Anyone for Corpse Soup?

In my blog post last week, I tried to explain how I often end up genuinely enjoying “weird food” in countries where I stay a while. I was reminded of this at lunch today, when I felt a craving for cheonggukjang, or fermented soybean paste stew.

Cheonggukjang (청국장) is a stew made from soybeans that have been boiled and fermented a few days. The restaurant where I eat it serves it with rice and vegetables, to be mixed together like a bibimbap.

The smell is where cheonggukchang gets weird. I’ve had it a few times now and I quite enjoy the taste, but even knowing what to expect, the pungent odor made my nose hairs curl when the restaurant lady brought it to my table. There’s a distinct overtone of wet gym clothes going on here. Folklore has it that the dish got its nickname of “corpse soup” when Korean exchange students in Germany cooked it in a dorm, and the neighbors called the police thinking they smelled a rotting corpse.

Mixed with rice and veggies, it’s really quite good. Its taste is pungent and complex. It’s considered by Koreans to be one of the healthiest dishes in existence, as fermented soybeans are filled with antioxidants and vitamins.

Wikipedia claims that some scientist invented odorless chunggukchang. But what’s the fun in that?

About Daniel Roy

Daniel is a writer, backpack foodie, slow traveler, and endurance runner. He is the author of the upcoming book, "The Way of Slow Travel: A Hands-On Guide to the Best Travel of Your Life."


  1. Interesting…if I ever visit Korea, I’ll have to remember to stay away from this “soup”…sadly I am not as adventurous when it comes to food as you seem to be!

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