Andong, a city south-east of Seoul, is famous for its chicken stew. Boiled bone-in chicken, vegetables and cellophane noodles in a sweet, garlicky soy sauce all helped along with a spirited ration of chilli. I’ve often passed by a popular jjimdak chain: white walls, dark wood furniture with the table settings housed in a big bowl in the centre of the table. People eating a dark stew off huge communal white plates. Identical, be it in Seoul or Cheonan. And like clockwork, every meal time wandering past one of these joints my queries were answered with “안동찜닭 (Andong jjimdak)” with the added disclaimer of “it’s very spicy”.
Important, really, because you better believe Korean spicy is no laughing matter.
But last weekend I was on the hunt for chilli. We got lost in the night-time exuberance of Yeonsinnae, a bustling tangle of narrow streets lined with shops and cafes and restaurants. With another layer of shops and cafes and restaurants if you’ll only look up. The kind of area so common in Korea, yet so surprising and lively to foreign eyes. We finally convinced ourselves to eat jjimdak as planned, not octopus from the place with fishtanks spilling out onto the street, or red-sauced and fiery chickens feet.
At 봉추찜닭 (Bongchu Jjimdak) the seats may be hard, but the food arrives almost immediately. A huge steaming dark platter of soy sauce chicken stew punctuated by anomalous rounds of crunchy cucumber. The salty and sweet sauce is gloriously pungent with garlic, but the chilli-heat fails to live up to expectation. This was no blow-your-head off experience, whether this is negative is debatable. Unfortunately, though, this jjimdak suffered the common fate of stewed chicken: overcooked, dry meat, Grandma-soft vegetables. What started as a dark viscous sauce, well suited for drenching a piece of wizened chicken breast, was rapidly absorbed by the noodles, which ended up tasting great, by the way.
Andong jjimdak has so much promise as a dish, and although I wouldn’t rush back to eat it at Bongchu Jjimdak this meal did provide a glimmer of just how good it could be. When the weather finally cools, I believe a visit to Andong to eat Jjimdak in its natural surrounds, is on the cards.