For such an uncomplicated food as a hot dog, feelings can run surprisingly high about the right and wrong way to serve and eat one. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council — yes, an actual trade association — even publishes a video guide to proper etiquette “in keeping with the hot dog’s unpretentious nature.”
The short video, designed to “maximize your hot dog eating experience,” is very much worth the watch. Its suggestions read like municipal building codes. There’s arbitrary prohibition (“don’t take more than five bites to finish”), procedural prescription (“condiments should be applied in the following order”) and judgment (“cocktail forks are in poor taste”). And we haven’t even gotten to ketchup.
But the persnickety guide pertains to American hot dogs, and even in the sausage council’s glossary of words for the snack in other languages, presumes that abroad, as well as at home, a hot dog = sausage + bun.
Not so the Korean hot dog. Unlike the American counterpart, the Korean hot dog, or hasdogeu, comes skewered rather than sandwiched.
“What Koreans call a hot dog is a hot dog on a stick,” said Edward Yoon. “So a corn dog.”
Yoon is the CEO and owner of Seoul Hotdog, a new restaurant serving Korean-style hot dogs located inside a food court on the northside of UC Berkeley.
However, there is cornmeal, as is traditionally used, in Yoon’s version. “This has a little different concept,” he said. His all-beef franks are skewered, battered and fried, but the dip is a mix of wheat flour, rice flour and panko crumbs.
“It gives a different texture than just bread,” he said. “It gives more of a squishy, more of a mochi. Well, no not mochi….hmm, how would you explain that.” He took a moment to think then said, “Jjolgit-jjolgit (쫄깃쫄깃)” and made a gesture as though lightly squeezing a stress ball. “Soft and chewy, like a rice cake.”
Yoon’s hot dogs vary in price, from $2.99 for the Seoul Hotdog, the basic Korean hot dog, to $4.69 for the rice cake hotdog and Big Seoul Hotdog. Most franks are made with meat, but there are three vegetarian versions — chewy rice cake, a vegetarian link, and one made with mozzarella.
Besides Yoon’s custom breading blend, Seoul Hotdog also offers the potato hot dog, a beef frank dipped in batter, then crusted with chopped french fries. The squid ink hotdog is a half-mozzarella, half-beef frank, dipped in batter colored with squid ink, with one end of the sausage split in four; the cut pieces splay out when fried to resemble tentacles. Customers can request to have any hotdog rolled in sugar. “It’s sweet and savory at the same time,” said Yoon.
In contrast to most hot dog shacks, Yoon stocks a more inclusive array of condiments, like house-made sriracha mayonnaise, honey mustard, sweet chili, powdered yogurt, and — for die-hards — ketchup.
Before Seoul Hotdog, Yoon worked in tech for years, but he grew up working in foodservice. His family owned a series of small restaurants throughout the Bay Area. The longest and last one his parents operated until they retired was Happy Hot Dog in East Oakland.
“I think it’s the typical Asian story,” said Yoon, who immigrated to the United States with his family as a kid. “The first thing they could do was to open a business, using their physical ability to make money.”
Although he no longer works with his parents, he still works with family — his wife Anna Yoon co-manages Seoul Hotdog. Yoon says he enjoys the independence of working for himself. Unlike Korean hot dog franchise Myungrang, which has opened locations elsewhere in the state, Seoul Hotdog is an independent business and not part of a chain. “Having your own business is definitely a lot of work,” he said. “But you have your own freedom to do your own thing.”
Though Yoon is of Korean heritage, he didn’t grow up with Korean hot dogs. The trend only came about in the last decade, and wasn’t popular in the U.S. until quite recently.
Speaking of South Korean cultural exports that have made their way into American pop culture, mukbang and K-pop also have a place at Seoul Hotdog. A pair of television screens bracket the venue. On one plays a series of music videos of young Korean pop singers in flamboyant, synchronous motion. The other screen streams Korean mukbang videos featuring people eating large quantities of food in close up. On the night Nosh visited, Jane ASMR, a YouTuber with nearly 6 million subscribers was on screen, eating Korean hot dogs, biting into a mozzarella sausage and pulling the cheese to ribbons.
“We’re kind of putting a Korean theme into [Seoul Hotdog] of course,” said Yoon. “But it’s not really a Korean restaurant, it’s more of a Korean snack place.” Yoon doesn’t serve dishes like bulgogi and bibimbap. “Not yet,” he said. Though he adds there’s always the chance that could change. “We’re still in the concept and growing stage.”
Seoul Hotdog is open 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday; closed Sunday.