“If you had told me two years ago, when I started selling Korean hot dogs, that the Guardian would interview me, I’d say, ‘No way,'” exclaims Mari Riaz, founder and owner of Uh K-dogs ‘n’ Juicy at the Camden Market, London. And yet here we are, in the lull before the bustle of lunchtime, discussing the street food trend she helped kickstart from her home kitchen in 2020, and which is now taking the UK by storm. .
At this point, I have yet to have one. I’ve seen them in street food markets and on social media, and even heard the crunch of crispy dough as gobblers bite into them; however, the texture and taste of the Korean hot dog is still a mystery to me. However, I can imagine, or at least think I can, from what I know of its contents: stringy mozzarella, a hot dog sausage of some variety, covered in a batter that may or may not be garnished with cereal or noodles, in Layered on a stick, fried, and finished with strips of ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, or sweet chili sauce.
The similarities to the American corn dog are obvious, and in fact, Korean hot dogs are direct descendants: created in the 1980s in Korea as an easy street food that could make a little cheap meat go a long way. “Hot dogs, along with other canned and processed meats, were first introduced to the peninsula during the Korean War as part of army rations,” says Judy Joo, an American chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author. Korean living in London. “It is believed that someone saw the quintessential American fairground food, corn dogs, and adapted it.”
Corn flour was replaced by wheat flour, and as demand and competition grew, so did hot dogs. “The pieces got bigger and the fillings changed, incorporating cheese and fish cakes,” says Joo. Most notably, street food vendors have gotten more and more creative with coatings, topping them with everything from potato chip chunks to dried ramen noodles, potatoes, even Rice Krispies or Cheetos.
Uh K-dogs ‘n’ Juicy in Camden. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian
In Koreatown, Los Angeles, where Joo grew up, Korean hot dogs were an after-school treat. “I remember greedily eating them, scooping out the cheesy insides and wrapping the gooey cheese around my finger.” The K-dog cheese pull is something extraordinary: a long string of melted cheese that stretches infinitely with each bite, to the point where you start looking at scissors.
“I remember the first day we opened at Camden Market, and people had no idea what we were selling; then a customer bought one out of curiosity, and it was the huge cheese flavor of that first bite that drew a lot of people,” recalls Riaz.
In the UK, Korean hot dogs are still relatively new to the scene, brought over to the US in the wake of K-drama, K-pop, K-beauty, etc. “I think the popularity of Korean culture, the hallyu wave, is fueling the appetite for Korean food,” Joo says, just as in South Korea, young people’s fascination with American culture fueled demand for hot dogs. Koreans first.
“The older generation is still health conscious and drinks green tea and eats fish and kimchi etc., but palates are changing. The younger generations have leaned more towards a fast food culture in recent years,” observes Riaz.
K-dogs aren’t just about the visual ‘wow’ factor. They are a completely viable and edible thing.
What’s interesting about Korean hot dogs is the many stages of their evolution: from the US to Korea, back to the US with the American-Koreans, and from there to the rest of the world. As Korean chef Linda Lee, owner of On the Bab and Koba in London, puts it: “The origins are American, yes, but as a street food dish they’re so intertwined with Korean culture that the lines blur.”
Lee doesn’t serve K-dogs, but he feels his success is indicative of the growing interest in all kinds of Korean cuisine, and that can only be a positive. “I’m sure everyone will find something new to try. At On the Bab we have a stew called budae jjigae that contains sausage, ham, noodles, and a slice of cheese for burgers, so it’s a different kind of Korean dish with American flavors.”
When he settled in the UK, Riaz was aware that the traditional K-dog, which incorporates sugar into the batter, might be too sweet for the British palate. Also, many of her customers were Muslims, so the pork in the sausage was not suitable. As a result, she further adapted the dish, replacing pork sausages with turkey or vegetarian ones, and removing sugar from the batter.
Bunsik’s Corn Dogs, London. Photography: @bunsik_london / instagram
“A lot of people love the traditional version, but even for me, it’s like a sausage-and-cheese stuffed doughnut,” he says. “The vast majority of our customers prefer our version because it is less sweet.”
“Throughout history, you see people taking inspiration from other cuisines and making it their own. It’s evolution,” says food and financial influencer Kar-Shing Tong, better known by his social media handle KS Ate Here. For 14 years Tong has been sharing and capturing street food trends in London. He isn’t surprised by the success of the Korean hot dog, or that it has crossed the Atlantic.
“Korea has had a great American culture for a while. Then food trends from Asia often come here by way of the United States. It’s the natural progression after they catch on there – all things American see London as the new playground,” she continues. From London, it’s just a hop, hop, hop to the rest of the UK.
Vendors of K-dogs have been popping up on the streets and in street food markets in Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle and more, and it’s no surprise, says Tong: “They’re sausages and mozzarella in batter. Who is not going to eat that?
Where cultural differences can limit the appeal of some culinary imports from Asia, he continues, “with the Korean hot dog there’s nothing that can go wrong.” It’s the perfect street food, and the perfect holiday food, says Riaz, as it’s quick, filling and, above all, easy to drink: “I always say the ultimate holiday food is the one you can hold in one hand while holding a pint.” “. the other.”
K-dogs are clearly catnip for social media: “There’s the huge cheese pull, the colorful sauces on top, and the crunchy sound makes them very popular for mukbang.” [videos of people eating food, which amass huge followings on TikTok and Instagram].” In Riaz’s opinion, this is the main reason why K-dogs have really exploded of late, despite having been around for about three decades.
“I am a big fan of ASMR [autonomous sensory meridian response – in other words, a pleasing tingling sensation], which you experience when you can very clearly hear the sounds of people eating in mukbang. K-dogs became famous thanks to those videos. That’s how Western culture was introduced to them,” he says, and it’s what gave him the confidence to introduce Uh K-dogs ‘n’ Juicy in Camden. But they weren’t designed for social media, says Tong: “They’re not weird shakes [milkshakes loaded with whipped cream, cakes, cookies, sweets and sauces to create a structurally improbable and impossibly sickly sweet feast]. It’s not just about the visual ‘wow’ factor. They’re a completely viable, edible thing – filling and bordering on overkill, but probably no worse for you than a battered sausage from your local fish and chip shop.”
They are also, and here, my snobbery initially got the best of me, just great fun. Sure, it’s sugar, fat, and processed meat—all bad things—fried up, but no one is suggesting you destroy a K-dog a day. When I choose one from the growing London chain Bunsik for lunch, I’m pleasantly surprised.
The cheese is stringy and creamy, the meat clearly meaty, the dough as crunchy as I’d been led to believe. But it was the fun that impressed me the most: the childlike joy of wandering around Soho with my lunch on a lollipop stick, rolling cheese between my fingers, a smile and sweet chili sauce around my mouth.
This article was modified on September 16, 2022 to remove an incorrect reference to South Korea being in Southeast Asia.