Taste of Korea: Warm up with some delicious street food
Taste of Korea: Warm up with some delicious street food
In Korea, with the arrival of winter’s cold bite comes a variety of winter seasonal snacks and foods. The savory and sweet winter street snacks like bungeoppang, hotteok, baked sweet potatoes, and hoppang, along with the traditional winter dishes such as gimjang kimchi, tteokguk, and manduguk are some of the most loved warming winter treats. Read on to learn more about winter foods in Korea that bring back childhood memories for Koreans and help everyone forget about the chilly winter weather.
Baked Sweet Potatoes & Roasted Chestnuts
Roasted chestnuts (군밤) and baked sweet potatoes (군고구마) are one of the most popular winter snacks as they can easily be prepared at home. Roasted chestnuts take a long time to cook thoroughly, but this ensures a savory flavor. They are usually sold near traditional markets in small paper bags for 2,000 to 3,000 won.
Along with roasted chestnuts, baked sweet potatoes are typically cooked in large iron barrels. Baked sweet potatoes taste sweeter than steamed sweet potatoes and are best enjoyed hot. You can usually buy 2 to 3 potatoes for 2,000 to 5,000 won at roadside stalls in residential areas, and near subway stations and schools.
Yet another favorite street food snack that Koreans like to eat as the temperatures drop is kkochi eomuk (꼬치 어묵). Eomuk is prepared on skewers then boiled in a broth flavored with radishes and kelp. Unlike tteokbokki, eomuk is not spicy and is a great complement to help soothe the spicy taste of tteokbokki. Pick the eomuk skewer that has been in the broth for a long time and dip your skewer in soy sauce (provided by the vendor) for the best taste. Eomuk skewers usually cost anywhere from 500 to 1,000 won and are often sold at the same stands as tteokbokki.
Hotteok (호떡) is a simple and sweet snack. In winter, places such as Insa-dong and Namdaemun Market in Seoul are dotted with hotteok vendors serving up these delicious little pancakes. Hotteok is made with dough from glutinous (sticky) rice flour and filled with a spread made from sugar, peanuts, and cinnamon. The round and flat pancakes are then lightly fried in oil. Some of the recent variations include hotteok stuffed with vegetables or seeds. Be careful when you take that first bite, though the brown-sugar filling is delicious, it is often very hot. Like many of the other street foods in Korea, hotteok is a steal at only 700 to 1,000 won apiece.
A common scene during winter in Korea is seeing vendors making bungeoppang (붕어빵) along busy streets. Bungeoppang is made by pouring flour dough into the bungeo (carp)-shaped black cast iron mold and filling it with red bean paste. While its red bean paste filling recipe may be similar to that of danpatppanng (bread filled with red bean paste), a bite of bungeoppang packs a distinctly warm and sweet taste. Bungeoppang can vary slightly in shape and color depending on the amount of flour used and the baking time, but the taste is always sure to please.
For many Koreans, the sight of freshly baked bungeoppang and its sweet aroma wafting through the crisp winter air is a signal that winter has truly arrived. Nowadays, you can find a diverse variety of bungeoppang such as ingeoppang (잉어빵), mini-bungeoppang, and bungeoppang filled with ingredients other than the traditional red bean paste. Prices vary by region, but 3 to 5 bungeoppang usually sell for 2,000 won. Also, see below for a fun way to test your friends when eating bungeoppang.
A Fun Bungeoppang Personality Test!
It is said that the way someone eats their bungeoppang tells a lot about that person’s personality. Head first or tail first? Those who bite into the head first are said to be positive and passionate individuals, and those who go for the tail first are likely to be sensitive, romantic, and fashionable. Next time you eat this tasty treat, give yourself and your friends the bungeoppang personality test.
As the air turns cool and crisp and snow begins to fall, there is a certain pleasure in warming up with a freshly-steamed hoppang (호빵). These pre-cooked treats are usually warmed in a steamer or microwave before eating. Traditionally hoppang is filled with red bean paste, but other fillings include meat, cheese, vegetables, sweet potatos, pizza toppings, sweet pumpkin, and more. Also, the shape of hoppang has become more varied.
Hoppang derives its name from the Korean onomatopoeia “ho ho” for blowing on hot food and also from the sound of laughter that comes from a family happily eating hoppang together. Each bun is around 700 to 1,000 won and this tasty treat can be purchased at convenience stores, small independent grocery stores, street vendors, markets, and more.
Tteokbokki (떡볶이) is a widely popular dish in Korea that has a very distinctive spicy, yet sweet, flavor. The main ingredient of tteokbokki is garaetteok (long, white rice cakes), which is mixed with eomuk (fish cake) and various vegetables like onions, cabbage, and carrots, and then marinated with red pepper paste. The mixture is heated and served with a hot cup of broth that the eomuk was cooked in.
Tteokbokki is easily found all across Korea. Recently, tteokbokki specialty franchise restaurants have opened, and a wider variety of tteokbokki flavors are available including ones using curry and cheese. Prices vary by store, but you can generally expect to pay 2,500 to 3,500 won per serving with complimentary refills of eomuk broth.
Ogokbap Rice (오곡밥), a special food originating from the Jeongwol Daeboreum (first full moon) festival, is a type of cooked white rice mixed with five grains: glutinous rice, glutinous millet, red beans, glutinous kaoliang, and black beans. Depending on the region, some grains are replaced with local substitutes. This healthy tradition may have even led to more households adding grains to their white rice. Another tradition of Jeongwol Daeboreum is to enjoy dried wild vegetables from the previous year. Bureom, a selection of nuts including pine nuts, chestnuts, walnuts, and peanuts, is also enjoyed to wish for good luck in the coming year.
Manduguk (dumpling soup, 만두국) is a dish that is regularly eaten by Koreans in the winter. Dumplings are filled with minced beef and vegetables, put in a broth along with sliced rice cakes, and boiled to perfection. You may even find restaurants that serve pink and yellow dumplings colored with natural dyes. Although eaten throughout the year, manduguk is especially favored in the winter and is traditionally served on New Year’s Day. It is best enjoyed with gimjang kimchi (kimchi prepared during the winter) or mul-kimchi (watery kimchi served cold). Manduguk usually costs between 5,000 to 7,000 won.
The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year and has the most hours of darkness. It usually falls around December 22 on the solar calendar. A traditional Korean winter solstice event is making and eating red bean paste porridge called “patjuk” (팥죽). Red beans are boiled and small balls of glutinous rice are added, making a thick and sweet porridge. Red beans symbolize the chasing away of evil spirits, and the rice balls symbolize new life. Therefore, eating a delicious bowl of patjuk on winter solstice was believed to chase away all illnesses. Also, eating the same number of rice balls as one’s age symbolizes the successful passing of the year.
In the past, Koreans would sprinkle red bean paste porridge around the yard and share the dish with neighbors to chase away evil spirits. At the time, many also believed that a warm winter solstice meant the coming of disease and death, while a cold, snowy winter solstice meant a prosperous New Year.
Although the winter solstice is not a major Korean holiday like Chuseok or Lunar New Year’s Day, Korean families do get together to enjoy a sweet bowl of red bean paste porridge and wish each other a healthy and prosperous New Year. These days, numerous porridge restaurants offer patjuk all year round. A bowl usually costs 5,000 to 9,000 won.
Kimchi (김치) is the quintessential Korean food and comes in numerous varieties. Wintertime kimchi-making is known as “gimjang,” a time when households in Korea prepare and store kimchi in massive quantities for the winter months. Traditionally, gimjang kimchi making had been one of the most important winter preparation tasks for housewives.
An important part of gimjang is the storing of the final product. To allow for proper fermentation, gimjang kimchi is best kept near 0℃ with minimal temperature fluctuation. In the past, special holes were dug in which kimchi jars were buried and covered with straw mats to ferment during the winter. Today, most Korean households have two refrigerators. One is just your average refrigerator while the other is a uniquely Korean appliance used exclusively for kimchi storage.
It doesn’t feel like a real Lunar New Year’s Day without a bowl of tteokguk (떡국). On the morning of the Lunar New Year, the whole family gathers around to have tteokguk, make New Year’s resolutions and wish each other a healthy and prosperous New Year. In recent years, tteokguk has also become a popular food for Solar New Year’s Day as well. Of course, it doesn’t need to be a holiday for you to enjoy a great big bowl of tteokguk!
To make tteokguk, garaetteok (long, cylinder-shaped tteok) is sliced into thin pieces and placed into a soup stock seasoned with a pinch of salt or a drop of soy sauce. One interesting thing about this dish is that different regions of Korea slice Garaetteok into different shapes, meaning that you can guess the hometown of your cook if you have a keen eye. These days, sliced Garaetteok is enjoyed in a range of soups including manduguk (dumpling soup) and ramen.
Subscribe to our Stripes Pacific newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, cultural information, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!
Follow us on social media!