North Korean Chicken Soup

north korean style chicken soup

I’ve blogged previously about Korean sam gye tang, an herbal, medicinal chicken soup. But tasty as it is, that is not the chicken soup I grew up on. (One of the reasons being that children aren’t always served sam gye tang, as ginseng is supposedly overpowering for children).

I grew up on North Korean chicken soup with “ohn bahn.” Ohn bahn is a spicy chicken mixture that sits, garnish-like, atop clear chicken broth and rice, in a deceptively simple composition. But it is so much more than garnish–it is the heart of this soup’s flavor. It is this spicy chicken that brings the spirit of this chicken soup alive on my tongue, spicy and flavorful, often bringing a vigorous line of sweat to my upper lip as well as endless delight and comfort.

north korean ohn bahn for chicken soup

This particular soup has made me VERY picky about chicken soup. I had not realized how close my heart and tastebuds lie to North Korean food, but apparently that is the food of my heart and childhood, just as it was the food of my mother’s childhood, which started in Pyongyang in North Korea where this dish originates.

And while I grew to make and adore Jewish chicken soup, with fluffy matzo balls (I like “floaters” not “sinkers”), chunks of celery and carrot, garnished with dill…North Korean Soup with Ohn Bahn is THE pinnacle of chicken soup for me. (And it goes without saying that Campbell’s chicken soup has always brought a big frown to my face. Like I said, I am a chicken soup snob).

I thought long and hard before sharing the directions to making the soup here–but why not share what I love with others? I would be thrilled to proliferate a family recipe.

Recipe follows…


Sorry for the approximation style of this recipe, but I just make this by tossing a handful of this, that, and mixing together, tasting as I go…so here is where you can start. Most of the making of this dish is tasting as you go, making sure the flavors meld–you want to make sure it’s plenty spicy, so don’t skimp on either the garlic or the Korean red hot pepper flakes.


1 whole chicken, thawed
8-10 cups water (or thereabouts)
1 package tofu
About a handful or two (or more) of Korean red hot pepper flakes
5-8+ cloves garlic
1-2 bunches of scallions

Bring water to a boil. Add chicken and tofu. Bring to a simmer. Pick out tofu when it floats. Keep chicken cooking until it is cooked. (meanwhile, skim the water of the “scum”)

When chicken is cooked, lower heat and shred the chicken meat. Shred it very finely.

Mash tofu.

Put shredded chicken in a bowl. Add mashed tofu. Add hot pepper, garlic, scallions and salt–and mix everything up by hand. Taste–it should taste a bit salty but not be overpoweringly salty. And the chicken mixture should have a substantial amount of hot pepper in it.

Serve–put rice in the broth and top with the ohn bahn. Mix up and eat! MRMMMMMm!

north korean style chicken soup

21 responses to “North Korean Chicken Soup

  1. I’ve been looking for a good chicken soup recipe, and this looks great. I find the thought of making traditional stock (bones plus mirepoix) incredibly frightening so this is ideal. I have a stupid question — how do you shred the chicken?

  2. I hope you like it–the broth is super simple, and the soup’s “flavor” comes from the ohn bahn.

    You shred the chicken as follows:
    wait for the chicken to cool down. Then start ripping the meat off the bones, making sure you shred the meat until it’s very very fine (ie., no “chunks” of meat). you just keep ripping the meat into little pieces, basically–until it’s about the texture you see in the pictures above.

  3. Thank you for posting this! It looks delish, and definitely like excellent comfort food. Very generous of you to share it.

  4. This has definitely made my list of things to try. The leftover chicken meat from making soup always seems sort of bland because the flavor went into the soup. This seems like a good way to spice it up.

  5. Thanks for directing me here, Christine! I’ve made sam gye tang, but this soup looks to die for. Will have to try it soon. I’ve been on a soup and stew kick lately. Yum!

  6. I hope you enjoy it–it certainly is one of my favorite foods ever. πŸ™‚ The ohn-bahn is so simple to make and super super tasty.

  7. Hey wait a minute! My mom did the same thing w/chicken soup except it was minus the hot pepper (black pepper only) and the dubu, and her family is originally from the north…HMMM…I grew up just thinking that’s how she made chicken soup and to think…

  8. I think it is wonderful that your mom makes her own version of this North Korean soup! My mom puts black pepper in hers (the soup part) but it has never dawned on us to replace the hot pepper with black pepper!

  9. this is one of my favorite things to eat in the winter!

    do you mind if i post your recipe on my site(and of course, giving you credit for it)?

  10. hi anna: yes you may–thank you for giving credit to my family recipe. πŸ™‚

  11. i personally prefer the sam gae tang over the north korean spicy chicken soup, especially for serving guests. the north korean chicken soup seems a somewhat shabby and ghetto… even though the taste isn’t bad at all!

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  13. What a treat to find this recipe! I also grew up on this soup and haven’t been able to find the recipe anywhere. Thanks!

  14. Christine, how long do you cook the whole chicken for? 2 hours? How do you know when its done? and do you clean the chicken at all before boiling it? Is there any changes to make with using a fresh, not-frozen chicken? oh so many questions..Im so determined to try this recipe this weekend. Thanks!

  15. Hi Ashleigh: good questions! And I’m sorry I left that info out! πŸ™‚ I usually cook the chicken until the meat starts falling off the bones (so long as it’s not pink/bloody…make sure the chicken is COOKED, and you’re better erring on the side of slightly overcooked than undercooked because undercooked chicken is a no-no). (And before boiling it, I rinse the chicken off). If you have a fresh-non-frozen chicken, ALL THE BETTER, because that’s probably going to be the best tasting chicken, ever. πŸ™‚

  16. Ok..being Korean I GOTTA try this. Sounds Super easy! But what tofu do I get? Silken or Firm?

  17. Hi JI: I just use firm tofu. πŸ™‚ (Good question).

    Ashleigh: an addendum–since you’re going to shred the chicken anyway…I just take a knife, and sneak a peek inside the meat to see if it’s pink (if so, I cook it further). If the meat is cooked/white, then I lift the chicken out.

  18. My father’s side is from Kaesong but I’ve never seen a soup like this. I am so excited to try it! Thank you for sharing.

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