Winter is the best season for Korean street eats--the food's the same as every other time of year, but it tastes better in cold weather. There are bubbling vats of rice cakes in pepper sauce, steaming pots of broth, and enough fried things on sticks to rival State Fair. (No twinkies, though. I asked.)
This being Korea, the most popular items involve fish.
Now, I haven't always gotten along with the fruits of the sea. But lately I've become a fan of fishy street food. Especially the two winter classics: fish cake and fish bread.
Fish cake is compressed fish matter cut into long ribbons and impaled on a stick. A workhorse in Korean cuisine (the school cafeteria even wraps it around mini hot dogs), it's usually served in soup. Fish cake in salty broth is a winter street staple. My Korean friends get hungry and nostalgic just talking about it.
Fish bread is the sweet counterpart. It's sold under different names, depending on the shape of the fish. The stand near our house makes ingeo bbang, carp bread. It's fried on the spot, filling the air with the smells of hot oil and doughnuts.
Fortunately, ingeo bbang doesn't actually contain carp. It's just batter fried in a fish-shaped mold. You get a choice of fillings: bean or shoe cream. I recommend the shoe cream.*
If you actually want seafood in your bread, Chungju's got you covered. A mobile stand by the soccer field sells muneo bbang, octopus bread. We finally stopped to try some last weekend.
The bread was shaped like doughnut holes with pieces of octopus baked in. It came drenched in hot sauce and zigzagged with a white goo that supposedly consisted of cheese. (I remain unconvinced.) On top was a handful of feathery brown flakes, like curls of rice paper.
The flakes started moving.
I called zombie flesh, and wanted to ditch it someplace it couldn't follow us home. Sam thought it was octopus, since dead cephalopods apparently go in for dancing. In actuality, it was Japanese bonito flakes--ultra-thin shavings of dried tuna. Supposedly, the heat rising off the bread made them curl and shift. This explanation was innocuous and boring, and in no way mitigated the terror of seeing food try to crawl out of its bowl.
But it got the heart pumping, and that's one way to beat the winter cold.
*No worries. Shoe cream is the phonetic for 슈그림. It's just custard.