Ginseng root stars in Korean soup

CHICAGO Comfort comes in many forms. In Korea - especially when it's cold outside - it's as simple as a steaming bowl of sam gye-tang. But even in Koreatown, it's hard to find. In the Mayfair neighborhood - just West of Koreatown - the Ssyal Ginseng House is the place to go. Look for the signs proclaiming the "Korean Ginseng Chicken Soup House." Once inside, you'll see the restaurant's namesake - lots of ginseng roots - preserved in alcohol for sale on its own.

The meal begins with tiny Cornish game hens, which are washed and then stuffed with an assortment of ingredients, including fresh garlic cloves and red dates; plus, fresh ginseng root, which Koreans swear by its health benefits, and short-grain rice. The hen is tied up with a toothpick, before being submerged in a ginger-and-ginseng-laced broth in a giant pot.

After about 45 minutes at a rapid simmer, the lid is removed, and the hen is carefully transferred to an individual serving bowl, along with a few ladlefuls of the rich, infused broth and an extra piece of boiled ginseng. It's heated over high heat, until it boils, at which point the fat is skimmed from the top. Meanwhile, an assortment of vegetarian sides, called panchan, is assembled into tiny bowls, along with some nutty brown rice. The boiling bowl is transferred to a large cart, along with all of the sides and the rice, and then is carefully wheeled out to the dining room, where everything is set before you.

Add some of the optional salt and pepper if you like, plus some freshly-chopped scallions, which will give the soup an extra jolt of flavor. Alternate between the assortment of cabbage, radish or brown rice on the side.. and then mix up the poached, tender Cornish game hen, along with the white rice and ginseng in the bowl. It's a meal that's both satisfying and good for you, no matter which country you're from.

Not a lot of English is spoken at the restaurant, but they have large color pictures of the eight or so items on the menu, so you can just point to what you want.

The owner's family runs a ginseng farm in the Midwest, so you can also pick up the raw product there, as well as a number of other unique Korean homeopathic items.

Ssyal Ginseng House
4201 W. Lawrence Ave.


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