If you were walking down the Boulevard du Port Royal in the 13th arrondissement, it probably wouldn’t even occur to you to go in to the restaurant Jong-no Samgyetang, so uninviting does the small restaurant look from the street. But if you do – and you absolutely should – you will be in for a fabulous surprise.
Inside, all is plain and colourless, with the exception of a couple of small framed pictures on one wall and a round photo on another. Color and beauty are reserved for the delectable dishes, served by a charming young man and woman.
A good example is the dong nae, or spring-onion pancake, which we had as a starter. Made with rice and wheat flour, scallions, calamari, shrimp, chili and egg, it was perfection, with its distinct flavors and crispy outer bits contrasting nicely with the softer inner parts. Two similar pancakes are also available: yang gu, with zucchini, and busan, with garlic greens.
We also had to try the fried chicken, which also came three ways: plain or with chili or soy sauce, all of them made with dark meat, wheat, corn and rice flour, peanuts, garlic and sesame oil. We went for the hot version: crunchy and beautifully caramelized, without the slightest hint of greasiness.
Those two dishes may have been stunning, but the pièce de résistance was yet to come: the restaurant’s specialty, which has even been added to its name, samgyetang, or ginseng chicken soup. In this supposedly medicinal Korean soup, traditionally eaten on hot summer days, a whole young chicken is boiled with rice, ginseng and jujube. The resulting white sauce is delicately flavored, and the flesh of the chicken delightfully succulent. I single-handedly ate almost all of this addictive dish in spite of having filled up on the starters shared with my friend.
Sitting on top of the stew, along with a couple of gingko nuts and a jujube fruit, was a single chestnut, which blossomed like a flower in my mouth, gradually releasing waves of fragrant flavor. I never knew that chestnuts had it in them!
We were too full for dessert, but in any case, the only one on offer was artisanal green-tea or sesame ice cream (which I have heard from other sources is delicious). From the very short wine list, we chose an excellent 2019 Côtes du Rhône from Domaine Lefebvre d’Anselme.
Get to Jong-no Samgyetang as soon as you can. The food is not only incredibly good but may even be good for you. I am still dreaming about the immensely satisfying samgyetang, as perfect for a cold winter evening in Paris as for a hot Korean summer day.Favorite