Editors note: It’s a little known fact that when the idea for Friends was first floated to TV execs, the show was originally intended to be set in Seoul. However, due to budgetary constraints and the threat of nuclear annihilation, the setting was eventually changed to New York – although not before a considerable amount of promotional material had been produced! In this never-before-seen tourism pamphlet financed by the Korean Government, the gang share their thoughts on the Korean street food scene. Enjoy!
“Everyone knows I’ll eat anything. I walk about with a spoon in my pocket and occaisonally, like in The One with the Cheesecakes, I’ll even eat food from the floor. I often get homesick for New York, so I love “Korean Junk Fusion.” This is basically western junk food K-ed up and includes Mr Wow, French-fry covered hotdogs and a unique take on toasted sandwiches. My favourite however has to be the Tteokburger stall near Gangnam Station. These burgers are packed with tasty beef and chewy rice cakes – when I first bought one I looked at it and said “how you doin?” and everybody laughed. ”
“As someone who uses humour as a defense mechanism, I was a little reluctant at first to write about such a serious topic as street food. Then I spellchecked Joey’s contribution and was like “what the hey!” As you know, I’m a company man, so my favourite Korean street food experience is pounding soju with “the boss” at a pochangmacha in Jongno-3-ga. You can get all sorts of stuff from boiled octopus to steamed clams and best of all the boss puts it on expenses. When I’m working late I also like eating from one of the many tempura-style stand-up joints in Seoul – they’re quick, cheap and filling, and if you are there at a busy time you’re guarateed just out of the fryer crispiness. Just make sure there is plenty of dukbokki sauce on mine – could it be any spicier!”
“Due to my sweet job at a University I have loads of time to devote to my passion for prowling markets in search of naive young ajummas street food. Markets often offer the best range of street food around and the food tends to be fresh and on constant rotation. Noteworthy mentions include Nampodong Market in Busan, home of the best pajeon in the world, and the Filipino market in Hyewha-dong, Seoul. Some dino buddies and I also recently checked out Gwanjang Market in Seoul whilst at a conference nearby. The market is the oldest in Seoul and a great spot for Korean Street Food classics. The bindaeduk there is out of this world! And when did we visit? When WE WERE ON A BREAK!”
“I used to be hilariously obese, so I have a pretty complex relationship with food. It’s a good thing my job as a head chef rarely requires me to actually be in the kitchen, otherwise I might started piling on the pounds again! Due to my competitive, fiesty side, I like my street food to put up a fight. As such some of my favourites are live octopus and raw fish. It costs a little more than what you usually pay for street, but for around 20-30 dollars you can choose a fish or octopus and watch it get stunned, gutted and sliced. Just don’t tell Phoebs! ”
“During my quirky, troubled upbringing, street food for me meant anything from dead rat to pickled hobo’s liver. I’m vegetarian now, so when I first got to Korea I thought I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. How totally wrong I was! Vegetarian options include anything bready (Gukwappang, gyrenppang, hoddeok etc) as well as other meat free dishes such as japchae, bindaeduk and barley bibimbap. Which reminds me of a song I just wrote! Bi-bim-baaaap, bi-bim-baaaap, bi-bi-bi-bi, bim-bim-bim-bim-bim, bi-bim-baaaaaapp.”
“You might not guess to look at me, but I like the so-called “gross” side of Korean street food. I’m never happier than when gnawing on a couple of dakbal (chickens feet) or polishing off a few slices of jokbal (pigs feet.) Both are surprisingly tasty and don’t require too much of a culinary leap! More controversial is my love for bondegi – the silk warm larvae boiled in huge vats. Even joey doesn’t like that crap! Now where did I put my SPOILER ALERT! baby? ”
Gunther’s Street Food tips:
1) Always try to eat from stalls with a long line of patrons. You know the food will be fresher and there is nothing quite like local endorsement.
2) Speciality is the key to good street food. If a stall is selling paejon, soondae, dukbokki and tempura, chances are that one (or all) of them will be below par.
3) The best street food stalls in Korea generally don’t tout for business. If they look like they don’t need nor want your money, you’re probably on to a good thing. You’re also less likely to get ripped off.
4) Try to avoid stack-em high joints in favour of somewhere that will cook to order. This is especially true of the Korean Tempura and Pajeon stalls, where sogginess tends to set in after a relatively short time.
5) Avoid vendors outside tourist attractions such as temples. In my experience, these places consistently turn out below average food at above average prices. They also tend to fall foul of at least one of the points above, meaning they should be doubly avoided.
6) Finally, the most important aspect in choosing somewhere to eat is to follow your gut. Never feel pressurized into ordering something until you properly suss it out. A place might satisfy all the positive criteria listed above but if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it!