Tuesday, June 7, 2011

On the Road. . . Korea: Vendor Food, Pt. 1

I love vendor food.  It started when I was studying in England and was introduced to late night drunk carts that spring up late and offer fried and salty alcohol minimizers.  Austin, Texas, was also a favorite food destination because they have taken vendor food and made it into a cultural identity. 
I had always heard that countries in Asia are particularly good at vendor food and was excited to try as much as possible.  The vendor food posts are split into two parts: savory and sweet. 
Savory Snacks
Eomuk and Friends
These were the first real late night vendor snacks I got to try.  Kim had taken me to the Warehouse, an expat bar where 20- and 30-somethings teaching English in Korea go to hang out.  After a couple of Cass, a Korean beer, seeing a cart of fishy, meaty, potstickery, and fried food options was like a gift from the foodie gods. 
The first one I tried was eomuk, or odeng.  I don’t really know what this is, but I love it!  It is kind of fish cake cut into long strips and then put on a stick.  They are at stalls everywhere and you tend to eat however many you want, then show the vendor the sticks.  The basic gist is that it is sheets that remind me in texture of really fluffy omelets with a hint fish.  They are cooked and floating in broth, which keeps them moist and flavorful.  I even saw someone take a cup and ladle a little broth into it to sip.  You dip the eomuk in a dark sauce that tastes like sassy soy sauce and that gives a nice saltiness.   Make sure to try them. 
The other three musketeers are fried potato cakes, potstickers, and imitation crab rolled in egg.  The one I liked the most was the potatoes, but the crab was like a lively seafood cousin of pigs in a blanket.   The potstickers were also good with light casing and chewy insides.  I’d recommend all three. 
Tteokbokki (or Ddeokbokk)
Tteokbokki is a snack of little cylinder shaped rice cakes (tteok) and eggs stir fried in gochujang.  Both times it was served in a plastic bag and then you eat it with a toothpick.  This was my all time favorite vendor food.  I first encountered the cylinder sized tteok in dak galbi and was beyond excited to find that I could get just a big old bowl of tteok.  The combination of ingredients is spicy, gummy, chewy, and tasty.  I had it once in Seoul and spent a good hour on the last night in Gangneung on a hunt for it so I could have one last helping before I went back to America.   
Dragon Bread with Bulgogi

I have had stuffed puffs at Asian restaurants in America.  These, though, were a little more like yeast bread rolls and have a nice crunchy bottom that gets a little caramelized.  They are also topped with crunchy sesame seeds on top.  The inside is oniony and meaty, but surprisingly sweet.  Korean people do appreciate sweet.  Because of the sweetness, it wouldn’t top my list of vendor foods, but it did hit the spot when I had it. 
Korean Home Fries
Kim got these during a bus ride from Gangneung to Seoul while we were stopped at a rest stop.  She said that usually they sprinkle sugar on top, but she was able to get salt instead.  They are also served with toothpicks, the vendor utensil of choice.  They are the best potatoes I’ve ever head.  Korea has some of the richest and creamiest potatoes that remind me a lot of Yukon Gold potatoes.  This treatment of them is just a simple, oil browning that makes them a little caramelized and very lip smacking good.  Perfect for an early morning breakfast nosh.  
Ddakgochi and Bundeggie
All foodie cultures worth their salt have some kind of yummy food on a stick.  Korea has Ddakgochi, or dark meat chicken cooked with a sweet teriyaki version of duck sauce.  I had it when I tried the silk worm larvae, just in case the larvae left a bad taste in my mouth. 
The description of bundeggie should go in the bizarre food post that is coming up on Sunday.  But, since bundeggie is a common vendor food, I thought I talk about it here.  I was a little nervous about them because I was afraid that being larvae, it would be really slimy and squishy.  Plus, the liquid it is served in looks like melted butter with a phemaldehyde twist. 
The taste is very surprising.  I will warn you that the taste will stay in your mouth for a quite a long time.  I was tasting bundeggie for about an hour until Kim and I had lunch.  They come in a rather large cup that is full of them.  So, get it to split, but don’t worry if you can’t eat them all since evidently even Korean people rarely finish a cup full.  The taste is a mix of earthy, inky, pickling, chewy, and nutty.  Most people had warned me that they weren’t fans, but I enjoyed them well enough. 

So, those are all my savory adventures in vendor food.  Coming up Thursday are my sweeter exploits.     
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  1. Not sure I'd try the last thing, but all the buns and other food looks delicious!

  2. What a culture clash! I've never seen some of the dishes on this post, some I have but I never say no to something I've never tried, thanks for sharing! =]

  3. Thanks for the comments! It is funny because being in Korea at times looks a lot like being in some parts of San Francisco or Oregon. Usually, just when I was starting to forget about being in another country, a new food came along to remind me.

  4. I have been eyeing a trip to Korea. Looks like you been enjoying yourself and having lots of good eats over there with the exception of bundeggie.. :)

  5. I'd highly recommend it. I spent most of my time in Gangneung, which is on the east coast of South Korea. I really liked that because I am not so much a big city person and there are lots of good days trips to be had with Gangneung as a central point. Plus, a lot of great food!


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