I first heard about Hyoja-dong Yetnal Ddukbokki (Translation: Old-fashioned Ddukbokki from Hyoja-dong) when Robyn posted about it a few months ago on Serious Eats. I’ve eaten a lot of ddukbokki, but never the stir-fried kind. When I was little, I used to fry up dduk with sugar, creating sugary crunchy logs, but I never thought to make savory versions. This was all new to me. So as soon as I got to Korea, I asked Joo Hyun about it. She said she never had it, but Soo Hyun had, and she was told it was greasy, but good. Mmmm, that was all I needed to hear. The next day, while David was out visiting a friend, I went on a search for fried ddukbokki.
I was told Hyoja-dong Yetnal Ddukbokki was near Tongin Market (통인시장), an open air market in Seoul, so when I got off at Gyeongbokgung Station (경복궁역), Exit 2, I was a bit worried when I walked a few blocks and didn’t see it right away. (It’s always difficult to find places in Seoul since building numbers aren’t usually clearly marked.) But then after a few blocks, I saw the entrance of Tongin Market, and oh my god, the place is incredible. Within the market, there are several little shops with street-side counters selling cheap homey Korean food. I could have spent a few hours there jumping from one counter to the next. Alas, there was sight-seeing to do that day, so my visit was short. Next time Tongin, I will eat you! Eat you all!
At Hyoja-dong Yetnal Ddukbokki, they have two kinds of ddukbokki, spicy and soy or red (빨간) and oil (기름) ddukbokki, respectively. I ordered the soy, but the ddukbokki woman told me I had to get the spicy version also. She said the spicy was better, so I got both. It wasn’t too hard to convince me. Both were pre-marinated. The spicy ddukbokki looked like it was smothered in dadaegi (다대기), a blend of red pepper flakes, garlic, salt, and other spices. After you place an order, the ddukbokki is fried on the spot. The spicy ddukbokki went into one cast-iron pan and the soy another.
Once the ddukbokki was done, the nice women urged me to start eating even though I asked for the order to go. I eagerly obliged. I grabbed a toothpick and ate. Slightly sweet and salty, the ddukbokki was toasty on the outside and soft and bouncy on the inside. Growing up, in addition to spicy ddukbokki, my mom used to make me a non-spicy soy sauce based ddukbokki. (In the north, the soy sauce version is more prevalent.) The soy reminded me of a crisp take on that without any sauce.
The spicy version wasn’t as crunchy on the outside, but it still had the smokiness from the oil. It was delicious and spicy. I would recommend getting both the soy and the spicy. It’s nice to go back and forth between the two. I still can’t decide which I prefer, and really, who cares. Both are tasty. As Soo Hyun said, it’s greasy, but good.
On the table, there was also an assortment of pork and fish juns (전, fish fillets and ground pork patties dipped in egg and fried). Since I was going to be out all day, I asked for just one of each. She looked at me like I was crazy. She said normally, people buy jun by the tray, only the tourists ask for individual pieces. I said I was a tourist, from New York, and she said, “Well, that explains it.” She ended up not charging me for the juns. (There’s a reason I called her nice.) The total for ddukbokki came out to around five dollars. I love Korea.
Hyoja-dong Yetnal Ddukbokki (효자동옛날떡볶이)
22-1 Tongin-dong, Jongno-gu
Seoul, South Korea (map)