Some of South Korea’s best loved dishes are sold from giant iron woks at open-air stalls or the front of carts, with people standing about and huddling around to order and eat. Today, I’ll be sharing with you about a few of these, and what to look out for in your hunt for great street food, so let’s begin! #1 Odeng 오뎅 Also known to many of us as fish cake, these are the cheapest street food and stalls dishing out sticks from a rolling boil are a dime a dozen. In general, there’s no need to be too picky about odeng since it is a fuss-free type of food and does not vary spectacularly in quality, but join in and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the locals for a truly authentic experience (and also because they know where the broth is better). #2 Tteokbokki 떡볶이 Probably the number 1 export to Korean restaurants around the world, Tteokbokki is famed as one of the “must-tries” when in Korea. Tteokbokki is a springy, chewy and dense rice cake that comes drenched in a spicy red pepper paste sauce that you will find so “Korean” (they love this sauce and use it on many things). And yes, it can look rather messy, but don’t let that deter you! Again, it’s all in the sauce so go where the locals go. #3 Hotteok 호떡 I could eat 10 of these in one sitting. Hotteok is a sweet Korean Pancake that is fried then cut open and filled with a mixture of sunflower seeds and brown sugar, and often folded and then squeezed into a paper cup for easier handling. Always go to those where they’re frying them fresh (i.e. avoid those that have been pre-fried and left to sit), because that way the batter is tasty and with the slightest bit of crust, and the brown sugar caramelises between. You will smile, and so will the kids. A lot of the places pre-fry but there’s a great one just across the road from the Haeundae market along Jungdong 1-ro; a small shop about in a row of shophouses. #4 Mandu 만두 Freshly fried and off the grill, these are basically a sort of dumpling and can be either filled with meat or vegetables or both. This one at Nampodong near the Jagalchi Market in Busan came with a side of finely sliced and crisp cabbage in a tasty spicy (note the expression of the guy in green) sauce. On a cold day, this is just heavenly heat in the tummy, and is definitely something you have to try. The key to mandu as well as a lot of the other street food, is to make sure they have a busy business and are making it fresh – otherwise they’ll just be doughy and chewy. So now I know what I need to try, but where do I go to get them? They’re all over Korea, but if you want to try multiple of these in a single place, Nampodong and Gwangbokdong in Busan are great. In Seoul, head to Namdaemun which opens till the wee hours. Namdaemun is also a great place to do souvenir shopping because prices are easily 1/5 or less of the price you’d pay at the airport duty free! 😮
Category: Japanese – Kaisen Wakakoma Don, Kaisen Chirashi Don
I added Wakakoma restaurant to our “Hitlist” for Sapporo because it’d been featured on No Reservations. I’d watched that episode on one of the weekday nights after work, was sold by Anthony Bourdain’s mouthwatering descriptions and enthusiasm for Wakakoma, and found my tummy grumbling about not getting some of that amazing sashimi heap that Bourdain was happily tucking into.
Sapporo Fish Jyogai Market, North 11 West 21, Chuo-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido, 060-0011 (〒060-0011 北海道札幌市中央区北11条西21 中央卸売市場 場外市場), Tel: 011-644-7722, Opens daily from 9AM – 9PM
We had a tough time trying to find the place, with the front and sides of the building plastered over in a dozen signs filled with loud Japanese characters and stalls selling fresh seafood on the ground floor, I thought I’d gotten it wrong. I was asking for directions when one of the stall owners finally caught wind of “Wakakoma“, and gleefully pointed us in the right direction and up a narrow flight of stairs that we would’ve otherwise totally missed.
Damage: $$ – $$$
Wakakoma was definitely one of the pricest restaurants. The Kaisen Wakakoma Don was 3,780JPY (~$44 SGD)- but was also covered in 13 kinds of seafood and so was totally justifiable in my opinion. Can’t get nothing of that sort in Singapore, no, so might as well go big or go home!
To Go: Yes, but don’t go out of your way and stick with the tried-and-tested
It was very good, no doubt. The seafood was fresh covered ever inch of the top of the bowl, and included king crab and botan shrimp. Travelling around Hokkaido, you’d realise that any don (rice dish) with kani (crab) in it never ever comes cheap, and so while it was a pretty costly meal, I thought it was well-priced compared with everywhere else. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to eat at Wakakoma because it was a little out of the way (there was nothing that interesting in the area) and I think you can get some pretty darn decent kaisen dons elsewhere. Sorry Bourdain, but Marutomi Shokudo in Monbetsu was still the best.
A MORE DETAILED REVIEW
We alighted at a nearby parking lot and following my GPS, we found ourselves at the foot of a small cluster of buildings, huge signboards plastered on all sides. I led the way down the pavement – a narrow cement path which separated the shelves of fresh produce and seafood to our left and the road to our right on which huge lorries and trucks drove by hurriedly, fetching the day’s catch from the market to, I supposed, restaurants all over Sapporo.
I walked up and down that same stretch several times, looking for Wakakoma, and each time seeming to succeed in overshooting the little red dot anchored on the map. A kind middle-aged Japanese lady manning the fruit stall finally figured out what we were looking for and pointed down the row. We’d stopped at regular intervals and turned to her for approval, only to see her wave us farther and farther down the row, until we finally ended up by a small staircase where she nodded and pointed upwards.
The staircase opened out into a small restaurant which could seat about 30-40 people. The chef’s table was to the right of the dining area, and dozens of signatures of (I suppose) famous people lined the wall at its entrance which probably meant Wakakoma was a favourite of many.
I took no time with ordering at all, considering I already knew exactly what I was there for, and everyone took my cue. When I saw the Kaisen Wakakoma Don, I’m pretty sure my eyes lit up- I mean, anyone’s would! With a grandiose botan shrimp head triumphantly poking out of the sea of sashimi, I’ll admit I was really excited. While some of it was good – like the hotate (scallops) and kani, others like the ika (squid) and maguro (tuna) fell short; the ika was chewy and rubbery while the maguro was thin and slightly stringy. I’d tried uni (sea urchin) a few times around Hokkaido and had attributed my indifference to the fact that those weren’t the freshest, but even at Wakakoma I was let down in spite of all the uni-campaigning that Bourdain had done. It was only recently when I had the best uni of my entire life at Hashida Sushi, surprisingly or otherwise, back home in Singapore – and that, is a story I’ll share with you in time.
We made a stop by Otaru’s wet market in the late morning to check out their range of fresh seafood. Being a seaside town, Otaru’s streets are lined with restaurants and shops selling seafood in various forms – from live to dried to fresh cuts served with don. Otaru’s wet market was smaller than Kushiro’s Washo market but better, with fresher seafood and great value. The stall owners are a lot kinder as well, perhaps due to lesser competition, and even took the time to explain the different catches and fantastic sea creatures.
I walked down the length of the market armed with my DSLR, trying my best to capture as much of the colour as possible. One of the shopkeepers saw me pointing and commenting on the giant crabs in my video, and without hesitation, lifted the entire crab out of the tank and said, “Yes it is hu-ge!” Haha! – often it’s really the locals that really make the place even more memorable. He gave me a pinch of uni to taste before we eventually sat down to enjoy a Major seafood meal.
Right- enough of my talking. I’m going to hit you with the pictures 😛
I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again – the Japanese have incredible desserts and products. While in Furano, we dropped by Furano Marche (フラノマルシェ), which is a little cluster of shops selling a variety of things. At the back, we’d find a supermarket selling some of Hokkaido’s most famous treats.
I wanted to give you a quick look around Furano Marche – so come along, let’s go!
Jatujak Weekend Market is one of the world’s largest weekend markets, with 27 sections and more than 15,000 stalls. You can find anything and everything from household items, to fragrances, jewellery, food, clothes, and handicrafts (the one shown below is AMAZING). This was my first visit to Jatujak, and honestly, I found it to be overcrowded and touristy. Many shops sell similar things, so it’s challenging to discern between them and even if you wanted to go back, you might just get lost in the maze of shops! Nonetheless, it remains a must-see when in Bangkok, so here’s a little taste (:
I put the Or Tor Kor Market on the itinerary because we’d planned for Jaktujak and I’d read that this market was one of the top 4 fresh food markets in the world known for selling some of the freshest fruits and vegetables from the country. Although we couldn’t take these perishables back with us, we still wanted to take a look, and so we went early at 8.30am on a Saturday morning.
Kamphaengphet Road, just opposite the Jaktujak Weekend Market
It was no trouble at all finding this market. All the taxi drivers know where it is, and if they don’t, you can just tell them it’s the market next to Jaktujak. If they still don’t, I suggest you get out of that cab and flag another one, because that fella is just trying to scam you (I’ve had one too many experiences with many of these dishonest cab drivers). If you’re coming from Jaktujak itself, just head to the metro station and walk through the underpass, past the metro, and once you’re out the other side, you’ll be standing right at the doorstep of Or Tor Kor.
Can I give half a dollar sign?? The food here was so incredibly affordable – a plate of noodles and the coconuts were only about $2+ each. If only the coconuts in Singapore were just as inexpensive and tasty – I’d have them every single day!
To go: Definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re also going to Jaktujak
With really inexpensive and good food, it’s a good place to go if you don’t want to have a meal at Jaktujak which is incredibly crowded (and where prices are higher too). Hardly any tourists come here, so it’s quite an authentic experience. There are many stalls selling meat and vegetable dishes, but we didn’t try those. Instead, you can head to the back of the market, towards the right, and you’ll find a section full of hawker fare and tables at which you can enjoy your meal.
A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT
Arranged in a grid-like fashion, this marketplace sells all sorts of things – from cooked food for takeaway, to vegetables, to fruits (giant durians and cherries imported from Japan included). If you head to the right side of the market and walk to the back, you’ll find a collection of hawker stalls. We ordered from middle stall below, on the rightmost row of the market. We ordered a dry kuay thiew (feature picture) with beef slices first, and it was really delicious and so affordable that we ended up ordering a second dish of Kale stir-fried with crispy pork.
The Kuay thiew was moist with a good amount (but not overwhelming) of sauce, and a very generous serving of tender sliced beef and stir-fried vegetables. The bits of crispy shallots sprinkled over the top were great. The Kale was cooked perfectly – tender but still keeping a good crunch, and did I mention, very tasty? The crispy pork bits were a let down, however, because they weren’t crispy at all, and were slightly tough perhaps because they were in pretty sizeable chunks. The pork serving, like the beef, was still very generous.
Opposite the stall was another stall styled in a push-cart, serving up a hot and soupy Duck Kuay Thiew. The bee hoon (a type of thin noodle) was soft, and the beansprouts were left quite raw to provide a contrasting crunch. On top of that, thin duck slices were laid – tender, and nicely braised in what I think is a soy-sauce base. The soup was light but extremely tasty. A simple dish but delicious, and a total bargain at just over $2.