Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sweet taste of Squid Game success for South Korean ‘dalgona’ couple



Sweet taste of Squid Game success for South Korean ‘dalgona’ couple

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Street vendor Lim Chang-joo passes a dalgona for wrapping, a crisp sugar candy featured in the Netflix smash hit series Squid Game, for which he and his wife Jung Jung-soon were hired to be on set to make during production. AFP

Sweet taste of Squid Game success for South Korean ‘dalgona’ couple

Simple, sweet, and fictionally fatal: the stallholder who makes the traditional South Korean children’s treat featured in the global cultural phenomenon Squid Game – and once associated with post-war poverty – has hit a real-life jackpot.

The Netflix smash hit series features a group of South Korea’s most marginalised and deeply in debt, who compete in children’s games for the chance of 45.6 billion won ($38 million), with lethal consequences.

In one particular challenge, the contestants try to cut out shapes including a star and an umbrella from a crisp sugar candy called a dalgona, without it cracking – and those who fail are killed.

The life-or-death game was inspired by director Hwang Dong-hyuk’s experience growing up in Seoul in the 1970s: but then, the prize for a child who successfully removed the shape was another free dalgona.

Hwang was always determined to win an extra treat and remembers employing multiple tactics in his efforts, including licking the candy to loosen the shape and using a needle heated over briquettes – techniques repeated in the show’s nail-biting dalgona challenge scene.

“I would make the dalgona maker extremely perplexed by succeeding on the most difficult shape of umbrella,” the director recently said in a YouTube video.

But the candy was a difficult prop to manage on set as it softens easily, especially during South Korea’s humid rainy season, so Hwang and artistic director Chae Kyung-sun hired “dalgona experts” to have the candy freshly made on location.

Those specialists were Lim Chang-joo and his wife Jung Jung-soon, who produced between 300 and 400 dalgonas over three days of filming.

Now, their humble roadside stall in Seoul’s theatre district – little more than an umbrella, an awning and their equipment – is one of the hottest spots in the South Korean capital.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Customers wait in line as street vendor Jung Jung-soon (centre) and her husband Lim Chang-joo (left) sell freshly made dalgonas, a crisp sugar candy featured in the Netflix smash hit series Squid Game. AFP

Orders for the 2,000-won (about $1.70) sweets start piling up as soon as it opens, and before long, customers face six-hour waits, with some giving up and leaving empty-handed.

In about 90 seconds, Lim melts an individual portion of sugar above a burner, before adding baking soda, flattening it into a circle, and punching it with the customer’s preferred shape.

He offers a wider range of choices than the four forms in the show – and has a newly added “N” for Netflix.

“I never imagined it would become this popular,” Lim said of the series, adding that his life has now become “super hectic”.

“Of course, I’m happy because my business is doing well and how dalgona has become famous in other countries.

“I hope they make and eat their own dalgonas,” he added.

Financial crisis

Historians say dalgona first emerged in the 1960s when the South was still assailed by post-war poverty while desserts – such as ice cream or chocolates – were not widely available and prohibitively expensive.

Very sweet, with hints of nuts and bitterness, the candy was hugely popular, with many vendors setting up their stalls near schools.

Lim and Jung started their dalgona operation with 30,000 won after closing their tailoring business of 20 years around the time of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

The sweet endured throughout the South’s rise to become the world’s 12th-largest economy, following decades of rapid economic growth during the authoritarian rule of the post-war period.

And Squid Game is the latest manifestation of the ever-widening influence of the country’s popular culture, epitomised by K-pop sensation BTS and the Oscar-winning movie Parasite.

“South Korea has always been at the nexus of the modern and pre-modern, Western tools and Eastern ways, and preserving the past while sacrificing everything for the future,” said Michael Hurt, who teaches cultural theory at the Korea National University of Arts.

“Dalgona is a nexus item in a nexus culture.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia to waive quarantine requirements Nov 15, no PCR test required

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has decided to lift all quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers and visitors – both Cambodians and foreign nationals – effective from November 15 onward. In a special message addressed to officials and relevant authorities on November 14, Hun Sen said this policy will enable

  • PM: No more quarantine for vaccinated travellers

    Cambodia is lifting all quarantine requirements for vaccinated inbound travellers entering Cambodia by air, waterway or land border checkpoints effective from November 15. Travellers will be required to take a rapid antigen test on arrival rather than waiting for the results of the lengthier polymerase chain

  • No payment required for travellers taking rapid Covid tests on arrival

    Ministry of Health officials said there would be no payment required for the rapid Covid-19 tests given to travellers who arrive in Cambodia from November 15 onwards after the quarantine requirement is lifted for fully vaccinated people. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine told The Post on

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration