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곰탕 (what could it mean?)

This is a very common question that I get from my non-Korean friends.

“What’s 곰탕? Is there really 곰 in there?”

And as you know, 곰 means “bear”, the animal. :-) So imagine - a bear soup … hehe.


But in fact it has nothing to do with bears(곰) although it’s 곰 + 탕(soup). If you look at the sign in the picture above, it says 닭곰탕 too. So it must have something to do with 닭(chicken) and 곰(bear) together in a soup? :-)

The truth is, 곰 is actually a noun coming from the verb “고다”. And 고다 means to boil something to a pulp or let the flavor come out of something by boiling in water (usually with various spices added) for many hours. So, 곰 is not the animal ‘bear’ but a nominalization of 고다, therefore the act of 고다. So 곰탕 is a soup that you make by boiling something for a long period of time until the soup decreases in volume and turns very thick and rich.

What usually goes into a 곰탕 is cow bones, but here they also put in chicken.

I don’t know how tasty it might sound to you now, it’s one of the must-try menus when you come to Korea! :-) Has anyone had 곰탕 before? :-)

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