A Hamburger Today
Snapshots from South Korea: Fried Things on Sticks
From May 8 to May 12 I visited Seoul for the first time, mostly to eat as much food as I could and learn about a cuisine I knew little about.
Judging from the popularity of street food (and restaurants in general) in Seoul, I'm under the impression that Seoulites are hungry all the time, or they really like eating. Which means, aside from not knowing how to speak Korean, I fit right in.
The variety of food was overwhelming, making it impossible to tackle in its entirety. If you want grilled meats, sweet potato french fries, dried fish, rice cakes, taco-like concoctions, boiled silkworm pupae*, waffles, or cream puffs while roaming around the city—Myeongdong being my most oft-visited neighborhood during my trip—you should be able to find it on a nice day or night. But it's not just the central foodstuff that's important in street food. Street food tends to incorporate two other important characteristics: deep frying and sticks.
It wasn't my intention to pick foods that resided in both the "deep fried" and "comes on a stick" categories; that's just how it worked out.
First "fried thing on a stick" was the Tornado Potato, a swirl-cut potato wrapped around a long stick and deep fried. Although this snack isn't limited to South Korea, the first I ever heard of it (and seemingly most of the Internet) was when I read Seoul-based blogger Superlocal's post about it.
The vendor took a Tornado Potato fresh out of his oil vat then rolled it in powdered cheese before handing me what was basically a really long potato chip. But a freshly fried potato chip. On a stick! Crispy + carby + fatty = delicious. Get your own spiral cutter to make them at home. (If you look at that site, you'll see hot dog dogs wrapped in Tornado Potatoes. I can't believe I didn't see anyone in Seoul doing that.)
Second "deep fried food on a stick" was the french fry-encrusted battered hot dog topped with a squiggle of ketchup. I tracked it down more out of a necessity than want; it sounded too excessive to pass up. Like the Tornado Potato, I found this gem somewhere in Myeongdong, at a stand that was also selling tteokbokki, non-french fried hot dogs on sticks, fish cake-wrapped hot dogs on sticks, and fried dumplings. The FFEBHD was easily the least appetizing thing there. On top of that, I had unfortunately come down with some sort of nauseating sickness that morning and didn't have an appetite.
It tasted like what it was made of without any surprisingly eye-opening flavor combinations to be found: fried potato chunks around soft, mildly sweet bread, around a processed meat core accented by the tang of ketchup. My friend and I shared a few bites before deciding that it had to go so we could save our stomachs for better things. I can't imagine how anyone could eat a whole one unless they were starving or drunk.
But someone must be buying them or else that woman wouldn't be snipping all those french fries for the FFEBHD.
If I had more time I would've liked to have tried more savory street food (I've got a sweet review coming up). Then again, I'm not sure anything would've been better than the crispy tteokboki I had on my first day.
* The weird thing about bundaegi, steamed/boiled silkworm pupae, is that it didn't smell all that bad from afar, but up close was another matter. From a distance, it had kind of sweet, nutty, inoffensive smell; up close, it was more putrid, dank, and excrement-like. And then it has the potential to haunt you, as I found out after getting that first whiff and subsequently picking up phantom bundaegi stenches. I know someone much be eating it since I came across it multiple times while roaming around Insadong and Myeongdong; I just didn't see anyone actually...eating it. If you like bundaegi, feel free to tell me what I missed out on.