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The primate's completely non-comprehensive guide to street food in Korea

Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.: The primate's completely non-comprehensive guide to street food in Korea

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The primate's completely non-comprehensive guide to street food in Korea

Street food is such a glorious thing on television. The images I usually think of are quickly made sandwiches, meats on sticks, or enticing dumplings and spicy things slopped into bowls or paper and eaten as you wander a street filled with food stalls. I always imagined the smell of a thousand different delicacies wafting through the air, harsh lighting, and spicy, steamy food on a cold night. It's really not all that glorious here in the good old Republic of Korea. It's not bad though. Here's a few of my favorite eats to pick up on the street.

1. Mandu - My students and coworkers would be very quick to point out that mandu (dumplings) aren't Korean at all, but Chinese. So far as I've learned in Korea, the Chinese only eat three things: Mandu, Jjajang (black bean sauce, on rice - jjajangbap or noodles - jjajangmyeon), and tang soo yook (sweet and sour pork). I don't care. My favorite street food in Korea is dumplings. Whether it's a hot afternoon or a cold night, the mysterious clouds of steam coming out of the side of a building works like a siren call on me. There's a few different kinds. Kogi mandu are my favorite. They're the ones stuffed with meat, glass noodles, and green onions. Kimchi mandu are not my favorite, but they're okay. They're stuffed with kimchi. Imagine that. Goon mandu are pretty good too, as they're deep fried.

photo by Sung Sook on Flickr
2. Tteok bokki - Tteok bokki is probably the quintessential Korean street food. it's long, tubular bits of rice cake stewed in a spicy hell broth based in ketchup and Korean red pepper. It's a spicy, hot snack that will burn your lips and your intestines as it dry rubs you with Korean spices while moving through you. This isn't my favorite Korean food at all, and I haven't eaten it in over a year.  Also, if they tell you it's spicy, it's a rare case where it probably is spicier than you imagine.

Hoddeok - Korean Doughnut!
3. Hoddeok - This one is actually hard to pass by. It smells at once familiar and exotic. It tastes great. It's cheap. Isn't that what you want in street food? This is basically a doughnut, fried in hot oil, then cut open with a pair of scissors and stuffed with walnuts, sunflower seeds, brown sugar, and honey. It's delicious. It also gives you the added benefit of hearing yourself get fatter as you chew. I'd highly recommend this one to anyone who visits Korea. Find the vendor with the long line, and they're probably selling these.

4. Sausages and mystery meats on a stick - You don't even need a picture for these. Hot dogs, corn dogs, and different kinds of sausages and mystery meats on a stick are widely available on the streets of Korea. Often they're covered in a spicy barbecue-like sauce. Other times just with ketchup and honey mustard. Corn dogs are treated slightly differently here though, as after they're pulled from the fryer they are rolled in granulated sugar and covered with ketchup.

5. Sponge-like fish cakes on a stick - Odeng cakes are folded and skewered, and left to soak in a fishy broth at some food carts. I haven't managed to make myself try these as I fear hepatitis, and you only have to watch for so long to see that the bowl of soy sauce and scallions that these delicacies are dipped in is never changed, only refilled. Double dipping is common place in Korean culture, and this is one food I avoid. I'll take my fish cakes in soup at restaurants, please.

There it is, a completely non-comprehensive guide to Korean street food as told through my perspective. Do you have a favorite street food? Can you not resist the sight of danger dogs on the street? Leave a note in the comments about your favorite sketchy snacks.

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At July 3, 2012 at 10:29 AM , Blogger Mom said...

Mmmmmm...mandu! And you forgot to mention the joy of the hot oil burning your mouth because you can't wait to eat the hoddeok! I wish I was there to have some mandu with you!

At July 3, 2012 at 10:40 AM , Blogger Charlie Patrick said...

The mandu lady I took you to when you visited closed up shop. :( I haven't found anybody who makes mandu quite as well yet. Sigh.

At July 3, 2012 at 2:55 PM , Blogger Chongolio Randybain said...

I used to eat at this crack in the wall place in Palo Alto on California ST. If I remember correctly, the guy only had a few things on the menu which he cooked in this ridiculously tiny kitchen. One of which was pot stickers, but they were the best damn pot stickers I ever ate. I want some now


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