Oh Sae Gyae Hyang: Eating Healthy Greens In Insa-dong
“Steamed outer leaves of greens with soybean paste and sesame”. The menu left a lot to interpretation I felt as I perused the options.
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Greens? Which greens? I’ve been living in Korea long enough to know that there are a whole lot of different kinds of greens and they can be used for many different dishes in a variety of ways. Outside of lettuce, cabbage and spinach I was unaware of most of the other greens until I came to Korea. We ordered the “steamed outer leaves of greens”, in Korean it was labeled “doenjang deulggae” (된장들깨) and a bowl of bibimbab and waited. The dishes arrived and the table was filled with the delicious vegetarian delights that Oh Sae Gyae Hyang, 오세계향, in Insa-dong is known for. The unassuming restaurant sits at the end of an alley that you have to know about in order to walk down or you’ll probably just pass it by and not think twice. Once inside, the restaurant is comfortable and allows for seating on the floor Korean style. The menu is pretty substantial and offers a variety of vegan and vegetarian friendly dishes.
Deulggae is something you’re probably more familiar with than you think, if you’ve lived in Korea. Deulggae comes from ggaenip, or “sesame leaves”, as they are commonly referred to, which sit on many a table with samgyeopsal and galbi. Apparently ggaenip are not sesame leaves at all, though I suppose I should have known that from eating them. They are actually perilla leaves from the mint family. Doesn’t the taste make a little more sense now?
The perilla leaves and sesame leaves came to Korea at the same time during the Unified Silla period and became known as deulggae and ggae respectively as if they were related. The deulggaenip was translated to field sesame leaves while ggaenip was translated to sesame leaf and thus the confusion. Sesame leaves are not actually used in Korean cooking only the perilla leaves, or field sesame leaves, are, so there is no chance of confusion in the kitchen, though it seems there should be.
Perilla leaves are high in fiber, calcium, iron, potassium, riboflavin and vitamins A and C, which makes this soup another one of Korea’s not only delicious but extremely healthy dishes.
I highly recommend Oh Sae Gyae Hyang for some delicious vegetarian dishes while you’re in the Insa-dong area and just next door is a great little tea house called Moon Bird Only Thinks of the Moon to enjoy after the meal.
Oh Sae Gyae Hyang (오세계향)
Jongno-gu Gwanghun-dong 59
종로구 관훈동 59
Anguk Station, exit 6. Turn left down the main Insa-dong street and make another leftinto the fourth alley just before the big Ssamzie Spiral building.
Hours: 12:00PM – 8:30PM, Closed Mondays
Cost: W7,000 ~