Despite the small nondescript shop front the restaurant sprawls back from the entrance with half a dozen rooms off a large cobbled central courtyard with trees and ponds all under the roof.
We're led to a room at the far end, ditch our shoes at the entrance and find a seat at the long communal table. I'm not much of a fan of floor seating (near instant numb limbs) but it's all there is. Finally wedged in we survey the menu, surrounds, table etiquette, the people.. we're complete gawking tourists but this was to be our first meal in Korea, curiosity was great and the expectations were high.
We were here for the braised chicken so one of those was our first choice, we go one step further and order a black skinned chicken stuffed and cooked, we tried to order something else as well but were brusquely rebuffed by the stern waitresses, we guessed they thought we should try one and see if we wanted another, could have been they were sold out or a myriad of other reasons but we couldn't speak to any one and we were happy to sit back and see what happened anyways.
Despite the massive size of the place within seconds we have half a dozen small plates of kimchi's and raw garlic and other accompaniments and moments after that the chicken arrives bubbling away in a cast iron pot, a few pieces of black skin break the murky surface of the broth other than that nothing else is given away as to what inhabits it's depths.
First off a tentative taste of all the sides, the apple kimchi is awesome; chunks of raw apple coated in a spicy puree lightly curing the apple but still leaving a bit of crunch, and the raw garlic is mild and not at all as scary as the prospect of eating raw garlic sounds.
With the tasting out of the way it was chicken time, after a bit of fishing around with our chopsticks we start to pull out pieces of chicken, the hours braising leaves the flesh falling from the bone, but it's when we get to the stuffing that the real action happens.
The rice is unctuous full of flavour from the stock it was cooked in and full of treasures; red dates, gingseng root, walnuts, pinenuts, chestnuts, ginko nuts, sunflower seeds and all sorts of other goodies giving the soft glutinous rice a lovely texture. The broth surrounding the chicken is the best of chicken broths - I wish all medicine could be this good! We spend a good half an hour draining the bowl and leaving nothing but a stripped carcass sitting in the bottom.
The pondering is long and hard about whether or not we should order another chicken but we decide on a wander of the streets to see if we can't turn up another morsel or two.
The plastic tab that is our menu doubles as our bill, the whole experience costing us 20,000 won, or a mere 20 dollars.
on the way out we find a poster displaying the amazing amount of ingredients in the samgyetan.
It is a grand introduction into Korean cuisine.
Seoul-si Jongno-gu Chebu-dong 85-1