Korean Street Food & Snacks

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

There is so much street food in South Korea that you could pretty much eat your way around the country without having anything else. It's extremely popular among the locals, who love a good street-side snack as they commute home from work, school, or wander around the busy shopping districts.

The food you'll find on the streets of Korea is cheap, quick and delicious fare. It's very safe to eat, and you'll be able to find almost anything your heart desires - think fried and steamed manju, addictive gimbap, hot roasted chestnuts, fried twigim and even grilled lobster tails.

I ate so much street food while travelling around South Korea that I thought it only necessary to dedicate an entire post to the wide variety of savoury and sweet foods we ate while traversing our way around the country on our two week long trip. 


Tteokbokki is the ultimate Korean street food. It's addictively hot, sweet, chewy, comforting goodness, in the form of long, glutinous rice cakes cooked in a bright red, sweet-savoury sauce. The rice cakes resemble little soft white sausages that swim around as you try to pick them up with a toothpick.

The rice cakes are boiled, then cooked in a sauce of gochujang (fermented chilli paste), spring onion, garlic and sugar, often along with eomuk (sliced fish cakes) and sometimes fresh herbs. It's so insanely good, and I absolutely love it. Be warned, this is the ultimate chilli-lover's street food; it must be the copious amount of chilli in it that makes tteokbokki so addictive. 

Where we ate it:
Hongdae Station, Seoul

I had my first tteokbokki experience at a roadside street food stall near Hongdae station in Seoul's university district. This particular stall was quaint because it was covered on all four sides by a plastic red tent, which formed a cosy shelter that kept us warm while we ate. A welcoming old lady sat in the middle of the stall, with tables arranged all around her in a U-shape laden with twigim (fried vegetables and meats), gimbap (rice rolled in seaweed, like Korean-style sushi), warm broth filled with skewers of eomuk and fish balls, and deep vats of tteokbokki.

She spooned the thick, piping hot tteokbokki onto a plate (smartly covered in a disposable plastic bag), and sprinkled chopped coriander on top. I could taste the heat almost instantaneously as I popped a piece into my mouth. The combination of fiery spice, thick, sweet sauce and gelatinous, soft rice cake was absolutely delicious. Here is a picture of me in my happy place:


Gimbap is Korea's answer to sushi. The variety we tried at that same street food tent in Hongdae was ggoma gimbap, which are smaller rolls that are known for being insanely addictive. These little bite-sized mouthfuls were filled with pickled daikon, carrot and omelette.


Eomuk are fish cakes skewered on a long stick, commonly served in hot soup. You'll be able to find this street food at most stalls in South Korea, and it makes for an incredibly warming snack during the colder months.

We sampled this at the same place we tried the tteokbokki and gimbap. The eomuk were sitting in a deep basin full of the hot stock; we pointed to it and were handed a long skewer along with a small cup of the peppery broth.


Twigim is a word that loosely refers to deep-fried foods. This stall had a whole table full of twigim, which had already been pre-fried and were re-heated upon order. Some of the options included prawns, vegetable fritters, seafood stick, sweet potato, fried chicken and even gimbap!


You might read the words 'blood sausage' and immediately shy away from giving this Korean specialty a try. Don't let the name put you off; this errs more on the side of 'sausage with blood' rather than straight out blood sausage. There is no meat in it at all - instead, it's stuffed with a mixture of sweet potato noodles and glutinous rice mixed with pork blood. The filling has a uniquely chewy texture and it's unlike any other sausage I've tasted before. Sundae is served a number of different ways, most commonly with tteokbokki, in soup (Sundaeguk) and stuffed into squid (Ojingeo Sundae).

Where we ate it:
BIFF Square, Busan

I tried this Korean specialty at a busy street food stall in Busan's BIFF Square. As it so happens, I actually bought it by mistake. I'd approached the street food stall with the intent of ordering tteokbokki; when the old woman serving me asked a question in fast Korean, I nodded my head unknowingly as she began ladling spoonfuls of the plump sausage into a plastic bowl. There was no going back once she handed it over to me.

To my surprise, the fiery, sweet tteokbokki sauce masked the iron-like taste of the blood in the sausage just enough so that was not too noticeable. Because I love anything chewy and glutinous, I found myself growing accustomed to the sausage after a few nibbles. The plain noodle and rice filling acted like a sponge and soaked up all of the flavours of the hot sauce. A couple of mouthfuls of sundae were more than enough for me.


Hotteok is a street food that I'd never tried before visiting South Korea. It's best described as the love child of a doughnut and pancake, and is traditionally filled with a mixture of brown sugar, nuts, seeds and cinnamon which becomes molten and sticky once cooked. The textbook hotteok has a golden, crisp outside, slightly chewy interior and a syrupy filling that oozes out as you bite into it. It is best eaten piping hot off the griddle.

Hotteok dough contains glutinous rice flour and yeast, which differentiates it from conventional sweet pancake batters.  The flour gives the pancakes a distinctly bouncy, mochi-like texture, while the yeast enables the dough to rise and become light and airy.

It's mesmerising watching them being made. Small, hand-sized balls are taken from the stretchy, rested dough, and rolled into a ball around a spoonful of the brown sugar filling. The plump rounds are placed onto a hot griddle and left to brown.

The batter is then flipped and flattened with a special hand-held tool that has a metal disc at the end to attain that round, even pancake shape. Once it's become golden all over, the pancakes are transferred to a tray and left to drain for a moment or two before being scooped into a disposable cup and served hot.

Where we ate it:
We tried hotteok on two different occasions. We had the traditional variety in Seoul, and ssiat hotteok in Busan.

Namdaemun Market, Seoul

We were drawn to this stall in the middle of the Namdaemun market by the small crowd of people who were lined up out the front. The stall offered two varieties of hotteok: one which had the traditional honey/sugar filling, and another that was filled with red bean paste.

The pancakes were tinted an alluring lavender colour, and were made to order. The two old ladies making the pancakes worked swiftly and calmly, with one rolling and filling the dough while the other cooked them on the griddle.


I tried the honey hotteok, and fell in love with it upon first bite. The soft, thicker circumference of the pancake had an irresistibly gummy-like texture, while the middle was enveloped by a crispier, fragrant edge. The sweet, sticky honey filling was liquid gold.

BIFF Square, Busan

Busan is known for it's own special style of hotteok, called Ssiat Hotteok. These pancakes are stuffed with a mixture of seeds and nuts instead of the traditional honey filing.

Our research informed us that one of the best places to try this unique pancake was at BIFF Square, a long street dedicated to Busan's film industry.

There was one particular hotteok stall that was noticeably busy. The line was so long that the vendors had enlisted one person whose sole job was to control the long queue. 

These particular pancakes were filled with only a moderate amount of brown sugar before being fried in the hot oil. They were noticeably thicker than the variety we tried in Seoul, and were fried in a larger amount of oil.

After being drained and left to cool slightly, the golden pancakes were plunged into a deep tray filled with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, sugar and crushed peanuts. 

Each hotteok was skilfully snipped across the top, and the hollow crevice filled with the nutty mixture. The sugar and cinnamon in the mixture stuck to the outside of the hot hotteok, almost like the sugary coating of a cinnamon doughnut. The seed and nut filling gave the hotteok a wonderfully crunchy texture that didn't seem as sweet or bad for you as the honey-filled variety. This is a must-try street food if you are ever in Busan.


Bindaetteok is a fried savoury pancake made from ground mung beans. One of the most popular places to eat this street food is at Gwangjang Market in Seoul, where you'll find rows and rows of vendors selling everything from hot snacks to traditional silks, kimchi and various Korean smallgoods.

Where we ate it:
Gwangjang Market, Seoul

There are many vendors selling the renowned Bindaettok at Gwanjang Market, and our tour guide told us that famous director Tim Burton ate at one of stalls a couple of years ago. After wandering through the maze of rows, we seated ourselves in front of one of them and took in the buzzing atmosphere.

The mung beans were freshly ground right in front of our eyes using a stone grinder, then piled into a huge bucket and mixed into a batter with ingredients which included bean sprouts and spring onion. 

The resulting mixture was ladled into hot oil and shallow-fried until crispy. The pancakes were cut into smaller pieces once almost done, to ensure all sides had that perfectly golden crust. 

These pancakes were generously sized and dangeously addictive. The fried outside was super crunchy while the interior was fluffy and light, with a little bit of nuttiness from the mung beans. Dipped into the accompanying soy-vinegar sauce, they were the perfect mid-afternoon shopping snack. 


Chajangmyeon is derived from the Chinese noodle dish, zhajiangmian. It consists of wheat noodles topped with a thickened sauce of dark soybean paste, chopped vegetables and meat. 

The glossy, black sauce is striking against the light noodles; even more so once it's all mixed together. These noodles are free from any spice or chilli, with a flavour that is salty and savoury. It is a nice, plain noodle dish, although the colours at first may startle you.

Where we ate it:
Street food stall, Myeongdong

These noodles were packaged and the sauce was pre-made in a huge pot on a portable stove. There was a little too much MSG in the noodles, but it was delicious nevertheless.


Bungeoppang are cute, fish-shaped, bread-like cakes traditionally filled with sweetened red bean paste. They're a popular street food snack in Korea, and are cooked in fish-shaped iron moulds - a stuffed waffle of sorts. Other common fillings include custard and chocolate. The name comes from the Korean words bungeo (carp) and ppang (bread), which alludes to it's shape.

Where we ate it:
We had a few different varieties of bungeoppang on our trip. As well as the traditional fish-shaped cake, we sampled both a croissant bungeoppang and a poo-shaped version in Seoul!

Traditional variety, Gyeongju

We tried miniature bungeoppang at a street-side stall in Gyeongju. These were filled with either red bean or custard, and were made fresh to order in a cast iron mould.


We watched as the batter was poured to coat one side of the mould, before a scoop of sweetened red bean paste was placed on top. Another layer of batter was poured over the top before the mould was closed, flipped, then flipped again to reveal the golden, crisp-edged pastry.

Hot and fresh, they were mouthfuls of warm, sweet heaven. 

Ttongppang, Insadong, Seoul

This turd-shaped pancake is a more comical variation of bungeoppang, which we stumbled across while shopping in Insadong in Seoul.

The idea is essentially the same as the more traditional fish-shaped bread, only with a different shape. The stall even had its own turd-shaped hat which made for the perfect photo opportunity! 

Croissant bungeoppang, Myeongdong, Seoul

We also tried a version that was made using croissant pastry as the outer casing, as a more fusion take on the original bungeoppang. The result was a deliciously crispy, buttery pastry which encased a sweet red bean paste. What a calorific delight!

30cm ice cream

Before you ask - yes, it is possible for a 30 centimeter ice cream to exist. And yes, doesn't melt as fast as you might think!

The key here is the consistency of ice cream, which is quite firm and icy as opposed to creamy. This unique texture allows the ice cream to stay intact for longer so that it doesn't melt as you lick away.

Where we are it:
Myeongdong, Seoul

You can buy these foot-long ice creams from street-side vendors in the shopping district of Myeongdong. The cost about 2,000 won each (less than AUD$3), and flavours offered include chocolate, green tea, vanilla and strawberry. It's probably not the best-tasting ice cream you'll have in Korea, but it is definitely worth a try - even if it's just for the picture!

We shared one green tea and vanilla mix ice cream. Word of warning - don't consume a whole one of these unless you are either (i) an ice cream fanatic; or (ii) have a big stomach. That's a whole lot of dairy in one cone!

Hungry for more South Korean Food? Check out the other posts from my trip here:

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