Twigim (튀김)

Aside from the horrifying amount of yellow dust floating around these parts (we are all gasping and coughing like a deadly plague has descended upon us), it’s quite pleasant to be outside at the moment. Sunny, breezy, bright and cheerful.

I’ve spent a glorious afternoon in the park with friends, and several lovely evenings sitting at the picnic tables with cold drinks outside a convenience store downtown, watching the Korean world go by. Wandering through the streets as the sun is setting is still one of my favourite things to do here, perhaps stopping at a tiny mini-bar-in-a-tent to buy a refreshing cocktail in a bag – the novelty of that has yet to wear off! My favourite is the French Kiss, partly because it’s sweet and has a fruity and summery flavour, and partly because it’s fun to ask for from the cute ‘bartenders’ at the stalls.

And of course, there’s the street food. Good grief, I do go on about it a lot, but I absolutely love it! I’ve blogged about various kinds before, from fresh fruit or fried potato slices on sticks, to heavenly sweet syrup-filled pancakes, to spicy tteokbokki and hot roasted chestnuts. But I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the one that’s the most ubiquitous of all: twigim.

Twigim is the broad, general term for the huge variety of deep-fried foods you can find stacked high on at least a couple of stalls on any given street in Korea. Similar to tempura (but miles better, if you ask me), twigim is addictive, deeply satisfying, and probably extremely unhealthy. I haven’t even come close to trying all the different kinds, mainly because I tend to find one I love and then order it every single time until I take a bite of whatever a friend is eating and decide that that’s my new favourite.

I’m not entirely sure what the exact definition of this street food is, but it seems to me that you can batter and deep fry pretty much anything and declare it to be twigim. Just about any vegetable, on its own or chopped and mixed with others, or stuffed… mandu (dumplings)… glass noodles wrapped in seaweed… squid… whole shrimps…

The pre-cooked snacks are piled on the table and usually sold in portions of 3-5. When you order, the vendor tosses your selection into the frier, and by the time you’ve paid and gotten your chopsticks (or toothpick!) ready, you’re being served a steaming plateful of Yum. You can take it away with you, but it’s really one of those foods that’s best eaten immediately, either standing right there at the cart or squashing around a rickety table under the canopy.

Brushing deep-fried mandu with sauce at a food cart in Seoul.

Some of my friends eating deep-fried stuffed peppers at one of our local food tents in Daejeon.

The battered snacks are usually chopped up into bite-sized pieces for you, and served with a soy sauce based dip.

Dipping sauce

Stuffed peppers: “고추전” (gochujeon)

I haven’t tried one that I didn’t like. My favourite for a long time was the shrimp  – golden and crispy on the outside, tender and succulent on the inside – but a few weekends ago Irish Friend One introduced me to the peppers and I cannot seem to move on from them. Whole green chilli peppers, stuffed with a mix that varies from vendor to vendor but usually includes other vegetables, egg, beef, spices, and noodles, all finely chopped and mixed together. The crispiness of the batter combined with the heat of the pepper and the flavour of the stuffing is out of this world.

No, this country has not been very good at all for my figure…

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