave your shoes at the entrance of the hall or the western style of tables and chairs. It took us 3 visits to realise that we need to let the server at the entrance know if we would like the table and chairs area before we enter. If you do not make a request, they will bring you to the traditional Korean seats. Note that they will not ask you for your preference.
When you are first shown to your table, the server will bring 2 pots of kimchi for you and you are free to eat any amount or even ask for a refill if the pot runs out. They have the Baek Chu kimchi which is cabbage kimchi and Kkakdugi kimchi which is the radish cube kimchi. The kimchi is so good that we usually finish up an entire pot. The best part of it is, these are complimentary. The restaurant also sells their kimchi in well packaged boxes if you wish to bring some home.
Enticed by the rotisserie upfront at the entrance, we decided to order jeongigui tongdak which is roast chicken to give it a try. The chicken is well roasted with a crispy skin and tender meat but I found it slightly dry. It would have been perfect if the meat has more juices. The roast chicken cost KRW 14,000 per order.
Next for the star of the restaurant, there are 2 versions. The normal version which is just Tosokchon Samgyetang or the Tsokchon Ogolgye Samgyetang. The difference between the 2 is the Ogolgye which simply means black chicken. Both Chinese and Koreans believe that black chicken is more nutritious to women although there is not much difference in taste. The black chicken soup is priced at KRW 22,000 while the normal chicken is at KRW 15,000 and for the price of KRW 6,000 you can add in a cup of ginseng roots to give the soup a strong ginseng punch.
The soup comes in a heated clay pot and the soup is bubbling hot. Each pot comes with a 4 years old ginseng, chestnut, jujube, garlic, ginger, perilla seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, nuts , pine nuts, sesame and locally grown Tojongdak which is Korean chicken. You know a soup is good at first glance when the broth is thick and milky. This just means the number of hours taken to slowly broil the large bones of chicken and other soup base ingredients to create this insanely delicious broth. The broth has a light ginseng taste and strong chicken flavours but not oily at all. The meat is cooked to such tenderness it falls off the bones. With every pot of soup, the restaurant also offers you a small shot of ginseng wine. You can choose to drink it as a shot or pour it over the soup to give it a stronger ginseng flavours. You can also buy the ginseng wine from the counter at KRW 10,000 per bottle.
This is my 3rd visit where we finally got the table seats and the area with table seating is quite limited and tight and there is hardly any privacy from the next table. But compared to cramped legs, I will go for the table settings anytime.
There is not enough words to describe how good this soup is and I can only say I do not mind drinking this everyday at all. If you are in Seoul, make sure you drop by this place and I bet this soup will win you over.
Address: 5 Jahamun-ro 5-gil, Sajik-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Operating hours: 10 am to 10 pm
Subway : Gyeongbokgung Station Exit 2, go straight for 120m and turn left at GS 25 convenience store