Monday, November 1, 2010

Special dish to fortify favored sons-in-law

Dalgi baeksuk, Cheongsong, North Gyeongsang

October 28, 2010
Dalgi baeksuk is known for its piquant taste and nutritional value. Provided by the Korea National Tourism Organization
Back in the old days, Korean women would prepare a hearty dish for their sons-in-law to give them extra nourishment during the cold season. The dish was dakbaeksuk, or boiled chicken stuffed with rice, ginseng and medicinal herbs.

Baeksuk is a class of dishes made by boiling or steaming meat or fish and is usually made with a lot of medicinal herbs and spices to disguise the odor.

In Cheongsong County, which is renowned for its nutrient-rich Dalgi mineral water, the dish was called Dalgi baeksuk, and the main ingredients were mineral water, chicken and just a few herbs.

It was considered a special treat because the additional nutrients in the water enhanced both the flavor and nutritional value of regular baeksuk.

The Dalgi spring was discovered in the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) when Kwon Sung-ha, who used to work for the court, was sent to govern Cheongsong County. Back then, Cheongsong County, often described as an island surrounded by mountains, was always short of water. Kwon discovered the Dalgi spring while he was leading a waterway project to avert a water shortage.

Dalgi comes from the word dak, which means chicken in Korean. The spring got its name from the sound it made when water spouts out of it.

The mineral water from the spring was known for its piquant taste and effectiveness in easing stomachaches. It was considered something of a rarity, and the late President Park Chung Hee even visited the town to taste it during his regime.

Dalgi mineral water is also rich in iron and gives a slight greenish color to food when cooked. Naturally, Dalgi baeksuk also features this unique greenish hue.

The mineral water has another valuable property. When used to make baeksuk, the water makes the chicken tender and lean. It also masks the potentially off-putting smell that chicken can have and has a slightly pungent, bitter taste.

With its exquisite taste and medicinal effects, the dish was considered special and eventually became famous around the country. Families in Cheongsong would serve Dalgi baeksuk, especially on the Chuseok harvest holiday and Lunar New Year.

Nowadays, there are around 40 Dalgi baeksuk restaurants in Cheongsong.

The texture and taste of Dalgi baeksuk go well with pine mushrooms, so most restaurants serve the dish with a side of pine mushrooms during the fall when they are in season.

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