South Korea has been pretty famous in the last few years for its magical K-dramas and phenomenal K-Pop. But we think that South Korea is more than just that. South Korea is a food heaven for foodies and for those who seek Korean street food. It offers a great variety of savoury and sugary food that would definitely make you book the first flight to Seoul and experience them for yourself, and even come back for the authentic taste!
The idea of selling food in the street is as old as time. Korean vendors, like other vendors around the world, started investing their talents and started selling food as a means to make a living. Whenever you go exploring Seoul, you should not miss the food stalls. They are cheap and delicious and will definitely make your stay much more enjoyable.
Grabbing food from the street vendors is quite the experience when you’re shopping or just walking around the city, admiring the streets and how people live their life. There are also dedicated food markets and alleys that will make you want to try everything they offer on the spot.
Here are the top 10 street foods that you must try when visiting South Korea.
1- Tteokbokki 떡볶이 (Spicy stir-fried rice cakes)
Rice cakes. Sounds weird? Despite the weird name, tteokbokki is by no means a sugary cake. They are called ‘rice cakes’ because they’re made out of rice flour. Tteokbokki is probably THE most famous Korean street food due to its availability. But beware of the spice! This dish is pretty spicy if your spice tolerance level is low. However, the sweetness will compensate for the spice kick.
Stir-fried spicy rice cakes are chewy and coated with a sweet, savoury, and spicy sauce that will definitely leave your mouth watering. The sauce is made of a sweet and spicy red chilli paste that is essential to Korean cuisine. Soy sauce, sugar, and red chilli flakes called gochugaru are added to the sauce as well. Scallions and other vegetables can also be added to the rice cakes. Some people also add hot dogs and eomuk (Korean fish cake) to get coated with the sauce.
What’s even better than tteokbokki is cheese tteokbokki! Cheese can be added on top of the dish and it would literally taste like heaven with the spicy sauce. If you’re a carb lover, you will definitely like adding some ramen to your tteokbokki. It would be called rabokki (ramyeon+tteokbokki) then!
2- Eomuk 어묵 (Korean Fish Cake)
Fish cake, or eomuk, is a popular street snack in South Korea and almost everyone loves it. Whitefish and other seafood are mashed together with flour, salt, and vegetables to make the incredible dough. There are many shapes of fish cake but the most popular one in the Korean street food culture is the thin, rectangular one skewered onto a bamboo stick. The fish cake is then dunked into a soup.
It’s common to see people walking and drinking this soup in winter to warm them up. Some have eomuk along with tteokbokki and it surely goes well, like bread and butter. What’s even better is that it’s a very cheap snack, so you’re going to get your tummy filled with just a little money.
3- Korean Corn Dog 핫도그
You would think, what is the difference between American corn dogs and Korean ones? Korean corn dogs are much crispier and have more varieties than American ones. The batter is different as well. American corn dogs are coated with a cornmeal batter, while Korean ones are coated with a yeasted dough or rice flour batter.
American corn dogs have to have hot dogs in them. The Korean ones, on the other hand, can have a mix of both hot dogs and mozzarella sticks, or just mozzarella sticks. Some even have rice cakes. That magnificent creation is then coated with panko breadcrumbs or curled fries and fried till golden. After it gets fried, sugar is then sprinkled on top of it along with ketchup and mustard. The sweet and sour taste is like a bomb of flavours inside your mouth! This Korean street food is a hit amongst Korean youths and foreigners.
4- Fried Snacks 튀김
Fried snacks are very popular in South Korea. They are the equivalent of Japanese tempura snacks. This Korean street food is popular with street vendors and you will find them selling these snacks at every food market. They are crispy fried vegetables and meat, like shrimps and squid, and they go along so well with the tteokbokki sauce. There are varieties of vegetables that can be coated with the tempura batter and then fried, like peppers, perilla leaves, sweet potatoes, green onions, carrots, asparagus, and much more. One common fried snack is fried mini kimbap as well.
5- Jeon 전 (Korean Savoury Pancake)
Korean pancakes are nothing like American sweet pancakes that are served with butter and syrup. They are savoury, delicious, and nutritious. They are quite the hit with foreigners when they arrive in South Korea and explore Korean street food. Korean pancakes, or jeon, are mostly made from a mix of vegetables but meat, like seafood, can also be added to the batter. Kimchi Jeon is a famous savoury pancake that infuses kimchi and its water into the batter. Vegetables that can be added include zucchini, carrots, green onions, and mushrooms. There is also a potato pancake for carbs lovers. It is a hearty snack that is suitable for summer and winter.
6- KFC (Korean Fried Chicken)
Koreans love to fry everything so fried chicken definitely got caught in the frying game and it became one of the top-selling Korean street food in recent years. The most famous fried chicken in South Korea is Yangnyeom chicken. Yangnyeom chicken is fried chicken coated with a sweet and spicy sauce to die for! The chicken is double fried so it can have that crispy and crunchy sound when you munch on it. If you don’t like getting your hands all messed up, some chicken street vendors sell Yangnyeom popcorn chicken, they are great to snack on, but beware! They are quite addictive.
7- Kimbap 김밥
Kimbap is one of the most popular dishes in South Korea and it’s probably the easiest to make when you’re living abroad and want to try it. But we guarantee that the kimbap you get from the street vendors will taste completely different. Kimbap is often called the Korean equivalent of Japanese sushi rolls. While this might be true, both kimbap and rolled sushi taste completely different. Japanese sushi is made of mostly fish along with other vegetables, and rice vinegar is added to the rice.
Kimbap, on the other hand, typically contains stir-fried vegetables like carrots and spinach, along with omelette shredded eggs, crab sticks, hot dogs, spam, tuna, or special beef called bulgogi, and cucumbers. Sesame oil is added to the rice instead of rice vinegar. Kimbap comes in all shapes and sizes -literally-. There are the normal kimbap-sized rolls, and that is the traditional shape.
There is also samgak kimbap, which is a triangle-shaped kimbap that is often sold in convenience stores and consumed as a part of a meal. The most addictive kind of kimbap is Mayak kimbap. Mayak in Korean means ‘narcotic.’ Don’t worry, they are not illegal substances, but they are surely addictive. Mayak kimbap is a mini-sized version of the original kimbap and it is not cut. It is small enough to be consumed in one go. Mayak kimbap is a very popular Korean street food that both natives and foreigners get addicted to alike. So be prepared to spend all your money because you won’t be able to stop these irresistible small rolls.
8- Korean Instant Ramen 라면
If you’re wandering the streets of Seoul and want a quick meal to recharge you, then a ramyeon stall is the right destination. It is surprisingly one of the most popular Korean street food to have while strolling the streets of Seoul. Eating instant noodles at a ramyeon stall is one of a kind experience. There isn’t anything special about the making of the ramyeon, but the sight of the noodles cooking before your eyes is something else. The ahjumma or ahjussi (aunt and uncle -you don’t have to be a family relative to call them that-) starts by boiling water in a small pot made for cooking ramyeon.
While the water is boiling, they would dump the seasoning packets into the water and let it boil for a bit more. After that, the star of the show appears; the instant noodles. They let the noodles get cooked and you can ask to add some vegetables like shredded carrots, bean sprouts, and green onions. There is also an option to add an egg while the noodles are cooked or have a boiled one topping the final product. You can also ask for cheese to be melted on top of the noodles! They usually offer side dishes alongside the noodles like yellow pickled radish and kimchi! They are great with the noodles.
9- Kkwabaegi 꽈배기 (Korean Twisted Donut)
What’s better than a doughnut? Well, the answer is a twisted doughnut. Koreans love doughnuts and there are a lot of varieties, but a twisted doughnut might be what you just need while roaming the streets of Seoul. Kkwabaegi is a yeasted doughnut dough, fried till golden, and then sprinkled with sugar or a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. It is perfect to snack on. It is light and sweet and will definitely cater to your taste buds. Some vendors serve chocolate or white chocolate syrup on the side, so make sure you get them to dip in!
10- Bungeoppang 붕어빵 (Goldfish Bread)
This snack is popular among youngsters. It is loved by all children and is perfect for a cold day. Bungeoppang, or goldfish bread, has no fish despite the name. It is a sweet and hearty snack that is filled with sweet red bean sauce and has the shape of a goldfish! It is baked till it gets golden and crispy. You can start eating the tail or head, whichever way you like to eat your fish! Although sweet red bean is the traditional filling, chocolate and cream fillings have been popular these days.