Originally published on SBS.
Seoul’s street-food game is extremely strong regardless of what season it is. Some of the city’s best treats are served at tiny street stalls that have specialised in one or two items for decades. Here are 12 items to look for when visiting South Korea’s capital.
Almost as fun to say as it is to eat, tteokbokki (pronounced: tok-bo-kee) is an undeniable Korean favourite. You’ll see people all around Seoul eating tteokbokki as everything from an after-school snack to a midnight refuel in party districts such as Hongdae and Itaewon.
The dish consists of soft, stubby rice cakes cooked in gochujang, a sauce made of chilli and fermented soybeans. You can eat tteokbokki at a pojangmacha (food tent) or order the skewered version to go, which is called tteokkochi.
Bindaetteok is made of the humble and underrated mung bean and celebrated in pancake form. They are the best-selling food item at Seoul’s Gwangjang Market, which has been open since 1905. Ground mung bean, spring onion, kimchi and pepper are combined and fried to form pancakes that are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
If you spot these fish-shaped parcels in Seoul, know that they don’t actually contain fish. Bungeoppang are pastries filled with sweet red bean paste. So, why do they come in the shape of a fish? Because fish are considered a symbol of good luck in Korea.
In the colder months, hotteok provide sweet, warm comfort. These doughnuts are filled with cinnamon, sugar, nuts and/or seeds such as walnuts, sesame and sunflower seeds. They are fried on a hotplate, which causes the filling to caramelise.
Twigim is the Korean equivalent of tempura but there’s often a wider range of fillings than in the Japanese style. You can get battered whole squids, dumplings, boiled eggs and gimmari (seaweed rolls).
Ever struggled between choosing a corndog or fries? Gamja dogs make this choice easier by combining the two. In Seoul, corndogs are encrusted with a potato chip-laden batter, fried and served on a stick; the perfect answer to fried food cravings. Sometimes the hotdog is even replaced with a big stick of cheese.
No, not ice cream. Sundae (pronounced: soon-day) is a popular Korean blood sausage. This dish is made by boiling or steaming animal sausage casing filled with rice, blood and/or sweet potato noodles. Sundae can also include ingredients such as barley, sweet potato, kimchi and bean sprouts.
Gyerranppang is one of the most popular street food items in the city. ‘Gyeran’ means egg and ‘ppang’ is bread, aptly describing these mini loaves of bread with eggs baked onto their tops. These come plain or can be levelled up with cheese.
These fish paste cakes and their squiggly shapes can intimidate travellers, but they should not be bypassed. Odeng are flavourful, easy to eat and cheap – the ultimate street food combo. They can also be served in a soup made of a leek base or a punchier gochujang version. Odeng are very popular among locals.
For those looking for some protein and an energy kick, meet dakkochi – grilled chicken and spring onion skewers. Dakkochi are cooked in a sweet soy and chilli sauce, making them spicy, sticky and hard to stop eating at just one.
Gaeran to su tu
These pan-fried egg sandwiches are a saviour when in a rush, filled with the likes of cheese, onion and ham. As sandwiches are not characteristically Korean, these are usually served to go in a cup.
Cooked vegetables and roasted nuts
Seoul’s streets are also full of simple things, with countless vendors selling goodies such as baked sweet potatoes, steamed corn and roasted chestnuts. Yes, please!
Lead image credit: Mike Swigunski via Unsplash.