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26 January 2014

Food: "The Hottest Chicken Noodles in Town!" (Buldak bukkeum Noodles)

Photograph by Rob San Miguel
This is part of our Korean cuisine special.

Do you remember that commercial of a famous Filipino movie star preparing to eat her very spicy instant noodle? Well, that is nothing compared to Korea’s instant buldak bokkeum noodle.  Buldak bokkeum is so spicy that even my Korean students warn me about it. If you eat it hot off the pan, the heat will just add to the extreme spiciness, unless of course, your tongue is used to eating fiery spicy Thai or Indian food, buldak bokkeum will not be much of a challenge for you.  I always pride myself as being able to eat very spicy food, and I have to thank my Korean and Thai students for introducing me to the pleasure of eating pickled big chilies and other dishes that numb your tongue, but even I have to take a break eating buldak bokkeum.  In Korean, “bul” means fire and “dak” means chicken. Buldak bukkeum is the instant noodle version of the popular Korean dish buldak or spicy chicken. 

Korean cuisine has become very popular in the Philippines and that is partly owed to the popularity of the Korean drama “Jewel in the Palace” (Dae Jang Geum). Before “Jewel in the Palace,” Koreans and their Filipino teachers were the only ones dining in Korean restaurants, but now, more Filipinos are seen relishing kimchi, galbi (Korean barbecued ribs), samgyeopsal (grilled pork belly), bibimbap (mixed rice toppings), japchae (sweet potato noodles) and gushing bottles of soju one after another. 

Buldak or spicy Korean chicken. Image by Nissa (Flickr). 
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If you want to be more adventurous, skip the Korean barbecue and order buldak instead. Make sure you ask your Korean host about the level of spiciness of the dish.  If the dish has been adapted to Filipino palate, then the spiciness might have been reduced, but if buldak retains its original Korean kick, then be ready to say goodbye to your tongue. 

On the other hand, not all Korean restaurants in the metropolis serve authentic buldak.  If you cannot find one, you can always make it yourself. Just learn the ingredients, and buy them at the nearest Korean grocery store. Anyway, some mall supermarkets have aisles for Korean food items only so finding the essential ingredients for buldak is easy. If you can convince your Korean friend to whip up home-cooked buldak for you, that is even better.

In case you are out of luck, the next best thing is buldak bukkeum noodle, which is also available in most Korean grocery stores. The big cup cost around 60 pesos but the one in plastic wrapper cost less, around 40 pesos, but you have to cook it. The big cup just requires hot water.  

Cartoon created using Bitstrips.
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As they say, if you cannot handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. In the case of buldak bokkeum, that expression may become too literal.



Did you know that the word noodle comes from the German word nudel? It means "thin strip of died dough." The usage was first documented in 1779.  However, the term "noodle" (1753) meaning stupid, nitwit or simpleton is a older term and it is not related to "noodle" as food. (Source: Oneline Etymology Dictionary)


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