There is a dish they don’t tell you about in Hansik 101. It is not listed on tourism websites and Korean cookbooks. Whenever an expat stumbles upon it, they are compelled to blog, instagram and tweet about their newfound treasure. Word spreads, and certain restaurants find themselves frequented by foreigners. The legend of Hobak Ori is gaining ground.
호박오/Hobak Ori literally translates to “pumpkin duck”. Hobak is actually a squash rather than a pumpkin, though it has the richness of pumpkin and butternut. The duck is smoked and sometimes glazed, giving the meat a gamey flavour that compliments the pumpkin superbly.
If this is a traditional Korean dish, why has no-one in the Korean tourism marketing-machine mentioned it? It certainly deserves to be added to the list of dishes to boast about, right alongside 삼겹살/Samgyeopsal and 삼계탕/Samgyetang. Perhaps it’s fusion food, but there doesn’t seem to be much trace of a similar dish out there. While duck and pumpkin is a likely pair, which features in various global cuisines, the manner in which Korean chefs serve it is unique.
You can eat it 쌈/ssam-style, wrapped in lettuce or pickled Perilla leaves (깻잎, often mistranslated as sesame leaves) and dip it in either 쌈장/ssamjang or wasabi and soy sauce. Some restaurants combine it with Shabu-Shabu, (a Japanese dish of meat, broth and noodles), while others serve the duck on a grill first, following with a pumpkin stuffed with rice and vegetables.
고야/Goya restaurant in Daegu has become renowned amongst local expats, and fairly so. The반찬/banchan, or side dishes, are excellent, as is the service. You can order an accompaniment of pumpkin soup and 칼국수/kalguksu, hand-cut noodles, and end with매실차/maesil cha or오미자차Omija cha, two traditional Korean teas.
Hobak Ori is a great meal for cold weather, as pumpkin is in season and the side dishes are fairly spicy. Like the ubiquitous heated floors in traditional Korean restaurants, the meal adds warmth, as well as colour, to a grey and icy winter.
This post was originally published in ZenKimchi Food Journal.