This is by no means a complete list, but just some of the foods I’ve seen the most often when I’m out (and busy stuffing my face with everything I can get my hands on)…
Sweet Korean Pancake
Late evening: Me – wandering through rows of stalls, stomach growling (or not really growling because the truth is I ate maybe one hour ago, but growling because I have yet to eat anything sweet, and the smell of food is both overwhelming and calling to me), sliding past people talking amongst themselves in crowds of lines, shouting “hotteok ju-SAY-YOOO,” in an attempt to both annoy one of my friends, but also because that’s really what I need to be happy at that exact moment. Yeah, hotteok, my favorite. Known to many. Anything sweet cooked in bread and I’m there. They consist of honey, nuts, and cinnamon fried on a grilled, smelling of all things carbs and heaven. These are glorious snacks, even better when it’s cold outside and you’re huddled up against the plastic flaps of the stand, with the air smelling faintly of cinnamon, and you take that first bite and the honey is still hot off of the grill and almost burns your mouth.
These are also a favorite of mine, tasting a bit more like a pancake, and instead of being filled with honey, they are filled with red bean paste, which contrary to what people may think is actually a sweet tasting filling. This is definitely one of the most popular street foods to find during the winter in Korea. There’s a famous cart (though a little overpriced) in Insadong just off the main road where they sell this bread, but instead of having it in the shape of a fish, it’s in the shape of poop.
감자핫도그 Gamja Hatdogeu
Potato Hot Dog
You’ve heard of a hot dog, you’ve heard of a corn dog, but have you heard of a hot dog deep fried and then covered in french fries? Yeah, why not skip the two separate snacks and stick them together? That’s what I thought too. Because why not? While some vendors are too busy playing it safe and delving into the simple delicacies of wrapping their hot dogs in bacon, mashed corn, seaweed, or simply deep frying them, others have really stepped up and outdone themselves with this fushion fast food. For all of those waiting and wondering when their coronary bypass is going to happen, I suggest you hit up one of the carts and chow down on one of these babies.
So, this food is probably nothing new as there are dumplings everywhere. There are different types of course based on the fillings, but my favorite is probably kimchi mandu just because it’s normally one of the spicier kinds you can get. You can get them either really really big steamed(jjin-mandu 찐만두), have them boiled (mul-mandu 물만두), or pan-fried (gun-mandu 군만두). The best way to judge, like with all food stands, is to look for the stand that looks most popular – oh, and don’t go to super touristy areas to buy street food either because they normally charge a lot more than they should.
순대 Sundae (pronounced, soon-day)
I’ve talked about this one in a previous post, but due to its popularity amongst vendors, I thought I’d mention it again. Made by steaming cow or pig intestines with various other ingredients including glass noodles, the best way to describe these would be a kind of sweet but chewy consistency – they don’t taste at all what they sound like (and this is coming from someone who isn’t really a fan of intestines).
Spicy stir-fried rice cakes
And, of course, no Korean street food list would be complete without tteokbokki, the original drunk craving, because after downing a bottle of soju, why not wash it down with something spicy, fried, and vaguely sweet – something to cure all ails. The original MVP of street food.
Almost immediately after I finished having this for the first time, did I stop and think, wow that was really unsanitary, like, really really unsanitary. When you get this, you typically have to eat it at the stand because it could be a bit tough to carry it around, but you grab one of the sticks, douse it in soy sauce, and then fill up a plastic cup using a ladle that’s been sitting in a trough full of other fish cake sticks. Then, chow down. On a cold night, this is the perfect thing to eat because you get to drink the broth when you’re finished. It’s kind of hard to eat, or at least it is for me, but maybe that’s because of my foreigner status.
회오리 감자 Hweori Gamja
So, I’ve never actually had this before, mostly because I know that I won’t be able to eat the whole thing, but the idea is pretty simple: it’s a deep fried spiral-cut whole potato on a skewer, brushed with various seasonings such as onion, cheese, or honey. I assume it’s the equivalent of eating a giant bag of potato chips, and hey, who doesn’t love that.
Spicy Chicken Skewer
A must-have for anyone who loves really, really spicy food (and this is coming from me, who will basically go to any lengths to have my tongue melt off and still be able to smile about it). When you order, the vendor will normally offer you a few different types of sauces, like bbq, mild, and spicy. Tread lightly friends, the spicy sauce is straight up no joke.
Yo, how about some bugs! I will say, I’m not a fan of these, not because it’s a bug (though I do have a trauma about anything that looks vaguely wormlike, I don’t know why), but because the aftertaste is really intense for these things. Typically, you will find these around temples, but they can be served just about anywhere – you’ll know them by their very distinct smell. Steamed or boiled, then seasoned and served hot immersed in the juices they were previously steamed in (oh yeah), this food is served in a small cup and eaten with a toothpick. Apparently, they are often served with alcohol, which I had none of the first time I tried this. During the Fire Festival in Jeju, my roommate drank the juice drained from steaming the larvae – I was not about to go for that one.
달고나 Dalgona or 뽑기Ppopgi
Korean Sugar Candy
The first time I tried this, my friend bought it for me and gave me a piece to try to see if I could guess what it was. All I said was, this tastes like hard sugar (a little burnt even). I was right. Made by melting sugar and then adding baking soda, this candy couldn’t be simpler. Often, there are little imprints pressed into it like hearts or flowers.
More bread guys, don’t worry – just when you thought I had forgotten about it. Typically filled with red bean paste (with some clumps of the bean left in the center), the outside bun is made of fermented sourdough, using the yeast of makgeolli (a Korean rice wine). On a cold day, these are some of the best to munch on. It’s best to eat these right after they’ve been made due to the moisture content (they get stale fast!).