Squid Game has ramped up restaurant diners’ demand for the retro Korean childhood street snack so much so that it looks like the dalgona candy, also called ppopgi, is here to stay. From a dalgona makgeolli to a foie gras pairing, creative, new interpretations have proliferated in the hands of Korean American chefs who have welcomed this nostalgic treat from their youth.
In its truest form, dalgona candy was forged into a game for children by street vendors melting sugar and baking soda on portable stove tops throughout South Korea from the 1970s through the 1990s. Those dexterous kids who succeeded in chipping away at the stamped design at the center of the cookie-shaped dalgona, while keeping the shape intact, would win toys or a second candy. Squid Game featured four shapes — triangle, umbrella, circle, and star — but NYC restaurant chefs have taken creative liberties, stamping challenging designs like flowers, hearts, and rockets. Some are even encrusted with white sugar crystals.
Here are 11 restaurants, spanning fancy tasting menu spots, fast-casual pastry shops, and chill gastropubs, where you can get our hands on dalgona candies.
8282: When co-owners Jee Young Kim and Bong Le Jo opened their modern Korean gastropub last week, they weren’t sure if they would keep dalgona on the menu. It was a complimentary finale to a tapas-style dinner of Iberico pork galbi and parsley jeon (pancakes), but demand for the candies has persevered, and it’s now on their menu permanently. A single candy — with a choice of circle, triangle, umbrella, or square shapes — goes for $5, and comes with a toothpick for removing the designs. 84 Stanton Street, near Allen Street, Lower East Side
Cote: At the Michelin-starred Korean American steakhouse, owner Simon Kim says he had wanted to offer dalgona, his favorite childhood snack, for a long time. But the labor-intensive sugar work would cut into his kitchen’s nimble handling of meat on a mass scale. “Basically, there were bigger fish to fry,” Kim says, until Squid Game pushed dalgona into the limelight. Now, Cote chef David Shim is on board, and from November 25 to 27, the steakhouse will be hosting its own ppopgi game. After dinner, each table of guests — only those with reservations — is presented with a single stamped dalgona. Any party that can stipple out the restaurant’s flower logo with a needle wins a $95 shot of Casa Dragones tequila for everyone at the table. A losing table must pick a good sport to eat a habanero pepper. 16 W. 22nd Street, near Fifth Avenue, Flatiron
Croffle House: Croffle House’s menu has been fine-tuned to food trends in South Korea. The Flushing pastry shop is one of the first companies to bring croffles to NYC, and it quickly jumped on the viral dalgona coffee trend last year with its version of iced dalgona latte studded with chunks of dalgona candy. Co-owner William Han says his business didn’t need the Squid Game push because the core demographic in the Murray Hill section of Flushing, where his store is located, includes older Korean immigrants with fond memories of eating the candy. The dalgona latte has been one of his ongoing bestsellers since last year. 40-17 149th Place, near Barton Avenue, Flushing
Kimbap Lab: Kimbap Lab churns out seaweed rice rolls with toppings like spicy pork, gochujang chicken and mushroom avocado for $13 from Pearl River’s mini food hall at the Chelsea Market. But director of operations and Squid Game fan Daniel Ahn decided to offer a limited two-week run of dalgona in late October. It proved to be a windfall, and Ahn is keeping it at the store for the time being. Located inside Pearl River Mart Foods at Chelsea Market, Chelsea
Mochi Mochi Donut: Afternoon, a food hall-cafe hybrid created by Group KFF, brings assorted Korean food trends like hot dogs and croffles under one roof. At the Mochi Mochi Donut counter, dalgona is prepared two ways: as a chunky topping on its signature mochi donuts and as whole dalgona candies. They’re stamped with four shapes and packed in tins with small pins, just like in the Netflix show. A single piece of candy costs $13, and a set with five shapes is $65. 33 W. 32nd Street, near Broadway, Koreatown; 148 N. 7th Street, near Berry Street, Williamsburg; and online at Chowbus
Noona’s Ice Cream: Noona’s Ice Cream focuses on traditional Korean snacks so it makes sense that dalgona — or ppopgi — has been one of its debut flavors offered since 2017. Owner Hannah Bae now produces three dalgona-based ice cream flavors that range from $12 to $15: turmeric honeycomb (organic turmeric, sweet cream and gooey ribbons of house-made candy), dalgona coffee (layers of cinnamon ice cream, dalgona foam coffee, and ppopgi dust), and squid-inked dalgona (sweet cream with vanilla, black squid ink, and shattered dalgona). Not only is the application of squid ink in desserts popular in Asia, but there’s roughly one gram of squid ink paste in every pint “so it doesn’t taste fishy,” Bae says, while still mimicking “the dystopia” of the show via its charcoal gray hue. Online and at various retail locations
Sobak: Sobak opened in September 2021 with a focus on bibimbap rice bowls with elements like yukhe (raw beef tartare), gochujang unagi, and seared A5 wagyu beef. The dishes reflect chef-owner Young Kim’s South Korean heritage and a background in cooking in yakiniku restaurants in Japan and New York. When he witnessed the global popularity of Squid Game, he dug into his memories of playing ppopgi in the countryside of Eumseong County. Young’s dalgona, however, is encrusted with white sugar crystals and stamped with hearts, stars, keyholes, and rockets. He prepares seven to 10 candies every night after closing, and sells them for $2. 51B Canal Street, near Orchard Street, Lower East Side
Soogil: Chef-owner Soogil Lim draws from his native South Korean roots and past stints at Michelin-starred French establishment, Daniel, and sleek Korean tavern, Hanjan, to create his seasonal tasting menus. The Korean-French fusion also comes through in his latest dalgona dessert: An amalgam of foie gras mousse, raspberry jelly, figs, fig ice cream, and a stamped dalgona candy. Lim wanted “a sweet and crunchy accent,” to the rich foie gras, he says. He hones in on the flavor and texture of the candy as a key ingredient in his dish, but he also encourages his guests to remove the maple leaf design at the center. As the melted sugar and baking soda mixture cools down, Lim presses in the mold within a critical ten-second period to ensure a deeper outline that’s easier to break out. 108 E. Fourth Street, between First and Second Avenues, East Village
Tada Noodles: Tada Noodles specializes in Korean-Chinese comfort foods like jjajangmyeon (black bean noodles) and jjamppong (spicy seafood noodle soup), and it’s offered a flower-stamped dalgona since opening its doors in early 2019 in Greenpoint. Tada Noodles is now squarely in Long Island City, and temporarily at the Bryant Park holiday market until January 2, 2022, and still serving the now-famous sugar candies. Before Squid Game aired, owner Robert Lee was getting four or five orders a week and even doling out miniature 1.5-inch iterations for free. But orders have skyrocketed in the wake of the show: on a recent Sunday, he sold over 100 in just one day. He’s now ramping up production to 150 per day in preparation for holiday gift orders and the Thanksgiving Day parade, which typically brings foot traffic to the park. Lee’s ppopgi candies are 4.5 inches in diameter and sell for $5. They come in assorted shapes that include snowflakes, umbrellas, diamonds, and clouds. He recommends calling first for large orders. 2323 Borden Avenue, between 23rd and 25th streets, Long Island City; Holiday market at Bryant Park
Take 31: This popular Koreatown gastropub produces a standout interpretation of the sugar candy: dalgona makgeolli, a traditional sweet, fermented rice wine. Alex Park, the director of the restaurant’s parent company, Hand Hospitality, says a sheet of hard dalgona gets pulverized, mixed with simple sugar syrup, and then infused in makgeolli for 20 days. In October, Take31 launched limited batches of the 24-ounce bottle ($17.95), but demand has held so strong he’s keeping it on the menu as a signature item. The restaurant has also served dalgona in dessert form — vanilla ice cream with multigrain misugaru powder and shards of dalgona for $10 — since 2011. 15 E. 31st Street, near Madison Avenue, Koreatown
Yubu: At Yubu, the spotlight is on yubuchobap, hand-held pockets of sweet, fried tofu skin stuffed with rice, vegetables, meat, and seafood. The dozen available fillings include salmon, bulgogi, and spicy mushroom. Yuba’s dalgona is applied to two signature drinks here. The dalgona milk tea and dalgona milk coffee, each $5, combine almond milk with shards of dalgona. They’ve been on the menu since the shop opened in June 2021. 86 E. 7th Street, near First Avenue, East Village