Thursday, November 19, 2009

Korean street food

The temperature was below zero in Korea this week, thus making it the perfect weather for cowering inside hostels and when venturing out, street food. I love anything cooked off of a Sterno grill on the side of the road at any time of the year, but when it's cold out I appreciate it that much more.

I was exploring Dongdaemun Market in Seoul after realizing that perhaps my tiny suitcase filled with summer dresses had been more optimistic than realistic, and was desperately searching for a hat and gloves (I'd already picked up a scarf in Japan). But who can shop when confronted with dozens of street food stands colored like carnivals and with their own portable heaters?

One of my great fears in life is to be caught out cold or hungry unawares. This is why I carry a big purse and generally have an extra sweater in it, and why I eat every two hours. You never know when you'll get stuck somewhere with no food, so you should eat when you can. Street food appeals to me for its immediacy. You don't have to worry where your next meal will come from, you can just eat something on a stick right now.

The places in Dongdaemun Market aren't itty-bitty street food stands that only sell a few things like fish cakes on sticks or ddukbokki (spicy chewy rice cakes). These are full-on minature restaurants that have relatively extensive menus, but are located inside a tent.

The proprietress tried to sell us octopus or even a few giant clams by poking them with a chopstick, but we settled for eel, primarily because it was the most disgusting looking thing she had. She told us repeatedly it was a snake.

I was delighted when we were served on real plates, but inside plastic bags or wrapped in tinfoil.

To be honest, I cannot pretend that I liked this eel. It was too chewy and had a bit of a fecal taste to it, like shrimp that hadn't been deveined. After gorging myself on unagi in Japan I'm spoiled. But who knows, maybe it was actually a snake.

Of course as determined I was to like everything I tried in Korea--which hasn't been too hard so far--I soldiered on and managed to eat a fair amount of snake/eel, a couple of the ddukbokki, and a giant, greasy pajeon (seafood pancake). Afterwards we were intoxicated with the huge quantity of grease we had just consumed. But somehow it makes me feel less guilty when this sort of thing happens outdoors.

1 comment:

  1. It looks delicious. Is it all super hot and spicy? On my stop in Pusan, Korea in '73, my main memory was being stared at and followed by crowds of jeering children and some adults. After the circumspect behavior of the Japanese it was a shock. Americans were NOT popular. Is it true the Korean war was never declared over?

    It must be different now. My other memory was the intensity of commingled garlic breath on the buses. It could have peeled off the first layer of skin.

    Off topic, I've only put three reviews on Yelp, and they all have been taken down. One was very negative, another was mildly chiding. They wwere both removed because apparently the owners could afford to do so. Meanwhile a favorable review I posted for Razan's in Berkeley, at the owner's request, was gone within a couple days, as I surmise that Razan was too cheap to pay Yelp. A pox on them.