The popular street food hotteok (hoddeok, hodduk, or if I were to say it out loud, ho-duck) is a brown sugar, cinnamon, and nut-filled pancake-like dessert found on the streets of South Korea. The first time I came across it with Dan Gray, I didn't know what I was looking at.
Me: [while passing a truck with a big sign in Korean] "Do I wanna eat whatever's in that truck?"
Dan: "Yeah, it's hotteok!"
Me: "OH GOD, YES."
(This is how I speak in real life. I try to tone it down in my writing.)
This truck in I-don't-know-where Seoul made the healthier baked version of hotteok, as opposed to the deep fried version I would come across the following day. Although not necessarily healthy, it certainly doesn't taste indulgent. The thin, crispy dough didn't really taste like anything, but there was plenty of flavor from the brown sugar, cinnamon, and black sesame seed filling to make up for it. Sweet, spicy, nutty, and crunchy; this is good stuff.
But I hadn't fully experienced hotteok until I had the fried version—a plump, golden disc of fried dough filled with gooey goodness—during an afternoon eating binge in Insadong. This is what everyone was talking to me about. Rob brought some friends and me to a specific stand that he said was the most popular one in the neighborhood—it would garner long lines when cheaper stands nearby wouldn't—and waited in a short line as three women in the tent busily stuffed and fried hotteok. According
Just ₩900 ($0.73) gets you a hefty piece of sugary fried carb goodness, crispy on the outside, soft and a little chewy on the inside. According to JoongAng Daily, the dough is made of wheat flour, glutinous rice flour, corn flour, and...peas? You can see a bit of pea action in that smidge of green in the frontmost hotteok above. Only two piece of paperboard come between you and burning hot dough.
At first, it didn't seem like there was much filling in my hotteok. I cautiously nibbled at the edge—it was dangerously hot—and came upon a pocket of air. Or so I thought.
"You can try to be careful, but the filling will just come out when you least suspect it," Rob warned. I was skeptical—my hotteok clearly looked barren.
But hell, I'm the hotteok-noob and I don't know anything. The filling really does just splodge out when you least suspect it, or at least if you try to avoid it since nibbling around the empty parts makes less space for the molten chopped peanut-cinnamon-brown sugar filling to hide in. I knew my hotteok had it in for me when, after taking a mostly goo-less bite, about 99 percent of the filling squirted out onto my shirt. Not only is this stuff burning hot, but if you're not careful it will shoot out at you. Or someone else. I'm only thankful that it had landed on my shirt and not my face/exposed skin, as the latter would've resulted in lots of screaming coming out of my mouth.
I learned my lesson. Don't hide from the sugary lava; embrace it. Or else it might attack you, resulting in a trip to Starbucks to get a cup of water and use it to scrub sticky brown streaks out of your shirt.
Of course, fried hotteok is worth the trouble. This is another one of those, "Why can't someone make this back at home?" foods. This is not a hard food to like—it's deep fried and it's sweet. A hotteok cart would certainly bring joy to any area it is located in.
Hotteok Stand in Insadong
I couldn't direct you to this stand if I were in Seoul, but it's the same stand mentioned in this JoongAng Daily. Assuming their location hasn't changed, here are the directions:
Walk along the Ssamji-gil in Insa-dong toward Jongno and the stand is on your left across from Gallery Sang. Take Line 3 to Anguk Station, exit 2.