Dinosaur Soup: HaeJangGuk
HaeJangGuk 해장국 is a traditional hangover cure. It means “Hangover Soup.” Drinking houses used to make this pork bone soup in a beef broth with dried cabbage leaves and fortified with clotted ox blood.
This soup is perfect for a cold winter evening. When autumn was dying, and the first blasts of frigid Siberian air hit me, I was looking for a ballast to help me through winter. As always, food makes me feel better. There are some foods in Korea that are best to eat in the wintertime. They’re just too hearty to eat during summer. Besides, I’m too much in the mood for cold MulNaengMyeon 물냉면 in the summer.
It looks forboding when it first comes out. It looks like something Fred Flintstone would munch on after a meeting with the Order of Water Buffalo.
It also looks like a simple soup, but there’s an art to eating it. There are three empty dishes among the wonderful kimchi (places that specialize in winter food seem to have the best kimchi) and side dishes. One is for your meat, which you remove from the soup, one set of bones at a time. Another is for a dipping sauce that comes in a squeeze bottle. It tastes a bit like Chinese mustard with other flavors. The last bowl is for the bone graveyard when you’re finished.
Some places also have a spice as a condiment. I don’t know what it is. I have never tasted anything like it. It looks like ground coriander seeds, and they give the soup a darker, manlier, more punchy taste.
Westerners would not find this soup too exotic. It reminds me of Brunswick Stew back in the South. It’s also similar to another Korean late night/early morning drinking food, GamjaTang, which means “potato soup,” even though it has a heck of a lot more meat than potatoes.
Supposedly, HaeJangGuk is a relatively new invention. It came around after Korean independence from Japan following WWII. An old man, named Mr. Kim, started making HaeJangGuk at his restaurant, Yeonghwaok in Cheongjin-dong, downtown Seoul. A curfew used to be enforced from midnight to 4 A.M. The neighborhood would be crowded in the morning when the curfew was lifted. No restaurants were open. No one sold food at this hour except Mr. Kim and other restauranteurs copying his HaeJangKuk idea in the area. It naturally became the place college students went to after a night of dancing. (from Jongno-Gu)
They say there are five secrets to making HaeJangGuk:
1. Remove foul meat odors by rubbing it with soybean paste.
2. Use as many veggies as possible.
3. Mix clotted cow’s blood with salt and water in the right proportion.
4. Boil in a kettle the traditional way.
5. Top it all off with chopped leeks or green onions.