Pocha: Simple Korean Food From The Streets Of Seoul by Su Scott

Are you a fan of K-drama? Short for Korean Drama it’s the collective term for a huge body of television series created in Korea but with world-wide appeal, and a rapidly growing a global fan base of which Pete and I are members. Why am I mentioning this in a review of a Korean cookbook, you may ask? I’ll tell you!

One of the facets of Korean culture and life that we K-drama fans pick up on pretty quickly is the existence of pojangmachas: casual street food stalls–often protected by individual tarpaulin tents–serving snack food and, especially of an evening, alcohol. Most modern-era K-dramas have at least a scene or two take place at a pocha (as these stalls are affectionately called); indeed one of our recent favourites, Mystic Pop-Up Bar, is centred within a (supernatural) pocha!

The food served by these iconic street food stalls is at the heart of Su Scott’s latest cookbook, Pocha: Simple Korean Food From The Streets Of Seoul. Typically, these tents have limited kitchen space and simple cooking equipment, hence the menus are usually short and the food is simple to make–great news for those of us seeking to recreate it in our homes.

Book cover for Pocha by Su Scott

80 recipes are split into chapters that  for ‘All Day Dining’, ‘Market Lunch’, ‘4 pm Slump’, ‘Feasting Under The Stars’, and ‘Nightcap’, walking you through from sunrise to sunset (and beyond).

You’ll quickly realise on reading the book that just like Brits, South Koreans also embrace global influences in the food they eat and they enjoy lots of international dishes and ingredients such as risotto, corn dogs, tacos, smoked salmon, nutella. These feature in the book alongside classic Korean favourites such as kimchi, gimbap, fried rice, rice porridge, dumplings, tteokbokki, sweet and savoury pancakes, candied sweet potato, bungeoppang, volcano egg, fried chicken wings, gochujang jjigae, bulgogi beef, pork bone and potato stew, japchae, ramyun, gukbap, and radish soup! Phew!

The book starts with an essay on Seoul street food, interwoven with Scott’s memories of taking her daughter to enjoy the wonderful assault on the senses that is the food alleys of Gwangjang Market and times longer ago when she would visit such street food vendors with one or both of her parents. These are evocatively written and really capture the essence of these experiences (and also resurface my own memories from our trip to South Korea in 2022).

Next we have a history of and introduction to pojangmacha and a sad note that there are far fewer of these iconic stalls now remaining in Seoul than at the height of their popularity back in the early 1980s.

It may seem strange to try and bring the food and drink of a pocha into one’s home but just like Tim Anderson in his book Your Home Izakaya, Scott focuses on the casual and relaxed vibe of visiting a pocha and the simple and convenient nature of the food and drink served, and has curated a selection of recipes that emulate pocha menus. Her book helps you create the dishes, and it’s down to you to generate the convivial atmosphere to go alongside!

Before we get to the recipe chapters, Scott reassures readers that ingredients needed for the recipes are all fairly accessible. She encourages using seasonal ingredients wherever possible; eating what is in abundance is always more cost-effective and sustainable. A few Essential Storecupboard Basics are listed and described including the jangs (pastes), key grains and noodles, seaweed products (such as dried kelp) and oils. Practical Kitchen Ideas shares advice on topics such as mise en place, portioning, freezing, swapping proteins and vegetables listed in the recipes for alternatives, seasoning and heat levels, key equipment, and timings for cooking.

The first recipe chapter is All Day Dining which is also labelled bunsik–a Korean word most commonly translated into English as ‘snacks’ but which actually casts its net much wider than that; although the literal meaning is “food made from flour” (which covers things like noodles and bread), these days bunsik commonly extends to rice and many other staples, and encompasses many inexpensive snacks such as gimbap (cooked rice rolled with vegetables, fish, and meat inside sheets of dried seaweed), tteokbokki (rice cakes simmered in sauce, the most typical being gochujang-based), sundae (blood sausage), eomuk (fish cakes often served on skewers alongside some of the broth they were cooked in), and twigim (a wide range of food that has been breaded or battered and deep fried). You can see why these are popular at any time of the day.

The chapter includes recipes for Gyeran Juk / Silky Egg Porridge (a rice-based porridge with eggs), Pat Juk / Red Bean Porridge (a porridge of simmered rice and aduki beans), Bulgogi Jumeokbap / Bulgogi Rice Ball (cooked rice combined with marinated, cooked minced beef and formed into balls), Kimchi Juk / Kimchi Risotto (a bringing together of risotto and the classic Kimchi bokkeumbap), Bansuk Kimchi Jumeokbap / Kimchi Aranchini Scotch Eggs (a modern fusion inspired by seasoned rice balls and European scotch eggs, this one is made with leftovers of Kimchi risotto), Kkoma Gimbap / Gochugaru Glazed Spam Mini Gimbap (rice and seaweed rolls filled with spam), Ibuksik Kimchi Mandu / Northern-Style Kimchi Dumpling (the iconic and very popular pork and kimchi mandu), Gireum Tteokbokki / Oil Tteokbokki with Chilli Crisp and Honey (an oil-based version of cooked rice cakes to which Scott has added irresistible chilli crisp), and Gimmari / Crispy Seaweed Roll (noodles wrapped in seaweed sheets, dipped in batter and deep fried).

Cheese and Pickle French Toast from Pocha

European and other international influences abound in this category, especially dishes featuring bread such as Cheese and Pickle French Toast (a genius cross between french toast and a cheese, ham and pickle sandwich), Gamja Salad Sandwich / Potato Salad Sandwich (you’ll want to make the potato salad on its own let alone to enjoy in a sarnie), Yetnal Salad Ppang / Ham + Coleslaw Fried Bun (a fried bread roll filled with ketchup, coleslaw and ham), a variation on Korean Korokke (themselves inspired by Japanese korokke which in turn are inspired by French croquettes) in which Scott uses puff pastry instead of dough and breadcrumbs, and the ever-popular American corn dog with cheese, titled here the Cheese Hotdog.

I love that recipe names are provided in both English and Korean. The recipe summary provides both history or background to the original dish as well as the twists and additions Scott has made to some of them. Ingredients and instructions are clearly set out and food photography is so appealing, bright and inviting and wonderfully vivid–I particularly appreciate the use of bright colours for crockery, cutlery or surfaces and a masterly use of light–thanks to the united skills of food stylist Tamara Vos, prop stylist Rachel Vere and Photographer Toby Scott (Su’s husband).

Like many of my favourite cuisine-specific cookbooks, Pocha also benefits from a generous scattering of photos taken (by Toby) in Seoul, capturing the local colour and vibe of street food stalls, the people who run them and the food served within.

Lamb Yuni Jjajang Sauce with Rice from Pocha

The next Chapter Market Lunch is split into Everything Over Rice and Piquant Pickles + Salads on the Side. The first part shares eight recipes for rice bowl (deopbap) dishes including Gang Doenjang Ssambap / Ssambap with Deonjang Vegetables (a stew of fermented soy bean paste with vegetables, eaten by wrapping bitesized mouthfuls inside cabbage leaves), Cubed Steak Deopbap (in which a steak, once cooked and cubed, is tossed in a deeply savoury onion sauce), Ojingeo deopbap / Spicy Stir-Fried Squid Deopbap (pairing squid with bold flavours of gochujang, soy and sesame, plus additional heat from gochugaru), Gochu Chamchi Myo Deopbap / Spicy Tuna Mayo Rice Bowl (a dish both tasty and economical, centred as it is on tinned tuna), Hunje Yeoneo Hoe Deopbab / Smoked Salmon Bibimbap (using oily smoked salmon in place of the more typical raw salmon), Kongnamulbap / Buttered Beansprout Rice (a dish that proves how just a few ingredients can be combined to create something that provides huge satisfaction), and Yuni Jjangjangbap / Lamb Yuni Jjajang Sauce with Rice (in which lamb is cooked with punchy black bean sauce to create a comfort food favourite).

When it comes to pickles and side salads, South Korea is a world leader, with banchan served alongside the main order at even the most casual and inexpensive of places. Adding to our favourites from Rice Table, Pocha offers several additional banchan including Oi Sobagi / Stuffed Cucumber Kimchi (a classic spring kimchi), Geotjori / Fresh Kimchi (a kimchi made to be enjoyed fresh rather than the fermented kinds), Danmuji / Turmeric Pickled Radish (traditionally made with air-dried radish but here made from fresh, Yangbaechu Salad / White Cabbage Salad with Yogurt Dressing (shredded cabbage simply dressed with a yoghurt, mayonnaise, onion and gherkin dressing), and Oi Miyeok Cho Muchim  Cucumber +Seaweed Salad (which sounds ideal for summer dining).

The 4pm Slump chapter shares ‘sugar-laced snacks and traditional baked goods from the streets‘ with recipes for treats like Hotteok / Salted Nutella Pancake (commonly filled with dark sugar but here with chocolate hazelnut spread), Mattang / Candied Sweet Potato (a charmingly simple recipe in which roasted chunks of sweet potatoes are glazed with melted sugar and black sesame seeds), Yakwa / Honey Cookies (a type of deep-fried cookie soaked in cinnamon-laced sweet rice syrup, and increasingly popular lately thanks to a growing interest in the preservation of traditional sweet treats), and the iconic Bungeoppang / Fish-Shaped Peanut Butter + Jam Pastries (where the classic red bean paste filling has been swapped out for the classic American sandwich combo).

Ketchup Fried Frankfurters (Sausage Yachae Bokkeum) from Pocha

Next comes Feasting Under the Stars, which takes us from early evening through to late late night. Recipes in this chapter are divided between sections for Anju (Mix + Match Bar Snacks), Soul Session (Sharing Pots), Carby Slurps, and Hangover Cure Soups. Some appealing recipes within these pages are Spam Kkaetnip Jeon / Spam + Perilla Fritters with Pickled Chilli Dipping Sauce (spam having been introduced to Korea during the Korean War of the early 1950s, and still a popular ingredient now, paired with the distinctive taste of perilla leaves), Corn Cheese with Green Chilli + Lime (a combination that may hail from Japanese izakayas where Western ingredients and influences abound, much like in Korean pochas), Gajami Gui / Pan-Fried Skate + Wasabi Butter Sauce (inspired by Su’s discovery in a quiet alley of Namdaemun Market known for braised and fried fish), Gamja twigim / Lazy Oven Chips + Magic Savoury Salt (an easy peasy riff on the seasoning used for the Insta-famous spiral-cut potato snacks), Kimchi Jeon / Kimchi Pancake (a Korean street food classic), Ganjang Yangnyeom Chicken / Soy Sauce KFC Crispy Wings (I am not alone in thinking that Korea makes the best fried chicken in the world), Sausage Yachae Bokkeum / Ketchup Fried Frankfurters (hasselback cuts into the franks allow them to catch lots of the thick, sweet and tangy sauce), Budae Jjigae / Army Stew (a version of jjigae featuring ingredients smuggled to local populations via American soldiers stationed in Korea), Honghaptang / Soju Steamed Mussels + Broth (quick, easy and delicious), Seoulsik Bulgogi / Seoul-Style Bulgogi (a soupier style of bulgogi beef), Gamjatang / Pork Bone + Potato Stew (a popular and restorative stew), Daegu Maeuntang / Spicy Cod Stew (thanks to its many miles of coastline, fish is readily available), Kimchi Bokkeum Udong / Stir-Fried Buttered Kimchi Udon (a great way to bring the flavours and health-benefits of kimchi into a delicious bowl of noodles), Tomato Kimchi Ramyun / Instant Noodle (a pimp-my-instant-noodles creation that’s 100% comfort food), Haejangguk / Hangover Cure Soup (which Su has adapted for speedier home cooking by using smalller chunks of beef that cook faster), and Mu Guk / Daikon Radish Soup (a dish that reaps delight from just a few simple ingredients).

Lastly, the Nightcap chapter shares a selection of soju-based drinks, it being the drink of choice for a late night pocha visit. Here you will find recipes for Soju + Tonic with a Twist, Old Seoul, Soju Sour, and Seoul Mule, amongst others.

Bacon and Garlic Fried Rice from Pocha

Recipes are supported by a well pulled-together index in which ingredients are listed under both their English and Korean names, and recipes likewise; it’s comprehensive and hence helpful. It always confuses me when publishers reduce the efficacy of an index just to save one or two pages in a book of more than 250!

Tomato + Kimchi Instant Noodle (Tomato Kimchi Ramyun)

We have made and loved Cheese + Pickle French Toast, Ketchup Fried Frankfurters (Sausage Yachae Bokkeum), Bacon and Garlic Fried Rice, Lamb Yuni Jjajang Sauce with Rice, and Tomato + Kimchi Instant Noodle (Tomato Kimchi Ramyun) – I’m so happy to be able to share three of these recipes with you in full to give you a fantastic trial of Pocha before you buy.

It’s not just the recipes that appeal so much in Pocha but the way Su brings to life the rhythm of Seoul’s streets from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. It’s within these small and casual stalls that the city’s heart beats most loudly and where traditional Korean cuisine blends seamlessly with global influences and simplicity into something wonderfully appealing, easy, nourishing, delicious.

Recipes from Pocha

We have permission from Quadrille to share these three fantastic recipes with you from the book:


Kavey Eats received a review copy of Su Scott’s Pocha: Simple Korean Food From The Streets Of Seoul from publishers Quadrille. Home cooking photos by Kavita Favelle.

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