As winter approaches, that craving for piping hot food intensifies, and the local street vendors are only too happy to provide. The Korean winter street foods listed on the following pages have been popular in the country for years and years – some have even been around for more than a century.
They may not taste like candy canes or Christmas cookies, but this holiday season, these Korean winter street foods are the perfect snacks to warm you right up. Next time hunger strikes, rustle up a couple W1,000 bills, pull on your jacket, and see if you can find one of the following street treats to eat.
1. Bungeoppang (붕어빵) | Red Bean Filled Pastry
Literally “carp bread,” this goldfish-shaped snack is quite possibly the most commonly sold winter snack food in Korea. Once you take a bite you’ll figure out it’s really flour stuffed with red bean paste and then grilled to a nice brown.
You won’t be disappointed by the crispy outer layer or the mildly sweet inner filling. This popular snack won’t break your budget, as both bungeoppang (and the similar ingeoppang) can be bought in schools of three to five for around W2000.
2. Gukhwappang (국화빵) | Chrysanthemum Bread
A close cousin of the carp bread, Chrysanthemum Bread is smaller rounds with a chrysanthemum stamped on the top and bottom. The taste is quite similar, with the biggest difference being simply the shape. They sell in packs of 5 or so for W1000.
3. Gunbam (군밤) | Roasted Chestnuts
Before coming to Korea, the only time I’d ever heard about chestnuts was in the famous Nat King Cole song “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” In Korea, this classic Christmas carol comes to life. Beginning in the fall, chestnuts are sold, served, and savored both roasted and raw.
On the street, just look for the chestnut roaster and a big basket of shelled nuts. You may be surprised to find just how tasty and tender the nuts are when roasted (whether or not an open fire is involved). W3000 will get you a modest sized bag of them. CD sold separately.
4. Hotteok (호떡) | Filled Cinnamon Sugar Pancake
The fried Hotteok is the sweetest of the treats described here, and even Santa himself would find it hard to turn one down if he found it next to a glass of milk. Dough is rolled into a ball, filled with dainties such as honey, brown sugar, chopped peanuts, and cinnamon, and then fried up on the skillet in front of you.
Eat it hot, but be careful – the gooey syrup is extremely sticky and has a nasty habit of dripping out of the Hotteok and onto clothing, cameras, and other vulnerable items. Locals have been savoring the sweet winter street food in Korea since the mid 19th century when it was brought by Chinese soldiers marching through Seoul.
Then, it was called Barbarian Bread, but Koreans eventually came to relish it. The affordable price (W1000) may tempt you to keep going after the first one, but try to remember that each Hotteok has about 230 calories in it.
5. Hoppang (호빵) | Steamed Bun
As one of the more healthy snacks you can buy for W1000 or less, Koreans are fond of dropping by convenience stores to pick one of these up from the distinctive cylindrical warmers. All Hoppang may look the same but inside there are a variety of possible fillings including vegetable, curry, pizza, and the ubiquitous red bean.
Compared to Hotteok, Hoppang have not been around that long – only half a century. Shortly after the liberation of Korea from Japanese control wheat began pouring into the country from America.
Koreans took advantage of the cheap wheat and began making Hoppang for the cold winter months. Pick one up yourself from a convenient store and enjoy a great snack that will keep your hands warm, too.
6. Gyeranppang (계란빵) | Egg Bread
Like banana bread, the name tells you all you need to know: egg, flour, milk, and a bit of sugar, bake it, buy it, try it. It’s like a pancake and egg pocket. The street vendor has a fancy egg bread machine with handy little slots for pouring in the egg bread mix and cooking it till golden brown.
Egg bread servings are pretty small, but for W1,000-W2,000, they’re filling enough and perfect either for breakfast to go or as a snack on the way home.
7. Odeng (오뎅) | Fish Cake
Odeng is at its best when it’s skewered on a stick, soaked in broth, and consumed outside on a chilly evening in December. The taste is wholesome and hearty, and its texture comes from the blend of fish and grain that it’s made of.
Odeng is of Japanese origin and the word “odeng” itself comes from the Japanese word “oden.” There’s a Korean word for it too – eomok which some jingoistic Koreans may insist you use, despite the fact that Koreans all use the Japanese name. But no matter what you call it, it makes a great, inexpensive street snack (W1000 per skewer).
8. Chaloksusu (찰옥수수) | Steamed Corn
Another popular winter street food in Korea is the steamed corn. This delicious looking corn on the cob that is steamed to perfection is guaranteed to help warm you up on those cold days. Not only does it keep you warm it also makes for a healthy snack as well.
The Korean version of street corn has little to no salt of butter on it and you are also most likely supporting local farming as well when buying. Buy a couple, stick them in your pockets, keep warm, eat later.
9. Gungoguma (‘군’ 고구마) | Baked Sweet Potatoes
Those big oil drum-looking things with the warmly-dressed ajushi standing next to them are filled with a nice warm fire and sweet potatoes wrapped in tinfoil and then roasted to perfection. Koreans put sweet potatoes to use throughout their cuisine, of course, as anyone who has eaten a Korean pizza ought to be familiar with.
But the baked sweet potatoes that go on sale in the colder months are without a doubt the best of the bunch. Look for them near subway stations or schools, where no more than W2000 will get you two or three.
10. Gonggal bbang (공갈빵) | Empty Bread
You need to watch out for this bread and not just because it’s tasty, either. The Korean word “gonggal,” which means “lie,” should give you pause. It looks puffy, fluffy, and full of white delight, but when you actually bite into it, you’ll discover that it’s hollow.
The peanuts and sesame seeds mixed into the batter and the honey inside should still keep you happy. Anyhow, it’s not like you’re paying a lot of dough for these goodies, since they’re one of the cheapest Korean winter street foods around (they usually sell for W700 or less).