Monday, April 30, 2012

Dakgalbi - Spicy Korean BBQ chicken

Long before I came to Vietnam I spent two and a half years living in South Korea. It was my first time in Asia and my first time in a non-English speaking country, so of course everything was new, especially the food! I remember on my first day of work, my boss asked me what I wanted for lunch, and I just stood there dumbfounded, not having a clue what to say. I asked what was available, and he said, well, anything you want. It didn't seem like the time or place to ask for pizza so finally I got a suggestion for kimbap out of him and was able to have lunch with everyone else! During my first year there I found a few more dishes I liked, but I it wasn't until I went back for another year that I really started to get to know the food better.

During that second year I found dakgalbi. It's chicken (usually dark meat) that's cooked in a huge round frying pan at the table, with cabbage, onion, carrots, sweet potatoes, maybe some rice cakes and a lot of spicy red sauce. It very quickly became my favourite dish and I wanted it all the time!

Since I left Korea I have craved this regularly, and have found it here and there but it's never quite right, because it's never cooked in front of me, I've always been alone (Koreans don't cook this at home, and if you eat out in Korea you're nearly always with people!), and it just doesn't taste the same. I tried making it myself once and it was tasty, but so spicy I could barely eat it!

I've had houseguests this week. My Korean friend Jiyeon of Runaway Juno and Stephen of Bohemian Traveler were visiting on their way through Vietnam. I first met Juno in Singapore after I left Korea for the first time. We were staying in Chinatown and celebrated Chinese New Year there together, both being completely deafened by the firecrackers! We then traveled up into Malaysia together, to Melaka and Kuala Lumpur, where we found a Korean restaurant and had a well-earned taste of the food we were both missing so much!

From reading Juno's blog I've seen that she makes Korean food for people all over the world. Obviously, when I found out she was coming here, I wanted to cook with her, and what else would I want her to teach me to make but my old favourite dakgalbi?

In one of the imported food shops here I found the key ingredient, gochujang (spicy red pepper paste). You can see on the bottom left corner of the label there's a thermometer with a 4 (I think out of a scale of 5) for the level of spiciness! Wowzers!

We assembled all the ingredients: chicken, onion, garlic, gochujang, rice vinegar, sugar, rice wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

I set to work de-boning the chicken, while Juno worked on the sauce.

Then she added the chicken and mixed it in well by hand....

...and we left it to marinate while we went out for the afternoon!
When we came back hungry we cut up some vegetables and put them in a frying pan (yeah, they call it BBQ but it's not) with the chicken.
Juno cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces with a pair of scissors - Korean style!

And we added ramyeon noodles, just like I used to have it in Korea.

And it's done! We served it with rice and cold beer!

This was the closest I've had to what I used to eat in Korea, and it was pretty spicy but still edible! Not to mention delicious! 

*all measurements are approximate. Taste the sauce and add things until it tastes good!
5 tbsp gochujang
2 small tbsp sugar or maeshil (Korean plum syrup)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp rice wine
1/2 onion, pureed
1/2 onion, chopped
1 bulb garlic, diced very small
2 tbsp sesame oil
black pepper
approx. 1 kg chicken (dark meat)
cabbage, carrots, green pepper, baby corn, sweet potato, or whatever other vegetables you want
1 pkg ramyeon noodles (optional, or more, if you want)
Mix together the gochujang, sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, rice wine, onion, and garlic. Taste to see if the mixture of sweetness, sourness, and spiciness is ok. Add sesame oil and black pepper at the end, to taste. Add chicken and marinate for a few hours.
When you're ready to eat, cook some rice and boil the noodles until they're soft.
Put the chicken in a hot frying pan and cut it into bite-sized pieces with scissors. Add vegetables. Cook until the chicken's cooked through and the vegetables are tender. At the last minute, add the noodles and stir through. Serve with rice and cold beer!


  1. Mmmmm.....!!!! :D I missed this today actually. We had Bun bo Hue for lunch and we really didn't like it very much. And dinner here was not good too. I miss Hanoi Chicken street!

    1. Awwww sorry to hear the food down there isn't living up to Hanoi's high standards! Hope it gets better for you!

      Mmmmmm chicken street. *drool*

  2. Buhhhhh that looks AMAZING. I'm gonna have to learn to cook some Korean food before I go away next March - and dalkgalbi is a prime contender! My family could handle this, but I don't think they are quite ready for kimchi just yet ;)

    1. Thanks for stopping by Tom! I highly recommend that you find some little ajumma to teach you to cook Korean food while you're there. I wish I had! It's not nearly as easy to find a good recipe online and make it work, and I've found that most Korean restaurants overseas don't live up to my expectations! (Except the one I go to regularly here!)

      I think if you're going to serve your family Korean food, you have to serve them kimchi! It's not a meal without it!

  3. Was delicious! You guys did a great job and it was fun documenting it. Thanks for your hospitality in Hanoi!

  4. Yum! That looks delicious. Dakgalbi was one of my favourite foods when I lived in Korea too. I need to find the red pepper paste in Canada and try to make some myself!


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