Before big road trips growing up, you can bet our family was out the door well before 10:30 a.m. This was to ensure that McDonald's Sausage McMuffins were safely within our grasps ahead of the menu handoff to the lunchtime offerings (thank goodness the fast-food chain now serves an all-day breakfast). Sometimes there’d be a Sausage Biscuit in the mix, sometimes a McGriddle, but the McMuffin was— by far—the top dog over the years.
My love for a warm egg sandwich is not a monogamous one. A bodega egg sandwich on a Kaiser roll (washed down with a peach Snapple, naturally), a fancy-pants heirloom wheat biscuit sandwich with cage-free eggs and slices of heritage cured pork—I'll take them all. If there’s an egg sammie to be enjoyed, you can be sure I’m down for the ride. Which is how I came to know Korean street toast.
It’s safe to say that I love all Korean street food, and so when I find myself back in the motherland visiting family, I’m hitting up every stand to make sure I get my fill. Much of the street food found in the country are classics that don’t change much (ddeokbokki rice cakes in a sweet and spicy sauce or odeng fish cakes on skewers with an accompanying stock), but there’s always a crop of “newer school” snacks to be found in the form of French fry-encrusted hot dogs, tornado potatoes, and (my favorite) street toast.
My mother was the first to introduce me to this treat. We were walking through the streets near Ewha Womans University, an area of Seoul with a number of colleges nearby, making our way through mobs of young students looking for cheap and satisfying eats between classes. She found a kiosk with a promising line―long enough to guarantee that whatever was coming out would be good, short enough not to intimidate―where we’d wait for a few minutes, letting the wafting buttery smells envelope us, before being rewarded with two warm egg sandwiches…folded into paper cups (much like this below).
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Korean street toast (aka, Korean egg toast, gyeran tostuh, or gilgeori tostuh) is a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The sandwich comprises easy-to-find ingredients: soft white bread, eggs, thinly sliced cabbage and carrots, ketchup, sugar (more on this in a bit), and the optional additions of mayonnaise, slices of ham, and American cheese.
Each food stand varies a bit in ingredient list and technique, but largely stays true to this core idea: A couple of eggs, whisked together with a handful of shredded cabbage and carrots, are cooked together as a soft vegetable omelet, sandwich-sized. Then, two slices of bread get buttered up and toasted. After the veggie "omelet" is cooked sufficiently on both sides, it gets transferred atop one of the toast slices. And this is where the magic happens: You sprinkle a small spoonful of sugar on top of the still-warm egg before squirting on some ketchup (and mayo, if you choose), adding the cheese, griddled-up ham, and finally the second slice of toast.
Let's talk about that sugar for a second, shall we? Though at first I balked at the vendor who added straight-up sugar directly on top of the egg—trust me when I say it's the singular ingredient that makes Korean street toast. Just a bit of sugar balances the buttery bread and the salty ham while lifting up the eggy cabbage slaw with the sweet-tart ketchup and mellow mayo.
The tutorial below will help you recreate the sandwich, just as I like it (yes to lots of cabbage, mayo, and ham), but ultimately, Korean street toast is home cook–friendly and riffable to suit personal tastes.
The whole shebang costs a couple of U.S. dollars (depending on the fillings), and gets wrapped up in waxy paper or a little paper cup. It's my favorite way to start my days in Seoul, and luckily, easy enough to recreate here at home when I'm craving one thousands of miles away.
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