+ A

Pork soup’s popularity heats up : Restaurants serving the re-imagined staple dish have lines out the door across Seoul

Mar 29,2017
Top: A bowl of pork broth and rice served at Gwanghwamun Gukbab in central Seoul.Bottom: Pork broth and rice served at Ok Dong Sik in western Seoul.
Chef Yim Jung-sik of Michelin-starred Jung Sik Dang in southern Seoul presents his version of beef soup, right, and steamed beef at a pop-up event earlier this month. [LEE SUN-MIN]
During the months when the wind is biting and the daily temperatures rarely exceed freezing, there are few better ways to warm up than a hot bowl of soup. But as winter wanes and the weather warms up, people still turn to a savory broth and a bowl of rice.

Local chefs have been showing their love for serving simple comfort foods that could ideally be eaten everyday and the newest item popping up on menus all over the local dining scene is a pork soup with clear broth.

Pork, although commonly eaten, has widely been considered to have an unpleasant meaty smell and is rarely used as a main ingredient for clear soups, as beef and chicken have traditionally been preferred. But, efforts focused on developing better quality pork and creating more diverse recipes have revealed delicious new options.

“Pork consumption has mainly been from grilling the meat, but with the idea of [enjoying your food more and eating better] many people focus on using pork in different dishes,” said food columnist Kim Jin-young. He added that the lack of logistics to distribute pork in the past had limited the possible recipes.

Giving light to the new ways to enjoy pork, Seoul now has two restaurants where the clear version of pork broth is served. Just last week, chef Park Chan-il, known for his restaurant Mongro in Hongdae and Gwanghwamun, opened another restaurant named Gwanghwamun Gukbab that serves pork soup.

Koreans often put their rice, called bab in Korean, into their soup, or guk. Chef Park serves a bowl of soup that’s as light as broth made from chicken with rice already in the soup. He also offers a spicy soup made with both pork and beef to add variety. The restaurant may also open more branches across the city in the near future to cater to diners from different neighborhoods.

The restaurant offers a nostalgic ambiance, with an outdoor sign written in a font commonly seen in 1970s and 80s Seoul. The interior brings visitors to the past, and a line of people can be found waiting everyday during lunch time to try the new dishes in an old-school setting. The restaurant only offers 150 servings a day for lunch, and usually sells out quickly.

While Park whips up his soup for food aficionados in central Seoul, chef Ok Dong-sik of the restaurant Ok Dong Sik attracts those in Hongdae, western Seoul, with his version of the pork soup. While the cooking process may be similar to what’s served at Gwanghwamun Gukbab, Ok calls his version gomtang rather than gukbab - gomtang is a soup made through hours of boiling. Here the taste of pork in the soup is a bit stronger, but the broth is not too heavy. Those who prefer a more rich pork broth taste may prefer the soup on the menu in Hongdae.

The chef tried to make his restaurant more refined to show that a dish usually considered to be a staple, such as rice and soup, can be eaten with some class. The restaurant currently has only counter seats so that the chef can have close contact with guests and serve them himself.

“After I decided to do the pork soup with rice, I have visited many different restaurants that serve similar dishes but the service wasn’t so welcoming,” said the chef.

“I wanted to provide an environment where diners can be focused solely on eating their food because I think that’s the best that I can provide.”

People line up outside of Ok’s restaurants as well so that they can make sure to have a taste of one of the only 100 dishes the chef serves at lunch. Currently there is only one menu item and the restaurant is open only for lunch.

While clear broth pork soup has been grabbing the attention of local foodies, some other chefs have challenged themselves to make their own version of clear beef broth - a dish more widely available in Korea than clear pork soup. Chef Yim Jung-sik of Michelin-starred restaurant Jung Sik Dang recently held multiple pop-up events with his own version of beef soup. The chef has been cooking and leading the movement of what is now widely known as modern Korean - Korean food served in a Western-style setting - and tried to present his interpretation of what has long been a major staple dish.

At the four pop-up events, the chef updated and changed ingredients here and there to create a taste that would be appealing to a wide range of diners. The time and the location of the pop-up events were shared through social media. He has shared his visits to different restaurants that have been serving the beef soup for decades on Instagram as part of his learning process to bring his own character to each bowl of soup, and also shared how he made side dishes served with the soup, such as ggakduggi, a type of kimchi made with radish, and lightly soy-sauce-marinated peppers and perilla leaves.

The event was held at Wolhyang, a restaurant that serves Korean food and liquors, and Yi Yo-young, the owner of the restaurant has said that the chef’s recipe for beef soup will be used to serve diners in Japan at a new restaurant later this year.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]