There is a place in Daejeon, South Korea that brings back memories from my childhood. A restaurant that my family used to visit regularly is called Sinchon Selleongtang (신촌설렁탕). An old, 24-hr diner is famous for traditional beef bone soup. I have not been here for years but today I decided that I will go on a little time travel and re-experience the familiar flavor that I once loved.
My picky mother adores this place for its kimchi. Two types of kimchi — traditional Korean napa and radish — are placed in Korean-style pots (I want these pots so bad! They are so cute and practical). Customers are asked to help themselves to kimchi by using the tongs but advised that they should not waste kimchi by taking too much at once.
Some foreigners trying selleongtang for the first time think that the soup is too bland — especially after you add the rice to it. You can add salt and pepper to adjust the flavor but really what most Koreans do is to add few tablespoons of kimchi juice (the juice from radish kimchi is better). Adding radish kimchi juice works well as the juice contains different spices that enhance the flavor of the soup. The restaurant recommends this method as well.
A bowl of Sinchon Seolleongtang is filled with meat. There are different types of hot pots on the menu including Dogani-tang (도가니탕) and Korigom-tang (꼬리곰탕) but the soup base for all of these is basically the same beef bone broth. The difference is the meat chunks served in the soup — they varies for each hot pot. For selleongtang, you get bowl full of sliced meat while a doganitang is served with ox knee parts.
I am a noodle addict and the first thing I inhale from a seolleongtang is the so-myun (소면: thin noodles). It is better to eat the noodles first before you add the rice as the noodles will soon become too soft and lose its texture. I only add a pinch of pepper and skip the salt. As I mentioned kimchi juice is a better substitute.
Seolleongtang is a popular winter food. A thought of boiling hot broth comes across the Koreans’ mind in a cold weather. History says the origin of national comfort food goes all the way back to Chosun Dynasty when the king himself offered beef bone soup to elder citizens after religious celebration. I guess you can say that having a bowl of seollengtang is like being blessed by the king in the past.