Gamjatang is probably one of the most popular hot pots available in South Korea. Filled with potatoes, dried cabbage, and pork bones, the tang makes a hearty meal although it is often consumed as an anju that goes with soju.

One of the Seoul’s oldest restaurants is responsible for creating what has now become a Korean pop culture. Established soon after the Korean War, Buamjib was founded by late Lee Du-hwan, who first started off selling breads before opening up a small restaurant. Like many other post-war eateries, Lee and his wife cooked up whatever the customers requested, mostly homemade-style chigae, boiled stew of all kind.

When the restaurant was inherited by Lee’s son and daughter-in-law, it featured what was then called gamjaguk for the first time. The new owners eventually changed the name of the joint to Taejo Gamjaguk. There is a story behind its name change. In 1970s, the staffs working at the restaurant left to start their own business, featuring a very similar menu called gamjatang instead of gamjaguk.  So what is the difference between a guk and a tang? In general, both guk and tang refer to soupy meal, but guk usually has thinner broth and more liquid while tang often features stews with more chunks.

The gamjaguk at Taejo is definitely more tang than guk. A single order includes a hot pot filled with two large pork bones along with potatoes, greens, and other side toppings such as glass noodles and sliced rice cakes. They use two huge pots to boil up two different kinds of bones separately–beef soup bones and pork bones–then mix the two by 1:1 ratio to create a dense and flavourful soup.

Gamjatang, like many post-war Seoul fares, was food for the poor. The beef was scarce and expensive. Reuse of pork bones, after slicing off all the good parts, made perfect sense for the peasants at the time. Sucking off the last part of flesh off the bones was probably a struggle to get protein, or just a struggle to survive in the ruins of war.

Hand-written menu on the wall

On the old, rusty walls of Taejo, you can easily find the traces of late founder Lee, who loved to write. He wrote a little song praising his delicious creation as well.

Taejo is still considerate of their customers. The price here is surprisingly affordable. A single serving of gamjatang is worth 7,000 won, and double serving is 12,000. You can add instant ramen noodles or fried-at-the-table rice to leftover broth, which is the cherry on top.

Taejo Gamjaguk 태조감자국
5, Dongsomun-ro 18-gil, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul