[Sorry for the somewhat complicated title... I figure I'd cover all of my bases in regards to the spelling of the restaurant and the dish itself.]
I had a particularly severe bout of insomnia one night. Fortuitously, I did not have to go into work the next day, and in searching for a suitable breakfast for my state of being, I came across a place in Koreatown called Han Bat Sul Lung Tang that was supposed to be good for curing hangovers (nine mentions on the first page of reviews on Yelp), which was pretty close to how I was feeling.
It was half past nine when I dragged myself into the place. The sign on the storefront was strangely rendered in English, with the first two Korean words combined into one, and strange hyphens prepending the final two words. The middle word was spelled “Shul”, which is apparently wrong, as there is no “sh” or “h” sound in the word. Of course, none of this detered me from entering the establishment.
Three tables were occupied, and the waitress greeted me in Korean. Unfortunately, I don’t speak it, which I made abundantly clear by shrugging my shoulders and looking confused. She switched to English, somewhat exasperatedly, perhaps assuming I was so Americanized as to not be able to speak my mother tongue. She was somewhat correct, except that I am not Korean, and the language I don’t speak (very well) is Mandarin. :-)
The place basically serves two dishes: sul lung tang (or seolleongtang), a soup made from boiling beef bones for many hours until all the flavors and nutrients are extracted ($8.22, or $9 with tax); soo yook, which is simply described on the menu as “boiled beef” ($16.56, or $18 with tax). You can specify the cuts of meat that is served with each dish. For the latter dish, it’s intestines, tripe, and spleen (all three is one choice), or flank, or mixed. For the former dish, it is the same three choices with the additional option of brisket or tongue. This being an offal-related blog, I went with the intestines, tripe, and spleen with my sul lung tang.
The soup came out pretty quick, all milky white and swimming with meat, scallions, and dangmyeon (clear noodles). It was served with bowls of white rice, kimchi, and kkakdugi (radish kimchi). I tried the soup straight up at first. I was expecting a dense, unctuous stock. Instead I was surprised to find it so mellow. No, it wasn’t delicate like dashi, but it was both mild and full of body. This wasn’t a hangover fighter; it was a hangover diplomat.
Next I tried the two kimchi vegetables. Since it’s supposed to be mixed with the soup, I was somewhat disappointed that the kimchi was not as spicy or tangy as I’d have liked, to help season the somewhat bland soup. Instead, it was rather sweet. I threw the cabbage into the soup, along with the rice, and finally went to work on the meat.
The tripe and intestines were, like the soup, rather mild, though the kimchi helped. The most flavorful of the organ meats was definitely the spleen. It had a spongy consistency that reminded me of a cross of cow lung and liver. Definitely an acquired taste, or, uh, texture, but I had no problems with it. :-)
On the whole, I’m glad to have tried my first sul lung tang, and it did get me out of the sleep-deprived funk I was in, but it didn’t have the bold flavors I associate with Korean food. Even the relatively mild kimchi didn’t add too much to the dish. While I knew it wouldn’t be as hearty and flavorful as haejangguk (literally “soup for relieving hangovers”), at least based on ingredients and recipes (I haven’t had that hangover soup...yet!), I think sul lung tang would actually be better at filling a chicken-soup role. I’m not sure I’d seek this soup out unless I thought it was a cure for whatever may be ailing me.
[Full-size photos, with captions, at http://offaloffal.com/2012/08/seolleo...]