Traditional Seoul Cuisine, Sparrow Skewers: Is It Still Eaten Today?

Have You Heard Of Sparrow Skewers (참새구이)?

Sparrow skewers gained popularity around the 1950s in the Myeong-dong area in Seoul. Before large-scale chicken farms developed in Seoul, sparrow meat was the most common and easily accessible type of meat. In fact, sparrow meat is mentioned in Joseon Dynasty cookbooks. During that era, sparrows were abundant, and methods for preserving them were well-documented. It was noted that after removing the feathers and entrails of the sparrow, they were placed in a jar with gardenia seeds and green onions, then covered with boiled and cooled oil and sealed with lime, allowing preservation for up to 5-6 months. However, preparing and eating small sparrows required considerable effort and ingredients, indicating that it wasn’t a commoners’ dish but likely a delicacy for the yangban (noble class) during the Joseon Dynasty.

Until the 2000s, there were several sparrow skewer restaurants gathered in Pimatgol (an alley of eateries stretching from Jongno 1-ga to Jongno 6-ga in Seoul). However, due to redevelopment in this area, the restaurants scattered. A few remaining sparrow skewer places continue to operate near Jongno District Office. The price is about 15,000 KRW for two sparrows on a skewer, roughly 8,000 KRW per sparrow, making it quite expensive. When visiting a sparrow skewer restaurant, you’ll mostly find older workers who cannot forget the taste of sparrow skewers from the past. Typically, customers are in their 40s or 50s.

Taste of Sparrow Skewers

Sparrow skewers are savory and delicate, with very fine bones that can be eaten whole, adding a crispy texture. They are usually dipped in salt and paired well with soju or clear rice wine. Historically, sparrow skewers were also considered a royal delicacy served to kings, making it quite a treat. Some people may find their appearance off-putting, as sparrows are small and are grilled whole, including their heads.

If you’re curious about it, you can visit the two restaurants listed in this post!

1. Doribang

????36, Dadong-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul,South Korea

2. Chamsae Jib (House of Sparrow)

????74, Sambong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea

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