Winter is fast approaching (sniff, sniff) and the temperature is steadily declining. Luckily, Korea is full of warm winter foods to help ward off the cold. Hotteok is, according to Koreans, best served in winter or fall, although I am a year-round hotteok lover. It is usually sold from streets stalls parked all over the country.
Hotteok should not be confused with tteok or Korean rice cakes. Hotteok is not a rice cake. Therefore, it doesn’t taste like a bland chewy ball that you might suddenly choke on. Hottaeok is made primarily from wheat flour, yeast, sugar and water. A small amount of glutinous rice flour is sometimes added to give it a slightly thicker texture, but not all hotteok contains rice flour. The mixture is formed into balls and let to rise for a few hours, like any bread. The dough is then filled with sweet things such as nuts, cinnamon, and brown sugar, and pressed onto a hot flattop pan covered in scalding oil. The hotteok is browned in the oil for a few minutes and then taken out to cool. The result is a thin fried dough filled with melted sugar. Think: warm flat, slightly chewy doughnut without the thick frosting yet still as deliciously sweet.
The hotteok as described above is the original formula- a knockoff from an old Chinese recipe of a similar dough stuffed with meat fillings. Nowadays, Koreans have let their creativity run wild. You can taste nokcha (green tea) hotteok or bokbunja (blackberry) hotteok. The fillings will differ from street stall to street stall too. You may find hotteok filled with crushed peanuts, almonds, walnuts or seeds. They may be sweetened by honey, brown sugar or syrup. The spices will differ too; some may be slightly savory while others will be incredibly sweet.
If you are on a diet, you are in luck! Hotteok is not always drenched in frying oil. It can also be baked in a machine resembling a waffle maker without the waffle pattern. The dough is spread very thinly when it is baked this way. After it cools, the outside becomes crispy rather than chewy, as it is when it is fried. The inside remains sweet and warm. Both methods of cooking hotteok result in a delicious dessert or in my usual case, a midday snack.
Hotteok is cheap. One hotteok is usually less than 1,000KRW and if you find a steal, you might get 2 for that price. You can also buy packages of premade hotteok ingredients at the grocery store. So if the temperatures drop way below zero, why bother roaming the streets for a snack when you can stay in, warm your hands by the stove and your bellies with your own homemade hotteok!
In my experience hotteok has always been delicious. However, I do believe that a food can be delicious and even more delicious.
Lindsey lived and worked in Seoul, South Korea for over 5 years. While there, she dabbled in different areas of work and explored the culture. She spent time teaching elementary students, business English to adults and high school students about college preparation. She also studied Korean, wrote blogs and tasted as many foods as she possibly could including fermented skate fish. Over the years, Lindsey developed a love for Korea and the culture. She is keen to share her knowledge of Korea with others and she will always consider Korea a second home.