I had been to Seoul once when I was little. Back in those days my parents were not very adventurous travellers (not with two kids anyway!), so we just joined a tour group - one of those tours ran specifically for Hong Kong tourists, which only took us to Chinese restaurants for most of the meals during the trip. But on one very cold day, when we had just got off the coach after a long drive from the mountains, feeling tired and hungry, we were treated to a local speciality. My parents told me I could have one whole chicken to myself, and wow, I was over the moon. It was served in a black casserole filled with a cloudy chicken stock. I remember scooping out the glutinous rice from inside the chicken cavity, and my glasses steamed up with the fragrance of ginseng. This is one of my earliest food memories.
Tosokchon is a very popular Samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) restaurant in Seoul. It is often swamped by Chinese and Japanese tour groups, therefore most of the staff are fluent in both languages. The classic ginseng chicken soup came with a shot of ginseng liquor, some people drink it before the meal but I like to pour it into the stock. The young chicken was stuffed with glutinous rice, chestnuts, ginseng and dates, and then poached in a herbal stock. The sweetness from the flesh was a perfect match for the gentle bitterness from the ginseng.
From a Chinese medicinal point of view, eating ginseng is said to enhance the inner strength of the human body, so we do not become ill easily. I did feel my body temperature boost for a good while afterwards. It is quite hard to bring myself to believe that this is actually a summer dish!
After the meal we stumbled into a nearby local market. We saw a herbal shop, countless bowls of pickled vegetables and some spicy fish.
The beautiful floating Gyeonghoeru pavilion is located at the west side of the palace, where the king used to hold feasts for important guests and officials.