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Aug 14, 2012 10:00 PM

Seolleongtang at Han Bat Sul Lung Tang (HANBAT SHUL -LUNG-TANG)

[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.

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  1. << 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.>>

    Are you sure nobody was speaking Yiddish, or maybe even Hebrew?

    Just asking...

    1 Reply
    1. re: Tripeler

      Heh, is it bad that I actually looked up Yiddish and Hebrew references to see if I could make the name into something coherent in either language? :-)

    2. by any chance, were there condiments (salt, chile, etc.) on the table? i've only read about this soup, but from what i've read, it's common to serve it unseasoned so you can customize it at the table.
      i'll defer to those with more experience than i, which is, um, everybody.

      2 Replies
      1. re: linus

        There were, and I neglected to say that I did use some of the seasoning, but it seemed almost wrong to use the amount that I thought would make an impact to the dish, so I probably didn't use as much as I should. I guess it's the "no soy sauce" eat-as-prepared mentality I have in regards to sushi misapplied to this dish, which, as you said, probably came completely unseasoned.

        1. re: PeterCC

          If you put soy sauce in the soup, someone will come out of the kitchen and kick your ass

      2. Yet another underperforming dish found in the Korean culinary repertoire. Hanbat isn't bad. The dish is just a waste of time and stomach space. Want a good bowl of milky broth, try JTYH/Sweethome Grill's lamb soup. Want to leave the restaurant going: WTF happened here, why am I still hungry, why is this bowl of left over guts $10? Go to a sullungtang jip.

        And O, it's expensive as ISHT at $9.

        But anywho, the restaurant has been repeatedly covered (LAW, blogs, Chow, 400 reviews on Yelp) and there has been no change here for probably 20 years.

        5 Replies
        1. re: TonyC

          i think it's much safer to say that perhaps korean food in general is not your thing, or something along those lines, rather than saying "yet another underperforming dish found in the korean culinary repertoire." What one person loves, the next person may despise. While I agree that it's a bit pricey, suhllungtang does not leave most people hungry...quite the opposite..unless, of course, you refrain from eating the rice.

          PeterCC, it may seem wrong to aggressively season what's already been cooked for you, when it comes to many dishes. As for suhllungtang, however, it's not the case. Most traditional korean restos will not keep salt on the table because koreans don't use salt when they're eating at the table...only when they're cooking. The fact that all suhllungtang jips set out salt, and not just regular table salt at that, is a clear indicator that a very healthy dosage of salt is required for the soup (along with green onions, black pepper, and for some, the red pepper paste mixture). If you choose to give suhllungtang a go again, utilize these so that in no way is the broth bland.

          1. re: namstermonster

            Thanks for the tip, namstermonster! I will do that next time. Just for sake of variety, is there another place that serves the dish that you'd recommend?

            1. re: PeterCC

              There are many places that do suhllungtang. To name a few, young dong, yang ban, e-moon oak, keungama, etc. My favorite is still hanbat, though. A lot of people like to put the drippings from the radish or kimchi into their soup. I prefer using only the salt/pepper/green onions to season my soup, eating kimchi and radish along with it. This way I can fully concentrate on the wholesome bone broth, in its simplicity. Towards the end I put the red paste into my soup for a different flavor tone.

              Try it once more...I hope you enjoy. If you don't, all's well that ends well - at least you gave it another go. :)

            2. re: namstermonster

              well said. couldn't have explained it better.

              also, i think it's safe to say that this shows how much korean food ranges though it's still a soup...

            3. re: TonyC

              I'll +1 the lamb noodle soup at JTYH. Milky goodness, and the noodles are great. I haven't tried Sweethome Grill yet, but I've heard nothing but good things.