This is a comprehensive guide to street food in South Korea, where you’ll find hotspots for cheap sells, as well as the most well known foods and the most special, one of a kind eats.
Street food in Korea has evolved a culture of its own. With extremely cheap and clean stalls, it can range from spicy, to fried, to cheese-stuffed, to cute, and to somewhat odd. Basically, anything that fits on a stick can be sold.
Although street food can be found everywhere, tourist destinations are where you’ll see the most vendors. Myeongdong is street food haven, and it’s where you’ll be likely to find cheaper prices, because even though it’s touristy there are so many vendors competing with each other that they have to lower prices. Sometimes you can even convince people to give you an extra piece or the food for cheaper if you know how to haggle or if you’re charming.
Other places that have a lot of vendors are places with a lot of young people, like the college areas of Hongdae and Sinchon, and the foreign-influenced Itaewon.
These are street foods you’re likely to see everywhere:
The most popular street food (and my favorite!) is Tteokbokki, spicy rice cakes. These are chewy rice cakes that can be cut long or in discs. The rice cakes themselves have little taste, but are soaked in gochujang (red chili paste) to give a spicy taste with a tang of sweet at the end. They’re often paired with thin fried fish cakes on the street, and sometimes even have eggs, cheese, ramyeon (ramen), or seafood mixed in it.
(Below, tteokbokki stuffed with cheese)
(Above, strips of bulgogi)
Bulgogi, as one of the most popular meat dishes in Korea, bulgogi can be found throughout street food and restaurants all around Korea. Usually beef (although pork is popular too), it is thin strips of marinated meat that has been grilled.
Egg Bread (Gyeran-Bbang), are small, sweet pieces of bread with an egg cooked on top. The bread is similar to a sweet pancake.
Hotteok, sweet pancakes with a sugar syrup filling, popular with those with a sweet tooth. It can also have honey or nuts in it.
Tornado Potatoes (+ Sausages at times), also known as Hweori Gamja, it is basically a giant spiraled french fry. They offer seasoning like cheese and spices to sprinkle on top. More popular nowadays is when it has a sausage in the middle.
Gimbap (or Kimbap), sort of like Korean-style sushi. It differs from sushi in that its rice is usually sweeter and the fillings are usually cooked, rather than raw.
Korean fried chicken, honestly chicken from Korea could have its own blog page because it is such an underrated food in the world. It differs from other fried chicken in that it is fried twice and usually has the spices or seasoning put on before and after cooking. It can be boneless but with the bone is more popular.
Seafood, there are many types of seafood for sale but dried squid is probably the most popular snack, they even sell it at movie theaters! There’s also stuffed lobsters and buttered clams and a variety of other dried seafoods.
Mandu, the ever popular dumplings. A very popular food, it can come extremely cheap and in a variety of forms: steamed, boiled, fried, etc.
Jokbal (pork feet). Although I’m not a particular fan of this dish, native Koreans do consume it and it is a popular dare among tourists. The feet are fried and put together with garlic or soy sauce.
Eomuk, these are fishcakes that can either be sold fried or in a soup or on a stick (sometimes called Odeng, or the soup is Odeng Guk).
Steamed corn on a stick, this is very popular during the freezing winters of Korea and can have butter, honey, salt, or spicy seasoning added.
Sausages, sometimes mixed with bacon, cheese, etc. Sausages are a popular street food as they are easy to consume and filling. Sundae (or blood sausages) are more popular among native Koreans than tourists.
Korean pancakes (sometimes categorized as Jeon), usually Kimchi, Seafood, or Scallion. Made with flour, chopped vegetables, and whatever main ingredient (like kimchi). This is easy to make and is very visible in Korean cuisine, as it is sometimes served as a banchan (side dish).
Bungeoppang, a sweet pastry shaped like a fish. This is extremely popular, especially during the winters. It can have any type of filling but red bean paste is traditional, with chocolate as the newest favorite. During the summers, ice cream can also be added or even savory fillings.
(Below, my sister holding an ice cream filled one. I have a diary allergy and couldn’t eat any)
Ice cream, mainly soft serve and mochi. Korean soft serves are famous for being gigantic and mochi are popular with young kids because of the cute faces and decorations stuck on them.
Waffles, these are a more trendy option nowadays. You’ll definitely see them in Hongdae amongst hipster crowds and instagram influencers. They’re not much different than American waffles, having a similar mix but has ice cream inside and different toppings.
Cotton Candy, of which there are two main kinds. The first, the popular colorful cotton candy seen throughout the world. Except in Korea they often try to make cute faces out of it due to the aegyo influence. The other kind is Ggultarae, also known as Dragon’s Beard Candy. This is a very old form of making cotton candy and doesn’t have the fluffy appearance. It is hand pulled and has a similar flavor, but looks fine like floss or hair.
(Below, two workers who work in Insadong who make Ggultarae, or Dragon’s Beard Candy. First they do a demonstration of how they make it and then sell it to interested parties after a taste test)
For drinks, there are many lemonade and juice bars where you pick a fruit and they’ll press it right in front of you. In Myeongdong there’s even a booth where they sell drinks in flashing lightbulbs (don’t worry it’s safe).
And more… honestly anything can be street food if it can be served on a stick, and it’ll often be stuffed with cheese. Like fried shrimps, different kinds of chicken, sweet potatoes. As well as nuts, fruits, and different types of desserts. There can be virtually any kind of food lurking around the corner, just waiting to be discovered!