You may find boiled potatoes boring as a side dish🥔, but you love french fries🍟.
And a bag of chips miraculously disappears when you watch a movie. 📺
So you think you know potatoes? 🥔
Are you suuuure???
You’ve probably had potatoes in all kinds of ways:
Boiled, mashed, baked, roasted, fried, cooked ‘au gratin’…
You also know there are various kinds of potatoes: Potatoes with white or yellow flesh, covered with brown or pink skin. There exist even blue potatoes! And you know that sweet potatoes, yams and regular potatoes are not the same thing.*) 🥔=/=🍠
Congratulations, you know a lot about potatoes. 👍
But have you ever had potatoes the KOREAN WAY? 🇰🇷
You shall experience potatoes from a totally different perspective in Korea.
Firstly, potatoes are not considered a staple food as in Western cultures. Here, the staple food is rice. Period. 🍚 Potatoes, on the other hand, are rather enjoyed as a snack in between meals. How? On their own. Plain. What? Just potatoes. Steamed. [Did you ever think of steaming potatoes before?] Right, steaming is an option of preparing food, remembering that now. Koreans also boil potatoes in water just like Westerners do. Still something seems odd. Without any seasoning? Well, yes. Sugar. WHAT?
This is how I encountered potatoes in Korea for the first time: Grandmother brought us a tray with steaming hot potatoes, next to it was a bowl of white sugar. We were supposed to peel the potatoes with our hands and then dip them into the sugar. This was in the 1990s. In other families, the potatoes may be entirely coated with sugar before serving. While this seems like an old-fashioned way of preparing potatoes, this snack is still available at some street stalls. Plain potatoes to go. 🥡 Yay!
Alternatively, another popular snack, which is sold as street food are small potatoes, that have been peeled and fried in vegetable oil until partially golden brown. These little spherical potatoes (normally referred to as algamja (알감자) or tong-gamja (통감자)) are served with sugar or salt and eaten with toothpicks or wooden skewers.
Furthermore, potatoes are treated somewhat like vegetables. One vegan side dish (common in restaurants and at home) is made from thin slices of potatoes fried together with julienned carrots and onions in vegetable oil (gamja bokkeum 감자볶음). Another veggie-friendly side dish consists of potatoes, which have been cooked in a soy sauce-based brine (gamja jorim 감자조림). Once, I’ve even seen potatoes served raw in a noble Korean restaurant – very finely sliced and bedded on a sweet-and-sour sauce. So basically, when potatoes are served as a side, you have starch to accompany your bowl of rice, which is served as the staple. 🍚➕🥔 Hooray!
Following this scheme are also developments regarding modern foods in Korea, i.e. foods with recent Western origins. Let’s talk pizza and say “pija” (피자) for Korean pizza. Forget Italian pizza. Think American pizza plus K-pop. In Korea, they put french fries on pizza. 🍕➕🍟 Potatoes are in fact a common topping on Korean pizza – especially when you order the vegetarian option. Order your veggie-friendly gamja pija (감자피자) for double indulgence. And to properly top things off, go to one of the Korean pizza places, where you can add sweet potato cream as a topping around the crust. 🍕➕🍟➕🍠 Don’t feel like pizza? Then there’s also the option to get a veggie-friendly burger at Lotteria (Korean version of McDonalds or Burger King), which is filled with – guess what – a hash brown! Who needs a burger patty alternative, if you have potatoes?! Oh and don’t forget to order french fries as the side! 🍔➕🥔➕🍟
If this is too much greasy decadence for your taste, how about a salad? 🥗 Contemporary Korea also offers potato salad – called gamja saelleodeu (감자샐러드). How to make Korean potato salad: Take a regular potato salad with mayonnaise dressing, mash everything with a fork until it’s an even paste with tiny pieces of vegetables (and occasionally ham), and then shape the mass into pretty balls using an ice cream scoop. To be frank, I have not thoroughly studied recipes on how to make Korean potato salad. But that’s what it looks like. Whatsoever, I have done research on how it is consumed. (In other words, I have more experience eating it!) How to eat Korean potato salad: 1) Enjoy it as a side dish next to your bowl of rice, while eating with chopsticks. 🍚➕🥔➕🥢 2) Place one scoop of potato salad in between two slices of toast and make a sandwich. 🥪➕🥔. Apart from that, you can find it at the salad bar of buffets, ready for you to assemble your own
healthy, vitamin-packed, light salad creation. There may be more ways of serving Korean potato salad, but those are the ones that stuck in my mind the most. By the way, you can find this salad also ready-made in super markets and convenience stores, normally next to sweet potato salad and pumpkin salad, which have a similar consistency.
After all, if we continue seeing potatoes as vegetables, above equations appear to make sense. Right? At least a little bit…?
As recipes are continuously diversifying, let me tell you about the most recent food trends happening in Korea.
At Starbucks, the latest summer menu of 2019 included “Milk Blended with Potato”, which is essentially a milkshake decorated with flakes of potato chips and drizzles of cheese sauce. [After pizza, fries, sandwiches and salads, it was indeed time for dessert!] 🥛➕🥔 This concoction tastes very sweet regarding the milky base but the topping is salty, greasy and cheesy. 🧀 Good luck with making your brain accept this combination! [I failed and couldn’t finish it. 😖] Although Starbucks‘ potato milkshake was only seasonal, some other coffee shops have included similar drinks into their menu.
Next, the ice cream franchise Baskin Robbins launched this new flavor in 2020: “Crazy / Real Potato” (Mijjin Gamja 미찐 감자), which according to the advertising poster features steamed potatoes inside a sweet and creamy ice cream! 🍦➕🥔 [I consider myself an ice cream junkie, but I’d rather skip this flavor…]
Over the past few years, Seoul has also experienced the evolution of different scones and other breads, most of which are sweet. 🍞➕🥔 It comes to no surprise that some bakers have come up with the idea of adding potatoes into the dough, resulting in a slightly sweet scone with chunks of potatoes.
Local food, localized foods and local flavors… 🤪
Apart from these “curious” ways of consuming potatoes,**) there are many other dishes featuring potatoes in Korea. They are used as ingredients in various foods ranging from stews to soups, noodles, dumplings and dessert – too numerous to list them all!
Definitely worth mentioning are potato pancakes as well as potato tteok (Gamjatteok 감자떡), which are classic Korean food items. Both are mainly made from potatoes, and gluten-free as well as vegan. 🥔🌱 There is also a soup featuring potato dumplings (gamja ongsimi 감자 옹심이). 🥣
After all, potatoes are very versatile and they are used in innumerable ways all over the world. In Korea, you can discover a couple of new cooking methods for potatoes. 🇰🇷 It seems like you are meeting a totally new food!
Hello, Mr. Potato! Nice to make your acquaintance!
“감자씨, 안녕하세요? 처음 뵙겠습니다. 만나서 반갑습니다!”
Additional notes from the author:
*) In Korea, there is already a strong distinction between potatoes (gamja 감자) and sweet potatoes (goguma 고구마), as demonstrated in their respective names.
**) Termed “curious” from the perspective of the author, who has grown up in Germany, a country famous for its consumption of potatoes. Based on personal background and experience, the depicted customs regarding potatoes in Korea seem unconventional and novel in the eyes of the author. There is, however, absolutely no intention to judge or define the “proper way” of enjoying potatoes. (It is doubtful whether such a thing can be determined at all.)