Fishcakes and Bugs…?

This is a type of street food I mentioned in an early blog. The fish here are not what I mean by fishcakes in the title above. These fish are called boongobang. I sometimes stopped in Karibong on the way to my LG class and got 3 of these. They were being cooked on a huge barbecue outside and were only $1.50 each. The fish bodies were a delicious waffle-like cake and red bean paste was inside each one. They were hot when they were given to you. Boongobang are not at all like the Korean fishcakes I talk about in this blog, as boongobang are a dessert.

My husband asked me a few months ago what this particular item was that was in his dish at the Korean restaurant, and I hesitated because Koreans call it a fishcake, but to me it’s not. And to him it would not be a fishcake at all. In my area of Canada, which is beside the Atlantic Ocean, a traditional food we have is a fishcake, and it’s boiled, mashed potatoes mixed with fish fillets or canned salmon if you want, and onion. You mix all of this in a big bowl with a couple of eggs and some milk and then make actual thick, round cakes out of the mixture. You coat the cakes with flour and fry them until they’re golden…

Most times, our fishcakes are 4 inches wide and are good with ketchup or tartar sauce and must be eaten with sweet, pickled cucumber. It is time-consuming preparing the boiled potatoes and then mixing and frying, so our mothers and grandmothers traditionally made them. Young people do not usually do it.

These Atlantic fishcakes are a special item to order at homestyle restaurants and if you try to buy some like this that have been handmade for sale, they are somewhat expensive and are not easily found.

Sometimes, when I lived in Seoul, my food had small, thin, pieces of something in it and I really could not figure out what it was. I remember being in the basement of my building where the ajumma cooked meals for us, and asking a Korean student what these thin pieces of some kind of cooked batter were. He said it was a Korean fishcake. I immediately thought it was no fishcake, because to me these thin pieces of cooked batter were nothing like fishcakes at home. Another time someone told me the Koreans took minced fish, or ground fish and mixed it with flour to make these. In my memory, I seem to think I was told it could be ground fishmeal in them sometimes or ground fishbones, even. So, when my husband asked me what was in his food, as I mentioned he did at the beginning of this blog, I did try to explain to him what a Korean-style fishcake is.

Some fried Korean ‘fishcakes’ served as a sidedish. They are thin and a beige/tan colour.

As time went on I noticed that these Korean fishcakes were in a commonly eaten dish called ddeokbokki, containing popular ‘pounded’ rice made into ricecakes. The pieces of fishcake and ricecakes were put in spicy red sauce and onion and carrot were added to it as well. Korean fishcakes were cooked on sticks and sold as street food commonly too. Pieces of these fishcakes were in soups also. There wasn’t much I didn’t like to eat while I lived there, but I didn’t exactly like their fishcakes. It was the same with their seaweed soup, called miyeokguk, which was a coveted delicacy they all loved. I just didn’t like any seaweed very much, and these ‘fishcakes’ had the same effect on my stomach and tastebuds as seaweed usually did. Ha ha, I remember the Koreans looked so incredulous at me when I said I didn’t like seaweed soup. Kids had it at their birthday parties!

If you look closely, you can see a few triangular-shaped fishcake pieces in the sauce with the ddeok, or ricecakes in this ddeokbokki.
Here are fishcakes made into street food. I always preferred another food when I was there. They had weiners cooked in a delicious batter and sold them on sticks in the street and I’d buy them instead of the soggy ‘fishcakes’. The Korean people called weiners ‘sausage’ and had never heard of the word ‘weiner’.
Sometimes I’d be served a soup like this, with once-crispy fried fishcakes in a watery broth. This soup has square pieces of sliced Korean radish in it. Their radish, which to me was like a mild Canadian turnip, was so lovely in a soup or when it was made into kimchi.

Bugs in cans…

When I was in small grocery stores, which were often almost hidden in basements and not easy to locate, I noticed pictures of bugs on some cans of food that were for sale on the shelves. I really was curious as to what this was. I had never heard of anything like those insects being eaten by any culture. “Could there really be a bunch of insects in these cans? Who would want to eat them?”, I remember thinking. So many times I had questions about things but often there was no way to find out the answers when I was in Korea. By the time I’d have a chance to ask a Korean a few questions, I’d ask what I could, but communicating over there was time-consuming and sometimes frustrating. Actually, I tried to ask one of the secretaries(“Julia”) at my institute about these bugs one day, and she made an embarassed face that was part disgust too and really did not want to explain it. I can still see her shaking her head and looking away and shrugging it off. I kept wondering but really did not like to ask anyone after seeing Julia’s reaction.

These insects were pictured on cans of food in the grocery stores.

In the old days in Korea, they ate these silkworm larvae. They are still eaten as street food sometimes now. So, some people likely ate the larvae back when I lived there, hence the cans I would notice. And when I think about it years later, I was wrong to think my culture did nothing like eat insects like these because we sometimes see cans of snails or “escargots”, in Canada for sale, and I ate some of this food from France at Christmastime once with my husband years ago.

There were so many interesting, different types of foods in Korea I could never describe them all…

By jcorvec123gmailcom

I have a deep passion for Korea and love reminiscing about my time spent there in the late 1990s.

2 comments

  1. Wow, I just had 붕어빵 today! Nice snack for freezing weather. I stopped at a food cart and grabbed a bag to go, after getting coffee to go, as we’re in a light lockdown right now. Ugh, those silkworms… as much as I love most Korean foods, the smell of beondegi still nauseates me.

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  2. I never got a chance to smell the silkworms. They were still sort of hiding the silkworms – I imagine it might have been that the people were still being cautious about eating certain foods after the 1988 olympics brought out shocking news of the dog restaurants.
    I cannot get bungobang here and even Toronto often only has cream-filled ones. Around a year ago I found a few packaged, cream-filled ones here…. I did not like the red bean while I was in Korea but I think of it fondly now.

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