When it comes to blood sausages, the Germans have their blutwurst, the French have boudin noir, the Spanish have morcilla, and we Irish (and, let it be said, the English) have black pudding. Having heard then about sundae from my Korean friends, the chef in me was immediately curious. Coming from a country where very little of the pig is left on the butcher’s floor, I couldn’t wait to try Korea’s take on this international delicacy.
Sundae is generally made of potato starch noodles, barley and pork blood. There are versions that have soybean paste, rice, kimchi and other ingredients added, but like many Korean recipes you will be hard-pressed to get two people to agree on the “original.” Just to muddy the waters even more, there are a lot of regional variations of sundae reaching as far as Jeju where squid bodies or fish bladders take the place of pork intestines depending on the province.
Sundae Village, in Sillim-dong, located near Seoul National University, is the spiritual home of this Korean dish and offers an endless assortment of sundae dishes. It’s said to form 50% of students’ diet with alcohol picking up the other 50%. They take it very seriously here, even running a Sundae Festival to celebrate the joys of the blood sausage. A walk down one of these streets will give you the chance to try it in every shape and style: plain, in soups, (순댓국 sundaeguk), stir-fried (순대볶음 sundae bokkeum), and various other combinations.
My first encounter with sundae was in the backstreets of Namdaemun market along with an interesting collection of other local snack foods. I had it steamed without any condiments to cut the taste. The particular smell of cooked pig’s intestines was familiar to me, but I wasn’t ready for the texture of the noodles. After this initial surprise, it was enjoyable but I would have liked a little chili to spice it up a notch. I also discovered on this occasion that beer is the perfect match for this king of the “anju”, those small nibbles you get while drinking in Korea.
To date, my best sundae experience has been at a pojangmacha (tent-enclosed food vendor) in Jongno where I had sundae bokkeum, a stir-fried dish made with adorably small slices of sundae, rice cake, vegetables and gochujang. Of course, the beer I was downing must have helped, but the sundae was one of the most enjoyable new things I had tried in quite a while. I found out later that commercially made sundae, produced with synthetic casings, is frowned on by the purists but is being used more and more. Regardless, sundae remains one of the hidden gems of Korean cuisine. Enjoy it, and don’t forget the mug of cold beer!
It Takes a Village to Serve Sundae
Whether it’s musical instruments (Nagwon Arcade) or electronics (Yongsan), in Korea, shops of a feather flock together. Sundae is no exception, as any visitor to the Sundae Village (순대마을) in Sillim-dong is well aware. To get there, go straight out of ex. 3 from Sillim St. (line 2) and turn right at the Watsons. At the end of this alley and across from the Artbox is Yangji Minsok Sundae Town (양지민속순대마을). Sundae Town fills floors two through five of this building and contains nothing but sundae restaurants of every stripe. Try these favorites of Korean bloggers or find a place for yourself. Prices start at W6,000 a serving.
Start out with the most famous (and slightly freaky) choice: White Sundae 백순대 Baeksundae). Holding off on the sauce and stir-frying glass noodles, fresh veggies, sundae, and crushed perilla in soybean oil results in the eponymous white color. The heaps of noodles and veggies mean that you can even bring along friends who aren’t too keen on sundae. Find it on your right as you step out of the elevator on the 5th floor.
The Village Choice #2
Business is so brisk at My Cousin’s House (삼촌, Samchonne) that there are lots of customers even in the slowest hours of the afternoon. Whether you try the pan-fried sundae plain or wrap it in lettuce before going to town, we bet you’ll figure out why its so popular. Walk straight when the elevator door opens on the fourth floor and it’s at the end.