The word “soup” can have different shades of meaning in Korean. Jigae is more like a stew, and while tang and guk are similar, a guk can be put together in a day, but a tang requires more time. Whatever the case may be, a good soup requires a good base, whether it is made from a radish and dashi broth, or simmering ox bones for hours on end.
Arm yourself with one of these hale and hearty soups and you’ll be ready to brave the winter once again.
Tteokguk (떡국), Rice cake soup
Koreans ring in the Lunar New Year with this meaty broth filled with rice cakes and garnished with seaweed flakes and thinly sliced egg, but you can have this filling bowl of soup any time of the year.
Unlike the soft, gooey rice cakes, which get their consistency from sweet rice flour, the rice cakes in this soup are made from garaetteok (가래떡), a long, white tubular rice cake made from non-glutinous rice flour. In the soup, the thin coins of rice cake maintain their shape for a pleasantly chewy experience.
Try it plain with just the rice cakes, or add some dumplings, or mandu (만두) if you want a little more variety in your bowl.
춘보식당 571-30 Gongneung 1-dong, Nowon-gu (노원구 공릉1동 571-30) +82 02 975 2407 ; open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., 5:30 p.m.-8 p.m.; ₩7,000
Dongtae jjigae (동태찌개), Pollock stew
Pollock is a variety of white fish similar to cod, and it appears in Korean soup either frozen (dongtae) or — if you can get it — fresh (saengtae).
Jjigaes can embrace a hodgepodge of ingredients, in this case, pollock, dashi, white radishes, green onions, tofu, bean sprouts, and anchovies. Brought to the boil, they create an intoxicating stew. The broth is complex and spicy, with a refreshing herbaceous flavor from the addition of the leafy chrysanthemum herb known as crown daisy (쑥갓).
Depending on the restaurant, the soup might also include pollock roe along with the meat of the fish.
연지 얼큰동태국 (Yeonji Ulkeundongtaeguk) 120-7 Jongro-5, Jongro-gu (종로구 종로5가 120-7); +82 2 763 9397 ; open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; ₩20,000
Samgyetang (삼계탕), Chicken soup
The Korean spin on chicken soup consists of an entire young chicken, stuffed with jujubes, garlic, sticky rice, and most importantly, ginseng, and brought to a roiling boil.
While this soup is a traditional, Korean tonic, enjoyed on the three hottest days (the dog days) of summer, subscribing to the idea of “yi yeol chi yeol” (이열치열), which means to fight heat with heat.
There isn’t any reason though, not to take advantage of its restorative properties and soothing broth when you’re sick and craving your mother’s chicken soup or when it’s cold. This might actually one-up it.
Hosu Samgytang (호수 삼계탕) 342-325 Shingil-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu (영등포구 신길동 342-325) +82 02 848 2440 ; open daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; ₩12,000
Uhmook tang (어묵탕), Fish cake soup
Uhmook (어묵) also known as odeng (오뎅) are fish cakes that come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from little seafood balls to tire-like shapes to the thin sheets that look like a sine wave on a bamboo skewer.
Uhmook tang is a classic “anju,” that is, drinking food, and you can have it hot pot style with a jumble of different shaped and sized fish cake skewered in a bubbling broth. You can also enjoy a cheap, low-commitment version on the street where you’ll find the long skewers of fish cakes cooking next to the ddeokbokki (떡볶이) slathered in a fiery, red sauce.
Gomtang (곰탕), Oxtail soup
Gomtang is a bare bones kind of soup; it consists of three ingredients: oxtail, salt, and green onions for garnish (water, too, if you want to consider that an ingredient). The simplicity though makes the craft clear –- when it’s bad, it’s watery and insipid, when it’s good, it’s divine.
The broth is a milky white, and the flavor is deep and soothing. It is the kind of soup that winds its way through your body and eases your aches and sniffles. Attaining that level of broth though is a trial in patience, expertise, and usually a heavily guarded (family) secret.
Hadongkwan (하동관), Jung-gu Myeong-dong 1-ga 10-4 (중구 명동1가 10-4); +82 2 776 5656 ; 7 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; closed first and third Sunday of every month; www.hadongkwan.com
Seolleongtang (설렁탕), Brisket soup
Seolleongtang is a close cousin of gomtang: the broth has a similar opaque white color and nourishing broth. The broth comes from slow-cooking beef bones and brisket for hours, even days on end.
The soup, which originated in the Silla Dynasty, was the direct result of a decree from the king, who ordered the creation of a dish that would make the most out of limited resources.
Seolleongtang is usually served with some noodles, thinly sliced brisket, and some green onions and salt to taste.
모래내설농탕 415-6 Hongeun-dong, Seodaemun-gu (서대문구 홍은동 415-6) +82 02 304 0311 ; open 24 hours; ₩8,000
Galbitang (갈비탕), Beef ribs soup
Galbitang is another hearty, beef soup featuring shortribs that have been simmered until the meat is so tender it falls off the bone. Unlike the other beef soups though, galbitang can be enjoyed spicy with some hot peppers or in its classic form.
Don’t be afraid to get interactive with the ribs. The best way to get those bits of meat and tendon stuck to the bone is to use your hands and teeth.
버드나무집 (Budnamu Jip), 1340-5 Seocho 2-dong, Seocho-gu (서초구 서초2동 1340-5) +82 2 3473 4167 ; ₩16,500
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