Hotteok (호떡) is arguably Korean’s most well-known street food. Every street corner in Seoul seems to have a little cart selling some variety of that beautiful little Korean pancake filled with various sweets, nuts, and sometimes vegetables. On a cold winter afternoon, it is common to see people huddled around a Hottoek cart with a little cup in their hand nibbling away at the tasty treat.
A Little Bit of History: Like many other foods popular in Korea (Jjajangmyeong 짜장면, tonkatsu 돈까스) Hotteok (호떡) did not originate in Korea. In fact, it originated in China. Korea was first exposed to Hotteok in 1882 when China’s GuangXi Emperor of the Qing Dynasty sent an army of 3,000 soldiers to what is now modern day Incheon. Along with the hoard of soldiers, he sent 40 merchants who brought the sweet and savory treat we know today. However, it wasn’t always sweet and savory. In fact, original hotteok from China mainly consisted of pork, but these ingredients were not available, so the merchants improvised.
Where to get Hotteok: As with most street food in Korea, hotteok is available in many places around the city. However, some of the best places to find hotteok are in Insadong on the main strip and Myeongdong (Exit 6). Personally, I would argue that both of those are the best in the city and I’ve eaten a lot of hottoek over the course of six years. The Insadong location is special to me, as that was the first place I tried hotteok which in turn, changed my life forever.
Variations and Taste: The hotteok we are going to look at today is the traditional, sweet and chewy hotteok that is popular as the days get colder and shorter. However, there are other varieties which pop up all around Seoul including a crispy and light variation found in the summer months. Hotteok’s ingredients vary, but the main ingredients are flour, egg, and a little salt for the outer dough. Now, the innards that is where things tend to get interesting. Most hotteok’s innards include some form of sugar, cinnamon, and some chopped almonds. However, there is also the variation called “Japchae 잡채 Hotteok” which includes vegetables and noodles. Now since vegetables are for chumps, I normally go straight for the sugary sensation. Or as my mom calls it, “A fried Korea sugar doughnut”. I love you mom!
Cost: Get your credit cards out because this treat is a whole ONE FUCKING DOLLAR! That’s right. So much goodness for only 1,000KRW. Thank you Korean food gods. Thank you!
Who Should Try Hotteok: If you are a little intimidated by trying Korean street food, this would be a great opportunity to get your feet wet. Hotteok is very non-threatening and has a familiar, sweet taste for western tongues. A hotteok stand is usually my first stop on a Korean street food tour with friends visiting from home. Quick Tip: Avoid Dunkin Donuts and get about six of these to get your blood sugar rushing in the morning.
Who Should Avoid Hotteok: Traditional, deep-fried hotteok is very sweet. If you have diabetes you might want to take an extra shot of insulin.