Snapshots from South Korea: Bbopgi, a Sugar and Baking Soda Candy on a Stick
Last month I visited Seoul, South Korea, for the first time. Here's a look at something I ate from my one-week trip. For more, check out the rest of my Snapshots from South Korea.
I saw many street vendors selling browned sugar disks-on-sticks during my week in Seoul, but I didn't feel compelled to actually try one until one night in Jongno when, after a failed attempt to get a deep fried french fry-encrusted hot dog, I just wanted to try...something. Preferably something that wouldn't rattle my stomach at midnight (which the hot dog wouldn't have fit into, so it's probably a good thing that I couldn't find it). As the stall with freshly made sugar disks seemed non-threatening, I chose it as a random late night snack.
This common street sweet is called bbopgi (bbopggi, bbobkkee, ppokki, and probably other spellings) or dalgona. (I'm not sure what dalgona refers to, so feel free to chime in if you do.) They're made by heating sugar and baking soda in a small metal ladle, mixing the two until it foams up, dumpling the mix onto a flat metal surface and flattening with a round press, then pressing in a few simple shapes—starts, hearts, crosses, and more—before the candy hardens. Supposedly if you can eat around the shapes without cracking them—a challenge since the baking soda makes the candy airy and very brittle—you'll get another bbopgi.
While the candy tasted fine, I'm not sure I'd want another one. Then again, I disqualified myself from such a future when, after taking my second bite, I destroyed a good chunk of my bbopgi and accidentally littered the ground with sugar shards. The flavor is a flat, toasty sweetness, and the initially crunchy texture turns to sticky in your mouth. It's not the most interesting candy you'll ever eat, but it's worth trying at least once and watching the birth of your bbopgi is half the fun. I could see why kids like it: sugar + fun shapes = must consume. (Then again, at midnight on a Saturday night these were more likely sold to drunk 20-somethings than to kids.)
Although I may not love bbopgi with all my heart, I could definitely get into Ppokki Friends (related comic), cute, mostly blobby creatures related to different steps of the bbopgi-making process. Oh, how I love anthropomorphized food.