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Posted by on Aug 18, 2014 in Banchan (Side Dishes), Korean Culture, Korean Food, Recipes, Vegetarian | 0 comments

Recipe: Korean Rest Stop Potatoes (휴게소 감자, HyuGyeSo GamJa)

Recipe: Korean Rest Stop Potatoes (휴게소 감자, HyuGyeSo GamJa)

When I lived in Korea in the 1990s, my compatriots and I took a road trip from Incheon to Mokpo. About half-way there, we ate at a rest stop somewhere near Gwangju and discovered the tastiest, butteriest roasted potatoes any of us had experienced. The language barrier at the time precluded me from learning the recipe.

After finding versions of this recipe on Aeri’s Kitchen and Heat, Mind and Seoul blogs, I had a couple of small epiphanies.

Epiphany No. 1: What we have here really isn’t a recipe so much as a technique. After all, frying potatoes in butter isn’t particularly complicated, and in the cosmic scope of things, not particularly original.

What is original is how this way-too-simple recipe has become a signature comfort food for millions of Koreans and several generations of ex-pats who have fond memories — or not so much — of long road trips through South Korea’s mountain passes, rice paddies and small villages. Daughter of Korea and Eat Your Kimchi can give you a tour of a typical Korean rest stop, where there’s a great variety of foods to sample, from these potatoes to fried squid, 떡볶이 tteokbokki, roasted corn, grilled mackerel, Korean egg toast, etc. Even the least-healthful Korean rest stop meal is probably more healthful than most American fast-food restaurants. 

Epiphany No. 2: Most people define “fusion cuisine” as Westerners’ grabbing hold of non-Western recipes (usually Asian) and ruining them with too much cheese, mayo or ketchup and not enough respect and common sense.

However, fusion food is really a two-way street, and this recipe is a modest example. Koreans took Western ingredients like potatoes and butter then made them their own. 

Rest Stop Potaotes
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GAMJA GOODNESS: A traditional travel treat along Korean highways are these tasty taters. (Jeff Quackenbush photo)

Since I’ve been in the States, I haven’t been able to drive just anywhere and get that Korean roadside fix. But here’s the next best thing: a mix of yellow, red and blue potatoes slathered in buttery goodness. Any kind of potato works, but different colors provide eye candy.

Exotic potato varieties such as baby blue potatoes and fingerlings are easier to find in the U.S. as Americans become more particular about their spuds, according to the Wall Street Journal

“Companies are trying new products, promotions, and flavors to reheat potatoes’ popularity, such as healthier versions of french fries and gourmet options like the petite fingerling variety.”

Resist the temptation to replace the butter with something “more healthful.” The flavor will not be the same. 

A hot plate of rest stop potatoes will turn your most exhausting, tedious Korean road trip into one of your favorite memories of Korea. I promise. 

휴게소 감자 HyuGyeSo Gamja (Rest Stop Potatoes)

1 pound baby (small) potatoes 
water, enough to cover the potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon butter
parsley leaves for garnish (optional)

  1. Wash the potatoes thoroughly and peel them.
  2. In a saucepan, add the potatoes and enough water to cover them. Turn the heat on high, and add the salt.
  3. Once the water starts to boil, cook the potatoes covered for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are tender.
  4. Add butter to a largenonstick skillet. Remove the potatoes from the water, and fry them in the butter on medium-low heat.
    • Normally, you want frying oil to reach around 350 degrees Fahrenheit, so the food browns without absorbing much oil.
    • This recipe is different, because part of its charm is butter in every bite. You want butter seeping into every pore of the potatoes, but you also don’t want the butter to burn.
  5. Turn the potatoes over occasionally until they are evenly browned.
  6. Sprinkle with more salt and serve. Consider parsley as a garnish.

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