It's getting late, I'm hungry, and I know exactly what I want: Oak Chicken!
Conveniently located ten minutes walk from my apartment, I set out into the Jongno night. My neighborhood, Jongno, 鐘路 ("bell road"), is a major old downtown area north of the river. There's a lot of financial activity during the day, and plenty of gallivanting and drunkeness at night.
Fried chicken (with beer!) is popular in Seoul. I pass about fifteen fried chicken restaurants on the way to Beer Oak, three on one corner:
But I don't want fried chicken. I want Oak Chicken.
My friend Dr. Hong, "the oldest veterinarian in Seoul," introduced me to the place last December, when I had a cold that just wouldn't go away. "You need vitamins," he said, and took me here. I ate the chicken, the cold went away, and I've been coming to Oak Chicken ever since.
Oak Chicken is no ordinary chicken. It's samgyetang ("ginseng chicken soup") without the soup ("tang"). The ginseng, garlic, jujube, ginko nuts and something that looks like a branch cutting are stuffed with wild rice into the cavity of the bird and slow spit-roasted (not saliva).
The Oak Chicken in its natural habitat:
The Oak pile:
Once inside, I quickly find a seat. Baseball's on. The owner comes over: "Eat here, or take home?"
Why, here -- of course.
Clockwise, from lower-left: (1) Ketchup and mustard? No. Mustard, yes--of the wasabi type. What looks like ketchup is a fiery chili date sauce; (2) kimchi; (3) pickled radish cubes; (4) sliced cabbage with dressing; (5) Oak Chicken; (6) two forks (every chicken is served with two forks per person--no knives, spoons, etc.); (7) salt, black pepper & sesame seed dry dip.
Pickled ginseng or Sheep Child?
Wash it down; note the slim soda can.
After dinner, I go for a walk around Jongno.
My destination? Kwangjang Shijang (Kwangjang Market), with all its late-night activity and good old-time eats. A few blocks, cross the street underground, and I'm there.
Cherry tomatoes are popular
Strolling accordion troubadours are not uncommon here; sometimes in Leprechaun outfits
The market houses several bindaetteok (mung bean pancake) establishments. Think bean latkes. This one has won several awards and was featured on national television for their mung bean pancakes. Some bindaetteok vendors here still use the old foot-pedal powered spinning mung bean grinding vats of old.
"I'd like that fried."
"Where are you from? What do you do? How long have you been in Korea? Where do you live?" Seconds after entering the market, I'm hugged, hand-shaked, and sat down for drinks.
These green bottles contain soju
While these contain makgeolli. ("You are from Kansas City?") People drink a lot of makgeolli in Jongno. When I first saw it -- milky in bowls laid out with hard boiled eggs and dried anchovies -- I thought it was some kind of soup. I told my students this, and they laughed and said, "It is -- alcohol soup!"
Fresh fish is a powerful attraction. These green bottles contain Chilsung 七星 ("seven star") Cider.
So ends dinner in Jongno