Before we begin, let it be known that I, a thirty-mumble restaurant critic with little to no idea what a Squid Game is, am not the target audience for today’s Korean food trends. I’m not talking kimchi – no, the peninsula’s hottest culinary exports right now are fatty, sugary calorie bombs promoted by and for Gen Zers with metabolisms as active as their TikToks.
But what can I do? 142 million Netflix viewers can’t be wrong, hallyu aka the “Korean wave” aka the soft power strategy adopted by the South Korean government since the late 1990s is here to stay, and we all take our food cues from Seoul now. So, selflessly, I tested the latest Korean-inspired snacks to land in the German capital, Squid Game-related or otherwise.
Contrary to its name, Korea’s version of the American funfair staple contains neither corn, nor, necessarily, a hot dog. In its most Instagrammable form, it’s a sausage-cheese combo, or just a plain mozzarella stick, dunked in a fluffy yeasted batter and rolled in any number of crunchy things – panko breadcrumbs, crushed ramen noodles, French fry bits – before getting deep-fried, sprinkled with sugar and doused with sauce. Just in the past month, two specialists selling the treat have appeared in Berlin: DogMong, in the Kaufland parking lot south of the Neukölln S-Bahn station, and Corndog Ninjas, who will appear at Prenzlauer Berg’s still-teething Markthalle Pfefferberg every Sunday from November 7.
With DogMong still yet to officially open (they’re having a preview event this Saturday, Oct 30), I tried the latter: one halal chicken sausage/mozzarella version dusted in panko and Flaming Hot Ch**tos (you can’t legally sell Cheetos in Germany thanks to a copyright infringement lawsuit, which is a matter for another column); one with pure mozz and a hedgehog-like French fry coating (€4.50-4.90). Both were tasty if gut-busting, with the edge given to the meaty one – those stretchy cheese pulls might look great, but a skewer’s worth of fried dairy and potatoes is daunting unless you’re seriously hung over, and even then. Go for the ketchup and “Spicy Korean” sauce options if you want a prayer of balancing out the fat.
Egg drop sandwiches
As seen on the 2020 K-drama Hospital Playlist, this is a sweet-ish spin on the classic breakfast sandwich: scrambled eggs, cheese and other toppings in a brioche bun, with a sauce involving mayo and condensed milk. For roughly a year, it’s been available at 44 Brekkie, the café advantageously located across the street from the always-too-full Allan’s Breakfast Club. The brioche is from Bekarei and as cloudlike as the eggs contained therein; add-ons besides cheddar include bacon, avocado, ham, smoked salmon or a combination thereof (€6-8). Liberally drizzled in a “secret sauce” that mimics the Korean original, the whole thing tastes like – and I truly wish there was another way to say this – a perfect breakfast sandwich that’s been jizzed on by a diabetic. Seriously, ask for a sauceless version and BYO sriracha (or hell, kimchi) and you’ll have something close to the bacon-egg-and-cheese of your dreams, or at least mine.
Okay, the “croissant + X” hybrid trend isn’t Korean – it started, as we all know, with Dominic Ansel’s cronut in 2013. But when it comes to waffling the multilayered pastry in decadent, candy-topped, ASMR-friendly ways, South Korea is the undisputed master. The craft of Berlin croffle pioneer and self-proclaimed “food trend lab” Pufflebees lies not in the croissant-waffles themselves, which fail to exceed the sum of their parts (if all you want is caramelised flaky dough, eat a damn kouign-amann) but in fanciful toppings like Lotus biscuit whipped cream and caramel sauce, Belgian chocolate ganache and mini-marshmallows, or savoury cheese and suçuk sausage (€3.90-5.90). As a side note, the shop is just down the road from artisan bakery Black Apron and its signature cruffins (croissant muffins); how long before the two breed a cruffle?
The dalgona challenge
Again, I still haven’t seen Squid Game, but I am aware that part of it involves punching shapes out of a puffy toffee candy called dalgona, and that if you do it wrong they kill you. While most Europeans are only aware of the sweet thanks to the show, kids in Korea have been playing the non-murderous version of this game for decades, and through this weekend, the aforementioned Pufflebees is giving customers the chance to try it out. €2 gets you a biscuit-sized blob of homemade dalgona and a sewing needle; pick out the embossed shape without breaking it and you win a free coffee. Mine was a star, miles easier than the dreaded umbrella, but I still lost in the first 10 seconds. My consolation prize? The candy itself, which with its airy texture and burnt-sugar flavour was quite nice. Plus I didn’t die, yet.
DogMong Karl-Marx-Str. 231-235, Neukölln, pre-opening Sat, Oct 30, 13-20
Corndog Ninjas Markthalle Pfefferberg, Schönhauser Allee 176, Prenzlauer Berg, next pop-up Nov 7, 12-20
44 Brekkie, Rykestr. 4, Prenzlauer Berg, daily 9-16
Pufflebees, Brunnenstr. 165, Mitte, Mon-Fri 12-19, Sat-Sun 12-20, dalgona challenge through Oct 31