Thanks to the influx of the popular Korean-fusion food truck Kogi and its imitators, an Angeleno is most likely to think of sesame seed-sprinkled beef on corn tortillas when talking about “Korean street food.”
Obviously, street food takes a different scene in the actual streets of Korea. Instead of the rumbling, Twitter-savvy, colorful trucks that line the streets of campus, street food in Korea typically takes a more traditional stand. Called pojangmacha, these stationary food stalls are usually longtime local hangouts built into unremarkable tents.
As chaste and unadorned as they might seem, pojangmachas never fail to lure a young student returning home from school with the wicked sizzle and aroma of deep-fried red bean donuts or draw in couples for a cozy hot snack of fish cake skewers in the winter.
Unfortunately, the sprawling landscape of Los Angeles and its strict health regulations mean that it’s difficult to recreate an authentic pojangmacha. But for curious students who just want to get a taste of some popular street food the way they do it in Korea, all it takes is a 15-minute ride into Koreatown.
Hoddeok: glutinous honey pancakes
Let’s start with the least intimidating item first. Drive out to the California Market on S. Western Avenue and Fifth Street. There, you’ll find a small, seemingly forgettable food stand just outside the market — until you take a waft of the heavenly smell of fried pancakes.
These flat, dense glutinous rice cakes called hoddeok are stuffed with brown sugar and cinnamon, which caramelizes into a thick, flavorful syrup that will ooze out and burn you if you’re not careful.
The best way to describe this cinnamon-infused snack is that it’s a hybrid of all the best components of the McGriddle, a Cinnabon and mochi — rolled and flattened into a pancake and fried into a crunchy, gooey and chewy syrup bomb.
Ddeokbokki: spicy rice cakes
All sugared out? Time to spice things up a bit with ddeokbokki, a dish of cylinder-shaped rice cakes stir-fried in a sweet and spicy sauce.
Don’t let the redness of the dish scare you. The main ingredient in the sauce is gochujang, which is a traditional Korean red pepper paste that is actually sweeter than it looks.
You don’t need to go some place fancy for this dish. Ddeokbokki is one of those dishes that is made differently in every kitchen. Any food stall in a Korean supermarket or a food court at Koreatown Galleria will sell a decent plate of ddeokbokki. Koreans usually eat it as a snack, but with the fish cakes, hard-boiled egg and vegetables mixed in, it can also make a satisfying meal.
Jokbal: Korean pig feet
Pig knuckles aren’t just for the Germans. Head over to Eighth Street Soondae or any Korean supermarket, and try it the Korean way — simmered for hours in soy sauce, sugar and various seasonings, then sliced and served with various kimchis and shrimp sauce.
The prominent feature about jokbal is not the taste, but the texture. The perfect jokbal comes with three even layers of succulent fat, tender meat and chewy skin.
Just forget that it comes from pig feet and dip it into a salty sauce of fermented shrimp, or wrap it up in fresh lettuce with kimchi and a dab of pungent soybean paste. Then pop it into your mouth and let the fat melt away on your tongue, leaving behind a savory jelly that soaked up all the lovely spices of the broth it was cooked in.
Jokbal has some attractive nutritional properties too. Ladies, forget those expensive face creams — jokbal is high in collagen and elastin, which are supposed to keep skin young and supple.
Soondae: Korean blood sausages
After getting warmed up with a milder sampling of these exotic foods, perhaps you’re feeling a bit more daring. Order another round of Korean rice liquor at Eighth Street Soondae and brace yourself for some hardcore street food: soondae, or Korean blood sausage.
As far as organs go, soondae is considered mild. It’s not the usual sausage you would imagine that is a puree of mystery meat and fillers. Typically, the dish is made with pork intestines, but very little of the pork meat itself.
Instead, the skin of pork intestines is stuffed with a mixture of cellophane noodles, sweet rice, pork blood and masking flavorings, such as garlic and scallions. The sausage roll is then sliced into inch-thick ovals and served with fermented shrimp sauce and seasoned salt. The overall flavor is mellow and rather bland, until you dip it into the sauce and salt to let the delicate taste of pork blood pump alive.
Like jokbal, soondae is a perfect accompaniment to liquor and beer. It can also be a meal when served in a rich pork broth with a bowl of steamed rice. The noodles in the sausage soak up all the savory flavors of the broth, making each bite of soondae slices burst with great pork juices.
Beondegi: Boiled silkworm pupae
Unless you were raised eating it, this popular Korean snack is reserved for those with the bravado of Anthony Bourdain.
Beondegi is silkworm pupae, boiled and seasoned, served steaming in their crunchy shells. Korean school children and adults alike can be found happily munching on this snack, though it won’t be found cooking in the street because of its highly unpleasant odor.
Beondegi, however, can be readily found in cans at Korean supermarkets. Seek it out if you dare, but don’t say you weren’t warned. Beondegi is heavily seasoned, so it really isn’t too strange or disgusting — if you can get past the appearance of tiny worms staring at you, that is.
Sophia Lee is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “That’s What She Ate,” runs Mondays.