A moment after the chef behind the counter at Pocha on Millennium Walk in the city center has passed a server the skewered and battered sausage, he is on to rolling a fresh one – in cornmeal, cheese or sliced potato.
The restaurant Pocha, which translates as “street vendor”, is scarcely six months old and leans heavily towards South Korean street food.
Its menu offers fried chicken and gimbap, which are rice and seaweed rolls packed with kimchi, pickled radish, spinach and meat or fish.
But, overwhelmingly, the customers are in to grab the Korean corn dog, a denser, rougher and sweeter incarnation of its American predecessor.
The Korean corn dog is a guilt-inducing feast masquerading as a snack, which at least two other companies in Dublin have also started to offer in the last year.
That’s a new development for Korean cuisine in the city, says David Kim, company director of the White Rabbit restaurants, which have two premises.
“There were a good few Korean barbeque places and restaurants, but there wasn’t a street food culture,” he said.
Variations on a Theme
The specialty in Pocha is the gamja hotdog, a corn dog encrusted with french fries.
Its core is half-melted cheese and half-hot dog meat, with the rugged coating topped off with mustard, tomato ketchup and sugar.
The gamja strikes an intense balance of sweetness and saltiness, while its thick, soft mozzarella complements the light crispy potato.
In contrast to the longer chips fried into the batter by Pocha, the White Rabbit street food restaurants’ take on the gamja comes with potatoes diced into smaller pieces. They still boast the same sweetness.
Kim, the White Rabbit company director, says he opened the business – which now has branches on Capel Street in the back of the Super Asia Food market and on Moore Street in its underground shopping center – because Dublin was sorely lacking Korean street food.
Kim had moved to Dublin in 2008 to study accountancy, he says.
But he gravitated towards the idea of a food business as he found it difficult to find fried chicken reminiscent of home. “That’s been our motivation,” he says.
Their first location on Moore Street opened in April 2021. “We were looking to focus on the Korean lunchbox called dosirak there,” he says.
Four months later, they expanded to Capel Street, with the idea that this new restaurant would make its own specialty, the corn dog.
Inside the Capel Street market, customers can watch how the fast-food is rustled up, peering across a countertop into the kitchen, where chefs skewer the meat and cheese, before wrapping it in a thick corn-based batter.
Kim says his chefs opt to ferment the dough, giving it a far chewier texture.
Gunmoo Kim regards the Korean interpretation of the corn dog as a snack or dessert.
It is not a main meal, says the founder of Jaru, a Korean-food production company, which both runs a street-food stall which tours lunchtime food markets in the city and an online shop.
There is an element of nostalgia to the comfort-food snack, he says. “I grew up eating it. Any school in Korea always had a small street food vendor at the entrance with a lady who sold it very cheap, for like 20 or 30 cents.”
Its popularity in Korea, he says, would have come about in the 1980s. “There was the economic boom and the Seoul Olympics.”
Before that, the peninsula’s economy was weak, says Kim. “Eating meat had been a privilege, but in the 80s, normal people got to access meat dishes.”
In the past decade, its popularity surged again, says Kim, with vendors experimenting more and more with the simple recipe.
Kim dreamt up a version for Jaru stalls that uses ramen instead of potato.
“We’d even eat ramen like crisps, not boiling it, just smashing the noodles,” he says. “So, adding ramen into the dish makes for a more crispy texture.”
His other take on the hot dog was to use Irish cheddar cheese instead of mozzarella. “With a lot of Asian food, there is a lot more imported products,” he says.
“What we try to do is make Korean food from Irish ingredients, which are more local, trusted and healthy,” he says.
He basically wants to respect the tradition of Korean cooking without being bogged down by debating what is authentic, says Kim.
“Like with pizza, we put prawn on it or sweet potato, or with fried chicken, which can be boring, Koreans really try to develop it,” he says “like with fondue fried chicken.”
Says Kim: “It’s in our blood to be looking for new things and to push chefs to be creative.”