Review: Black Fowl is Fair: Black Chicken Ginseng Soup

This article was originally published by Seoul Magazine in the August 2010 issue. It is being reprinted here with permission. Please read my monthly columns in Seoul Magazine. The magazine can be found in many establishments around the city and at their bookstore in Samcheongdong. You can also read their online magazine at http://www.seoulselection.com/index.php/home/

Black Chicken Samgyetang at Kuryeo Samgyetang Seoul, Korea

   The idea of eating black foods seems like a paradox. Maybe it’s because we have all learned that burnt steaks, chicken, and grilled cheese don’t taste very good. Or maybe it’s because we all see ourselves as beings of white light and black foods might muddy that image. Whatever the reason, the concept of “black foods” is not instantly associated with deliciousness.

    An enigma in the food world is Black Chicken or called O-golgye in Korea. This rare bread of chicken has black flesh and black bones. This rare strain of chicken is very difficult to breed- I learned that one farmer in Jirisan (a mountain in the southern region in Korea) is only able to raise 50 a year.

Finding restaurants that serve this dish is also rare. After a long search, I went to Kuryeo Samgyetang over by City Hall. Here they prepare the chicken like poule au pot: the black chicken is stuffed with sticky rice, a clove of garlic, ginko nuts, and jujube (Korean date). The chicken is then stewed until the flesh is melt-off-the-bone tender and the broth rich. Just before serving, the chicken is topped with green onions.

    Served in a circular ceramic bowl, at first glance, the cross-legged black chicken in the whitish broth looks like a paintbrush drawn ying-yang sign. In the broth floats a circular purple jujube, a stalk of ginseng, and some green chopped onion. It’s very mindful.

    After admiring this dish, you might be wondering how you are supposed to eat it. There are no rules. You can start by taking your chopsticks and spoon to eat the black flesh and grey/white broth.

Black Chicken Samgyetang at Kuryeo Samgyetang Seoul, Korea

    The classic, advanced way to eat O-golgye is to use your chopsticks to split the chicken in half and pull out all the black bones in the chicken. Afterwards, you can take the rice and all the stuffing and stir it together to make rich rice porridge.

    Korean people don’t think of O-golgye as a meal, but as medicine. While talking with Professor Jia Choi of Ewha University, I learned that people of a certain body type: the Soo-umin (lanky, tall and thin) benefit greatly from eating this dish. She also mentioned that one of her friends always has at least 5 black chickens in her freezer and whenever she feels like is going to be ill, she cooks one. After eating it, she says she feels reborn.

    Now I don’t know what sort of body type I have, but eating this chicken has become my new obsession. I had this dish on Wednesday night and afterwards I went out drinking until 6am the next morning. I followed this outing with long days at the office and late nights (until 3am) on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I don’t know if it was the chicken, but normally, I turn in around 11pm. I didn’t suffer from hangovers and I felt energized the whole time. I am going to have to return soon to see if this was a fluke or the real deal.

Kuryeo Samgyetang
Seoul, Jeong-gu, Seosomundong 55-3.
02-752-9376
Directions: Go our City Hall Station Subway Station (Line 2) Exit 10 and walk 2 blocks. It’ll be on the right.

Whole Fried Chicken at Kuryeo Samgyetang Seoul, Korea
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