Dakhanmari is one of those beautiful dishes that doesn’t need many ingredients, or a complicated cooking process for that matter, but it’s endlessly comforting. It’s a Korean whole chicken dish and there are plenty of places to try it in Seoul.
The chicken is the star
You sit down at the table in the restaurant, they bring a big pot. It’s not empty of course. It has a broth, but it also has a whole chicken. The restaurant staff will either use scissors and tongs to cut up the now featherless bird, or they may just leave the tools in front of you so you can engage in the ritual.
What a way to be fully present and appreciative of the meal you’re about to have. Often the broth also comes with vegetables such as spring onions and sliced potatoes. You may add some rice cake as well. And then you’ll find all the elements on your table to create your own dipping sauce.
Soy sauce, vinegar, mustard, chilli pepper paste or powder, garlic, and spring onions too. You pick and you choose and after allowing the broth to develop all its rich flavours (the broth simmers away for a while, but the chicken is usually cooked two thirds already), you dip the mild yet juicy chicken into your sauce, the red pepper flakes stuck to the meat, a mixture of earthen colours and tastes that land like a jumbled up parcel in your mouth.
A meal with courses
Second course is the kalguksu – knife-cut noodles that fill you up if a whole chicken proves not to be enough (a whole chicken for two, that is, as this is how it’s normally served in restaurants).
There’s a third course if you have space for it, and it’s something I recommend you make space for. It’s called juk, or porridge, and it will be fried in the pot after most of the broth is drained.
Fried with the leftovers of a now rich and intense chicken and vegetable broth, the umami has nowhere left to escape except into the folds of the soft, almost melting rice. The bottom of it, stuck to the pan, crunchy and crisp, the dense flavour, the contrast between mushy and crusty – a true explosion in your mouth.
Dakhanmari in Seoul
It’s the perfect dessert and end to a meal. So satisfying that I would, in a heartbeat, return to that Dakhanmari restaurant in Sinchon that served average chicken and broth, but that blew me away with its final course porridge.
Gongneung Dakhanmari (공릉닭한마리), close to Sinchon station, is a two-storey Dakhanmari restaurant with both floor and table seating. Service and the dish itself cannot be called the best in town, but the porridge is to die for. And there are other branches spread out over Seoul that have seen better reviews, so it may be worth giving them a try.
For a better all-round experience, visit Jinokhwa Halmae Original Chicken Hanmari
(진옥화할매원조 닭한마리) in Dongdaemun. You’ll find it in the grilled fish and dakhanmari alley, a narrow pedestrian path, with smoke blowing from the briquettes that fuel the grilled fish, its smell wafting across to the opposite side of the same street. Stand close enough, and your nose will inhale the less imposing scent of chicken and vegetables.
It’s a competition of foods you will rarely encounter, where tourists and locals alike may find themselves divided. But the beauty is, you can always pick Dakhanmari and come back the same evening or the next day to have some grilled fish as well.
The Dongdaemun Dakhanmari Alley 동대문 닭한마리골목, or Grilled Fish Alley as it’s otherwise called, started expanding from the 1970s onwards, when the first dakhanmari restaurant opened there. It’s the perfect food-filled street to head to after doing some clothes shopping at Dongdaemun’s wholesale Pyounghwa Market.
Come in tow with a couple of friends and pick one of Seoul’s many dakhanmari restaurants. The heart-warming dish is always a commensal occasion, so it will be good not only for your body but also your soul.
Gongneung Dakhanmari – 공릉닭한마리
Area: Sinchon, Seoul, South Korea
Closest subway station: Sinchon (line 2), Ewha Woman’s University (line 2)
Address: 54 Yonsei-ro 2da-gil, Daehyeon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Jinokhwa Halmae Original Chicken Hanmari – 진옥화할매원조 닭한마리
Area: Dongdaemun, Seoul, South Korea
Closest subway station: Dongdaemun (line 4, line 1), Jongno 5ga (line 1)
Address: 18 Jong-ro 40ga-gil, Jongno 5(o).6(yuk)ga-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Although not quite a dakhanmari recipe, Maangchi’s chicken kalguksu soup will do an excellent job of filling the void until you can have the big pot experience.