Directions: Take exit 2 of Gyeongbokgung, walk straight for about 5 minutes. It’s on a little side alleyway on the left. Just look out for the crowds.
We would have put the address of the restaurants we’ve been to, this included, but it seems that in Korea addresses are completely and utterly useless. There is little method in the naming or numbering of streets. To begin with, there are very few signs labeling street names, and many streets don’t even have names at all. Buildings and houses have numbers, but they are assigned according to when they were built, so building number 4 can be next to building number 91. Knowing the address of the place you’re going to is hardly ever useful – just consider an address like this: 104 Itaewondong, Yongsan-gu. This means the 104th building in Itaewon neighbourhood, in the Yongsan district, and good luck to you finding that. That’s why we’ve given directions instead, and this is also the way locals describe how to find their locations.
Ginseng is extremely popular in Korea, and there are an abundance of shops selling ginseng and ginseng products. In fact, as you walk around the streets of Seoul you’ll probably be able to smell the ginseng facial products that so many Koreans love to use all around you. It’s not the most appealing of scents to us, and neither is it our most favourite thing to eat in the world, but since we’re in the land of ginseng-crazed people, we thought it was fitting to have a meal of ginseng, just for the heck of it. Tosokchon is apparently the best place in Seoul for such a meal, so for potentially our one and only ginseng meal in Korea, we decided to just go for the best.
It was just before noon when we reached the restaurant, and a queue had already formed. The restaurant is able to accommodate a lot of customers, but is very popular among tour groups, so it gets full very quickly. Walk in customers have no choice but to wait in line, and wait in line we did.
The menu is extremely simple, and it seems that everyone just orders the same thing, so we got ourselves 2 portions of Chicken Stew with Ginseng as well. They were served with a shot of ginseng wine, which was pretty strong, and our server told us that we could pour it into our stew as well, if we didn’t like drinking it straight. The chicken was very well cooked – tender and juicy, and was stuffed with some glutinous rice and assorted healthy stuff like gingko nuts etc. The rice had a very strong ginseng taste, which we didn’t like very much, but otherwise was quite bland. There is a little pot containing salt that we were encouraged to add liberally to our stew, which was definitely needed to help enhance the flavour of the dish. The stew itself isn’t very ginsengy, but is quite one dimensional, so after a while it got a bit boring. We had to turn to the kimchi to give us some flavour and excitement.
Overall, not the best meal we had in Korea, but that’s not their fault – we’re just not big on ginseng, or anything that’s herbal for that matter. We can totally see why people would just love eating here at Tosokchon, and will definitely recommend it to those who like ginseng, or to those who are interested to reap the benefits of ginseng in a more accessible way. For us, we’ll much rather have some bulgogi, or barbecue anytime.
Food: 6/10 (but if you like ginseng, you’ll probably love this place)