Yesterday, we went to the zoo.
I love zoos. I am a crazy zoo fiend. My sweet and patient husband resigned himself long ago to the fact that if we pass within a mile of any zoo-type enclosure, I will tug on his arm like a puppy at the end of a leash crying, "Baby sloths, baby sloths!" at rapid intervals until he relents and takes me to see them.
And people wonder why I get on so well with five-year-olds.
An integral part of any zoo trip is snacks. At the Milwaukee zoo, my standby was ice cream and popcorn (at approximately $4 each). The Korean zoo equivalent is corn dogs, corn on the cob, and rubbery dried squid.
But that's only if you go for the overpriced, in-zoo food. As with gas station candy at the movies, lots of people stock up on cheap snacks before passing through the gates. The path between the subway station and the Seoul zoo is lined with makeshift food stands. While Korean street food is usually quite varied, these ad hoc stands all feature the same things: an old woman crouching on a blanket behind a steaming pot of beondegi. Next to it, ropes of ddeok roast on an ankle-high grill.
Ddeok is the Korean word for rice cake, and there are as many kinds of ddeok in Korea as there are boxes in an American cereal aisle. Bare-bones, street food ddeok is just a fat tube of chewy rice cake. It looks like a white foot-long hot dog, but doesn't really taste like much. My Korean friends give their kids sticks of ddeok to dip in sugar, the way my mom gave us stalks of rhubarb.
Beondegi are far more memorable. You'll smell them first, a sharp, bitter smell, like someone's stewing a tire. It's difficult to see into the cloudy steaming pots--especially with all the hungry families crowded around them--but if you get in close enough, you'll see these:
They're a rich, nutty brown, and they taste kind of nutty too. Sort of. Actually, it's really hard to describe the taste of silk worm larvae. They have a nice crunch to them, though.
Beondegi are generally found in bars where we'd expect peanuts, or sometimes alongside your galbi at the barbecue. But open air beondegi stands are by far the most fragrant option.