Bring The Streets of Seoul Into Your Kitchen with These 3 Dishes

🍌🍚 The following feature appears in Issue 03 of Selva Beat. Grab your copy here.  🍚🍌

I had just finished a full day of shopping at the mall, over the river from our place in Yoeuido, Seoul’s largest financial district. My two Korean-born friends and I stopped at a food cart on the thirty-minute schlep home. I ordered spicy odeng, a dish I had eaten in the States many times, and we went on our way. This time, however, the spongy fish cake on a stick scorched my taste buds so badly that snot ran down my nose the whole walk home. I had to stop at a 7-Eleven and down two bottles of banana milk just to make it through, my friends cackling all the while.

Before my plane touched down at Incheon International Airport, I already considered myself something of an amateur-expert in Korean food. I had eaten my way through Houston’s Korean neighborhoods, and Long Point Drive was my go-to hangout, with karaoke dominating my weekends. I thought I had seen and tasted it all, or at least most of it — a symptom of my teenage ignorance. My ego caught up with me after that day of shopping and again in Yang Yang, a northeastern coastal town that makes the best rice cakes, strangely perfect for the beach: every cart in every town was different, each one seemingly better than the last.

Simply put, Korea has mastered fast food with feeling. Each dish feels thoughtful. Now back in the US and vegan, I feel wistful every time I drive by my city’s Little Korea; there are fusion restaurants and meat-free menu items aplenty, but I still haven’t found plant-based versions that hold a candle to the rich flavor of bulgogi kimbap and odeng or the creamy sweetness of banana ooyu.

Fish Cake (Eomuk or Odeng)


8 oz of heart of palm
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup medium onion, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 Tbsp kelp powder
3 cups plus 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup potato starch (or sweet potato starch)
2 Tbsp aquafaba


1. Cut heart of palm into chunks and add to food processor. Add garlic, onion, salt, sugar, ground white pepper, kelp powder, 1 Tbsp sunflower oil, flour, starch, and aquafaba. Blend for a couple of minutes until the mixture turns into a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl.

2. On a silpat OR in between two pieces of cellophane, spread a thin layer of paste into the shape of a large rectangle. Freeze for 2 hours. Cut into strips about 2 inches wide by 3 inches long.

3. Heat 3 cups sunflower oil in a skillet over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Lower the heat to medium (about 330-350° F or 180° C).

4. Drop strips into hot oil. Stir the fish cakes occasionally to fry all sides evenly. Let them cook about 5 to 7 minutes over medium heat until golden brown. Take the fish cakes out and put them in a strainer over a small bowl. Pat the fish cakes with a paper towel to remove the excess oil.

5. Serve immediately or store in the fridge up to 1 week or freezer up to 3 months.

Marinated Beef (Bulgogi)


8 oz dried soy curls
1 garlic clove, grated
1/2 cup Korean or Bosc pear, grated 3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp finely chopped ginger
1 scallion, chopped
2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp roasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp sesame seeds, toasted


1. Place soy curls in a bowl filled with warm water, just enough to cover them. Soak soy curls for about 10 minutes, then drain.

2. In a food processor, combine garlic, pear, onion, and ginger and process until very smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.

3. Toss drained (but still moist) soy curls in cornstarch.

4. Add 1/3 cup safflower oil in a wok on medium heat. Stir in soy curls and fry on medium heat, stirring constantly, until soy curls turn a light golden brown on the sides. This should only take a minute or two.

5. Pour marinade mixture over soy curls and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, drain, and top with scallions and sesame seeds.

6. To eat, lay a lettuce leaf open on your palm. Add a small lump of rice, 1 or 2 pieces of bulgogi and any other garnishes on top, then dab with sauce. Wrap by lifting up the edges of the lettuce leaf, then twisting them together to make a tight bundle. Eat each bundle in one bite, according to Korean tradition.

Banana Milk (Banana Ooyu)


9.5 oz soy milk powder
4 cups plus 1 cup water
2 cups sugar
2 pureed banana
1/8 tsp turmeric


For banana syrup:
1. Bring 1 cup water to a boil.

2 Dissolve sugar in boiling water, stirring constantly. Add in pureed banana.

3. Reduce heat, cover, and allow to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely and thicken. Bottle and store for up to 2 weeks.

For milk:

Add soy milk powder, 2 cups Tbsp of banana syrup, and turmeric to 4 cups water. Shake vigorously and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Recipes developed by Paula Farmahini. Words by Magdalena Antuña. Featuring Richelle Dian Gomez and Eunice Cota. Photographed by Mika Locklear.