Warm and syrupy ‘hotteok’, the best street food in Korea

Hotteok is a popular Korean street snack. The moment you bite into this pancake, the hot cinnamon syrup will ooze into your mouth. Chewy dough with the fried crispness on the outside and the sweet sugar syrup with bits of nuttiness makes it one of my favorite Korean snack/dessert since childhood days. 

The dough for hotteok is made from wheat flour, water, milk, sugar, yeast and it’s handful-sized of this stiff dough is filled with a sweet mixture which may contain brown sugar, honey, chopped peanuts, and/or cinnamon. The filled dough is then placed on a greased griddle and pressed flat into a large circle with a special tool made from a stainless steel circle plate with a wooden handle as it cooks.

My favorite? The traditional sweet version, with that hot, sticky cinnamon-sugar filling.

Hundreds of variations

There are hundreds of variations. There’s japchae – usually sweet potato noodles with different vegetables, there’s japchae with seafood, there are seafood and chili … Another popular one is the red bean filling. And kids love cheese in Korea, so another favorite is mozzarella cheese or any type of cheese. I’ve seen chocolate, too. I’ve made it at home with Nutella, or blocks of chocolate, and it’s really nice as well. And another popular one is where you add Korean tea powder to the dough.

Especially popular in winter, hotteok is often served folded, in a cup.

A short history lesson on Hotteok

The hotteok pancake has been around since the late 1920s in Korea, originally made and sold by Chinese refugees who arrived on boats into Incheon. There are similar yeast dough pancakes in Chinese cuisine which are savory using ingredients like chives. But somehow this sweet variation with sugar filling gained the most popularity in Korea and has stuck around for almost 100 years. 

The good news is that you don’t have to make the trek to South Korea to try this deliciously variable pancake-meets-doughnut. Readily available hotteok is commercially available to purchase in plastic packages at local Korean supermarkets.