A few days ago, I received a hot tip from my friend Debjeet about a Korean corn dog place in Boksburg called Mustardbox 713.
I had never heard of Korean corn dogs (Mustardbox calls them “Korn Dogs”, which I really like for the alliteration, but I’m going to use the dictionary spelling because I’m a stickler) before that moment. And to be honest, I’ve never had much interest in corn dogs more generally. American corn dogs — hot dogs dipped in cornmeal batter and fried, often served at county fairs in the American South and Midwest — weren’t a big thing where I grew up on the East Coast.
But Debjeet’s Facebook message included a photograph, and as soon as I saw that photo I knew I had to make my way to Mustardbox post-haste. Four days later Thorsten and I were there, stuffing our faces with Korean corn dogs.
What Are Korean Corn Dogs?
Apparently corn dogs have been a Korean street food since the 1980s. They’ve experienced a resurgence over the past couple of years and recently became a craze on Instagram and TikTok. Korean corn dogs have gone global and they seem to be ubiquitous in many American cities, among other places.
The basic Korean corn dog concept is similar to the American one: Put a hot dog (or sausage) on a wooden stick, dip it in batter, deep fry. But the similarities end there. There are many variations to the make-up of Korean corn dog batter, and the batter generally doesn’t include corn meal. Korean dogs often don’t include meat at all, but rather a hot-dog-sized piece of cheese or meat-and-cheese combo. Korean corn dogs are usually sprinkled with sugar. And what really sets the Korean dogs apart from the American dogs is the range of toppings — stuck to the outside of the dog, with the batter acting like glue — including (but not limited to) panko, French fried potato chunks, ramen, hot Cheetos (!), and a variety of sauces.
(Disclaimer: My knowledge of the Korean corn dog stems from one visit to Mustardbox 713 and some lazy googling and YouTubing. Here’s a nice post from a food blogger who has actually eaten Korean corn dogs in Korea.)
The Story of Mustardbox 713
Thorsten and I had no idea what to expect as we journeyed to the East Rand last Friday evening. I had nothing to go on beyond Debjeet’s very brief description, Mustardbox’s relatively new Instagram page, and a Google Maps location. But we couldn’t have been more delighted when we arrived. Mustardbox is a tiny little container parked at the back of a huge shopping center (wow, there are a lot of huge shopping centers in Boksburg), in between a row of apartment complexes and a row of fast food drive-throughs. The container is surrounded by cheerful branding and the location is oddly pleasant, with plenty of parking, a picnic table with an umbrella, and a few nice trees.
Mustardbox is, in many ways, like a modern East Rand roadhouse. Which makes me love it even more.
Here’s a very short version of the Mustardbox 713 story, gleaned in quick snatches as Jason fried up his corn dogs for a steady stream of customers:
Jae Yong Hong, a.k.a. Jason, moved to Johannesburg from Korea in 2000 and worked in a variety of industries — none of them food-related — for 20 years before leaving the corporate world. Jason knew about the Korean Corn Dog craze back home, and thought the concept could work in Joburg. So he went back to Korea for several months, took a course on Korean-corn-dog-making, then returned to Boksburg and opened Mustardbox 713 in June 2021.
“Mustardbox” is a reference to mustard (obviously), one of the most popular corn dog sauces. I got a little lost in the explanation of “713”, but it has to do with a page in a book (page 713), and the book refers to mustard on that page.
Jason’s corn dogs are modeled closely after corn dogs sold in Korea, with a few adjustments for the South African palette. The jalapeño corn dog, for example, is Jason’s creation; he says Koreans prefer sweet corn dogs but South Africans crave a bit more spice.
What We Ordered
I was so overwhelmed with excitement when we arrived at Mustardbox that I really struggled to make a decision. But Thorsten and I finally decided on a cup of lemon milk, a jalapeño mozzarella corn dog, and a squid (!) corn dog, with mustard and sweet chilli sauces for dipping.
Before I get into the corn dogs, let’s talk about lemon milk. I love lemon-flavored things but I had never considered drinking lemon-flavored milk before…Now I can’t believe I lived 47 years before experiencing the taste of lemon and milk together. It was like drinking lemon-meringue pie. So good.
Next: the jalapeño mozzarella dog. There’s also no way to go wrong with this flavor combination: cheese, jalapeño, and panko coating, dipped in mustard and sweet chilli.
The squid dog requires a little more explanation. Let me start by saying there is no actual squid in this corn dog, although I think in Korea they put squid ink in the batter. Jason uses activated charcoal to turn the batter black. The inside of the corn dog is half mozzarella, half sausage, and the sausage sticks out of the bottom — carved into the shape of squid tentacles. (For some context, watch this YouTube video.)
While one corn dog each would probably have sufficed, we decided we had to order a third to experience the full range. We went with the potato sausage version, which has big chunks of French-fried potatoes on the outside.
It’s a tough call, but I think the squid dog was my favorite of the three.
Thorsten and I loved everything about Mustardbox 713 — the food, the atmosphere, and Jason himself. We can’t wait to go back — after our covid isolation is over, that is (more on that saga in my next post).