Cycle 4 – Item 192
16 (Tue) July 2013
Seolnong Tang – Teuk
at Imun Seolnong Tang
-Gyeonji, Jongro, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
with the Family
Old Korean Restaurants that Koreans Love (Part 3 of 11) (see also OKRKL)
As an on-going project, GMTD is undertaking to review restaurants featured in the book Old Korean Restaurants that Koreans Love (한국인이 사랑하는 오래된 한식당), which includes 100 restaurants (28 in Seoul) that are least 50 years old or have been owned by at least 3 generations.
Imun Seolnong Tang is a Korean restaurant. Established in 1904, supposedly the oldest Korean restaurant in existence. Specializes in beef soups and boiled beef, including the eponymous seolleong (설렁) (“seolnong (설농)” is an older spelling) tang. In Chinese, the name of the restaurant translates to “inner(i)(里) + “door (mun)(門)” but likely refers to Imun-dong in Dongdaemun-gu, where the original location may have been.
1904 is suspect for several reasons. First, no evidence is provided, or even mentioned, to support the claim. The year is accepted on faith, presumably passed down from the original owners, even though the current owners don’t know the identities of the original owners. And generally, Korean restaurants exaggerate their “since” numbers, usually based on when the owner started a business of any kind, not necessarily the restaurant in question.
Various cuts of beef, including brisket, dogani (knee cartilage), hyeomit (tongue), meori (head), are offered in soup and boiled form. Very old school, quite appropriate for such an old establishment. Preparation via water reflects the way that Koreans ate beef long before grilling became the rage.
Historical significance aside, I was rather disappointed by the food. The seolnong tang just didn’t have the rich beefiness found at other places, even cheaper chain establishments. OKRKL claims that the restaurant, dedicated to producing the purest broth possible, doesn’t use additives/enhancers of any kind, which would explain the difference, given the widespread use of chemicals in modern commercial kitchens. Having made my own beef broths at home, I’ve come to accept that replicating that restaurant taste is impossible with only natural ingredients. So, maybe the seolnong tang here is the real deal, embodying how the dish would have tasted a century ago. But that doesn’t mean that it’s any good. The meat, sourced from Australia and/or USA, had an off-odor. Even worse, I ordered the teuk version (특) (special), without first asking, thinking that it’d come with more meat or better meat, but it included bits of cow that I don’t eat, such as liver, tongue. 7,000 won.
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)
(See also RESTAURANTS IN KOREA)