For southern Tasmanian restaurant owners Ju You and Jin Ko, dalgona brings back joyful childhood memories — unlike the terror faced by competitors on the hit television show Squid Game.
The Korean sweet treat has gained popularity since the dalgona challenge featured on the Netflix series, which has been viewed by more than 100 million people worldwide.
Growing up, Ju and Jin — who run Korean restaurant Jin’s Kitchen in Huonville, about 40 kilometres south-west of Hobart — competed in the game after school to get a free dalgona, or Korean honeycomb.
The only way to win was to separate an imprinted shape on the fragile biscuit from the rest of it, without breaking the shape.
For Ju, hearing about Squid Game took her back 25 years to her hometown, Hanam City.
“After school, my friends and I would hang around the vendors and we’d just pay 10 cents and we enjoyed the sweet things,” Ju said.
“I had to eat carefully around the patterns, but I’m not good at it actually.
The children would return to the stallholder and the successful ones would show that they had separated the shape without breaking it, and were duly rewarded.
“It’s a very competitive activity among friends,” Ju said.
Strategy is key to winning
Ju laughs that the dalgona competition she remembers was nothing like the life-and-death competition featured in Squid Game.
The show tells the story of people in serious financial debt competing in childhood games for a huge sum of money, but their lives are at risk if they lose any of the challenges.
Ju recalls that, back in Korea, it was always just a fun game.
“Many children play the dalgona and they eat with friends,” Ju said.
“You even did it at home with your mum.
She said different people would have different strategies, much like in the show.
“Some people use needles, some people use their tongue to melt the sugar so it’s easy to break,” she said.
“For kids, they have to concentrate.”
Ju said she had noticed lots of celebrities making dalgona on the internet since Squid Game became popular.
“Even in Korea on one of the TV shows they are recording how to make dalgona, even though many people already know how to make it,” she said.
Ju admits she hasn’t eaten the treat for years as she finds it too sweet.
“Personally I like sticky rice cake, it’s not too sweet, it gets dipped in soy sauce.”
Ju and Jin said they hadn’t considered serving dalgona at their restaurant, but joked that perhaps they should start as it was now so popular.
Ju and Jin’s tips for making dalgona
Ju and Jin shared the simple recipe and their tips for making the sweet treat at home.
You only need three things: white sugar, baking soda and a metal ladle.
They recommend using a gas flame for cooking.
“The fire must be low heat or the sugar burns,” Ju said.
“You put two spoons of sugar on the ladle, and then stir constantly and keep stirring until the sugar melts and you see the clear colour.
“Then you put [a pinch of] baking soda in and the baking soda makes it bubble and then the colour changes rapidly, and looks like honeycomb.
Traditionally, a wooden chopstick is used to stir the dalgona ingredients on the ladle.
Jin uses the tip of the chopstick to measure the small amount of baking soda needed.
The mixture is then poured onto a flat ceramic board — a dinner plate, or a wooden board covered with baking paper, can also be used — to cool down until it can be pressed flat with the base of a ceramic or metal bowl.
A cookie cutter is then used to cut the dalgona and imprint it with another shape. Allow the dalgona to cool fully and harden.
Now you’re ready to play!