Pages Navigation Menu

Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Beyond Ramyeon: Soups

As Autumn rolls in with clear blue skies and cooler temperatures, it’s a good time to explore the different soups on the menu. Many Korean main dishes are one-pot meals, much like the soups and stews we’re familiar with from home. The main difference here is that meat on the bone is considered the tastiest, and therefore many of the soups come bone-in. Don’t let this discourage you, though. It’s easy enough to pull the well cooked meat off the bone with your chopsticks, or if this seems to hard, play the  “I’m a dumb foreigner” card and pick it up in your hands.

Here’s a brief breakdown of some of the more common soups you’ll stumble across in restaurants around Ulsan. Tang, or 탕, is the Korean word for soup.

Galbitang (갈비탕) is pork rib soup. It’s sometimes called garitang or galitang. The broth varies from place to place, but it is usually only mildly spicy as it’s made from boiling the galbi for hours, which is then lightly seasoned. The other key ingredient is Korean raddish (daikon). Good galbitang will be cooked twice, with a cooling period in between to remove the excess fat from the soup.

Gamjatang (감자탕) is similar to galbitang, but rather than being made with the ribs, it’s made with the backbone. There is some dispute over whether or not the name refers to potato, which is “gamja” in Korean. While gamjatang is always served with potato in it, and most Koreans believe it to be potato soup, a friend recently suggested that the word “gamja” comes from the Hanja, or Chinese, root word for the green vegetables in the soup instead. Gamjatang is usually spicy. In a small town restaurant, my friends and I were once thoroughly assured that this meal has no meat in it, and is vegetarian friendly, but I’m not sure I’d trust that.

Haejangguk (해장국) means “soup to chase a hangover”, or more simply, Hangover Soup. There are variations on the theme, but the basic recipe is napa cabbage, congealed ox blood and vegetables. Now, don’t let the “congealed blood” part put you off. It’s similar to blood sausage, and is quite tasty. It’s also easily eaten around while you enjoy the rest of the soup. Haejangguk can also be gamjatang served without potatoes.

Samgyetang (삼계탕) is a whole chicken, stuffed with rice, ginseng, garlic, ginger, a chestnut and a jujube (the natural fruit, not the gummy candy) and boiled in water. The resulting soup is delicious, and you can season it to taste with salt and pepper paste. Samgyetang is served on the three hottest days of the summer, and is the modern replacement to boshintang (dog meat soup), which is also usually eaten on those days. If you’re not good with spicy food, or are coming down with a cold, samgyetang is a great dish to try. When it’s served, you break open the chicken and mix the stuffing into the soup. It’s often served with a complimentary bottle of ginseng wine, or insamju.

Seolleongtang (설렁탕) is a beef broth soup made from boiling ox bones over a long time. The soup has a milky look to it, and is seasoned with spring onions and various other spices, which you can add for yourself at the table. This is another safe dish for people who are nervous about trying new food, or who don’t like spice.

Dakdoritang or Dak bokkeum (닭도리탕, 닭볶음) is like a chicken stew. It’s made with chicken (surprise!), potatoes, carrots, onions and red pepper paste, along with soy sauce and other flavourings.

Boshintang (보신탕), also known as Gaejangguk (개장국) is dog soup. This dish is highly controversial, both inside Korea and internationally, because of the treatment of the meat dogs, both while they’re alive and while they are being slaughtered, and because of sanitation reasons. It’s a very complex issue, which I won’t get into here (there is an article in the old versions of the Ulsan Pear that examines the topic more thoroughly). The soup is made from dog meat, vegetables like onion and dandelion leaves, and spices. Traditionally it is eaten during the hottest days of the summer. Boshintang literally translates as “invigorating soup”, and is eaten for stamina. While technically illegal (again, it’s complex) there are restaurants around town, which openly advertise and sell it.

There are many other kinds of soups and stews out there, but this gives you some options to try out the night you break out your sweaters and scarves.