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The Glutton’s Guide to the Best Korean Street Food

Korean street food isn’t just a collection of cheap snacks. It’s a way of life, a habit that forms early in childhood and stays with you for life.

It is intertwined into the fabric of daily Korean life, from the primary schooler who stops by the tteokbokki cart every day after school to the office worker who regularly picks up a bag of bungeo-ppang on his commute home from work because it’s his mom’s favorite childhood snack.

And it’s not just essential to the modern Korean identity, street food is a testament to Korea’s unique rags-to-riches history.

Although Korean street food has existed since the Joseon period, it became crucial in the food-scarce years following the Korean War. Korea wasn’t well off before the war but afterwards, it was truly impoverished, with a per capita income less than $100.

For the majority of Koreans who were poor and hungry, street food was often the only affordable option for a full belly.

Thankfully, that’s not the case any longer. But Korean street food still thrives – no longer out of need but because it is now a firmly entrenched part of Korean life.

And one thing hasn’t changed: the food will be there when you need it. Street food in Korea is absolutely everywhere. You won’t be able to walk 10 minutes in most parts of Korea without meeting a street food vendor (or 5). I suspect the ubiquity is because semi-consciously, Koreans like the idea of never going hungry again.

Oh, and because it’s delicious. There’s that, too.

One thing is for sure: wandering the streets of Korea, you will never go hungry.

5 Things to Know About Korean Street Food

It’s not a full meal

You know those periods of the day when you feel kind of hungry but don’t want a full meal? In between lunch and dinner. After a night of drinking and dancing. While roaming the streets of Seoul.

That’s street food time.

Korean street food isn’t like Vietnamese or Thai street food where you can eat entire meals on the street. Most street food carts don’t even offer seating. It’s either an order-and go or stand-and-snack kind of deal. And you can fill up, of course, but it’s not meant to be a “proper” meal.

Seasons matter

A lot of Korean street food is perennial – i.e. tteokbokki and sundae. But much of it is seasonal. You’re much more likely to find hotteok (sweet pancakes), gyeran-bbang (egg muffins), and bungeoppang (fish-shaped, sweet bean paste pastries) during the winter months.

There’s always more

This is by no means a complete list. I’ve listed the classics, the ones you’re going to be able to find pretty much anywhere, anytime. But the Korean street food scene is constantly innovating and there are always new trends and fads.

Food by day, drinks by night

During the day, the food carts that line the streets of Korea sell street food classics like tteokbokki, sundae, kimbap, and so on. But when the sun goes down, the alcohol comes out and the food carts transform into a makeshift bar.

Called pojangmacha (포장마차), or pocha for short, these bars-on-wheels are essentially food carts draped in colorful awnings extended out to provide cover (and warmth in the winter). There are plastic tables and chairs, anju (drinking food) is served, and of course, soju.

They may be in essence the same thing but the day side and the night side of Korean street food carts are entirely different beasts. Experience both – you won’t regret it.

Foot traffic is key

Korea has some sprawling street food markets but you don’t necessarily need to seek out a big market to get your fill of street food.

Just go where the foot traffic is. Street food carts and trucks have wheels for a reason – so they can plant themselves wherever the most amount of people are. The streets around subway stations, for example, are almost always packed with street food.

31 Best Korean Street Food to Try

Korean street food is an extensive category. As such, this is a looooong list. So I’ve organized it into parts. Click on any section to scroll directly to it.

most Famous Korean Street Food

Let’s start with the most famous Korean street food – these are the classic Korean street foods that are the most popular in Korea and have gained universal fame. The foods you’ve seen consumed in K-dramas and possibly tasted at Korean street food shops currently popping up around the world.

There’s quite a few of them but I’d say all of them are must eats!

Tteokbokki 떡볶이

The quintessential Korean street food has got to be tteokbokki. You’ll know it’s popular because you will see it absolutely everywhere. Just look for big pans full of little white sticks simmering in what appears to be boiling lava.

But don’t be scared – their spiciness is counterbalanced with a lot of savory and a touch of sweet. It’s an addictive flavor profile that most Koreans crave on a regular basis.

Which is why it’s ubiquitous – Korean grow up on this stuff. Schoolchildren eat it as an after-school snack. Office workers and commuters get a serving – or even a cup – for a quick nibble in between meals.

It’s an absolutely iconic Korean street food. An absolute must try. But don’t just try the typical red-hot tteokbokki – Korea’s got some cool varieties. Cheese tteokbokki is a must eat. So is rose tteokbokki (this one is even more addictive).

Want to make it at home? Get the recipe here.

Twigim 튀김

The wonderful thing about tteokbokki is that it plays so very well with pretty much every other street food. Chief amongst them – twigim (튀김).

Twigim refers to a wide category of fritter-like fried street foods that are delicious on their own but even better when smothered in tteokbokki sauce. Some are kind of like tempura but there are some that are very uniquely Korean.

My favorites are:

  • Kim-mari. These are seasoned vermicelli noodles wrapped in seaweed and then fried to crispy perfection while remaining soft and chewy on the inside. I love these so much that I feel like something is missing if I eat tteokbokki without them.
  • O-jing-uh. Individual squid tentacles are coated in batter and fried – yum.
  • Go-chu. Green chili peppers that are usually just the right amount of spicy are deep fried so you get a little bit of kick to balance out any oiliness from the deep frying.
  • Go-gu-ma. Sweet slices of sweet potato are deep fried for a savory-sweet combination. So good.

Twigim is not pricey and they will let you choose an assortment so go crazy and try them all!

Kimbap 김밥

Kimbap is the Korean equivalent of sushi. Seasoned rice rolled in seaweed with a variety of fillings – everything from veggies to meat to seafood – and then sliced into bite-sized pieces.

It’s the ultimate eat-it-anywhere, take-it-anywhere kind of food as you don’t even need utensils. Which is why it’s probably the most eaten food at picnics, outdoor events, road trips, and as a quick-and-easy lunch option.

Some say kimbap was created as early as the Joseon Dynasty as a highly portable, nutritious meal for travelers. Others say it originated from Japanese norimaki and was adapted to Korean tastes during the period of Japanese colonization.

But don’t let any Koreans hear you say the latter. In fact, avoid associating most Korean foods with Japan. Conversations can get heated quick.

Instead, explore the seemingly endless varieties you can get your hands on while in Korea.

As a street food, you’ll most likely encounter the classic kimbap or choongmu kimbap. But at kimbap franchises all over the country, you’ll find kimbap rolls that feature cheese, tteok-galbi, spicy fish cake, tuna and mayo, anchovies and cream cheese, and so on.

Odeng 오뎅/Eomuk 어묵

While you cram down the chewy tteokbokki, munch on sundae, and dip the occasional piece of kimbap into that addictively spicy tteokbokki sauce, you’re going to want something to wash it all down with.

But should you ask for water? Hell no.

The perfect liquid to complete your Korean street food experience is a steaming cup of odeng broth. It’s slightly fishy, savory, with tons of umami flavor.

While you’re at it, get one of the sticks of odeng as well – these thick-cut, curly-skewered fish cakes are made from ground fish paste and starch and then seasoned. Some are spicy, some are not. All are delicious.

Don’t shy away from that spicy dipping sauce now.

Note: When you’re done, the street food vendor will count the number of eomuk sticks you’ve got and charge you accordingly.

Sundae 순대

If you can imagine a food that is the most completely different from a typical ice cream sundae, it would be the Korean sundae. It’s not a sweet treat at all – it’s a savory blood sausage made from intestines stuffed with seasoned vermicelli noodles. the long intestines are chopped into small, bite-sized pieces and served with a side of MSG salt with chili pepper flakes.

But don’t let the ‘blood sausage’ part put you off – this dish is strangely delicious. It’s a taste hard to describe but most Koreans couldn’t live without it.

Corn Dogs 핫도그

The Korean corndogs that have shown up all over Korea in recent years have their roots in American-style corndogs but they have a lot of…extra stuff.

And my god, is the extra stuff amazing. These Franken-corndogs are so, so good. There are ones with potato cubes all over them. Others have sweet potato cubes. Some are oozing cheese. A few feature jalapeño hot dogs to create a delicious crunchy-cheesy-spicy combo.

And let’s not forget the sauce. There’s the usual ketchup and mustard, of course. But there’s also garlic sauce and buldak sauce.

Bungeo-ppang 붕어빵

These aesthetically-pleasing, highly-Instagrammable fish-shaped pastries are made with flour and stuffed with sweet red bean and grilled on something like a waffle iron so that it’s slightly crispy on the outside and warm and chewy on the inside.

These are an absolutely classic Korean street food. To this day, I can’t pass by a cart without buying a pack.

Dalgona 달고나

If you’ve seen Squid Game, you know this quintessential Korean candy. It dates back to the 1960s and it’s still prepared the traditional way – by mixing baking soda and melted sugar into a small pot-ladle and then pouring it out onto a flat surface, pressing it flat (using that stainless steel device used for hotteok, and then imprinting it with a cookie cutter.

The deal is: if you can get the picture out without breaking it, you get a free dalgona. It’s an interactive candy that’s remained popular for decades and gained infamy after the dalgona challenge turned deadly in the popular Netflix series.

Tip: Dalgona isn’t just a street snack, it’s a flavor profile in Korea. You’ll find everything from dalgona coffee to dalgona flavored macarons, bingdu, and souffle.

Common Korean Street Food

These are the Korean street foods that aren’t as well known but very common in Korea and definitely worth trying…

Tteok kkochi 떡꼬치

‘Tteok’ is rice cake and ‘kkochi’ means skewered. Which is exactly what this is – except it’s also fried or pan-grilled so the rice cakes are both crispy and chewy. And then it’s slathered with a thick, sticky spicy-sweet gochujang sauce that hits both the sweet and umami spots.

Rice cakes with gochujang sauce, you say. How’s that different from tteokbokki? Well, they’re similar but different enough that you can’t substitute one craving for another. Tteokbokki is cooked right into its sauce, which is more savory-spicy than sweet. The sauce is also more liquid – perfect for dipping other street foods into.

Tteok-kkochi is fried or grilled so the rice cakes have a different texture and the thick, caramel-like glaze is much thicker and much sweeter.

Dak Gangjeong 닭강정

Love Korean fried chicken? You’re unlikely to find it as a street food – but there’s a much more portable alternative: dak gangjeong. These bite-sized, deep-fried chunks of crispy chicken are tossed in a sticky, sweet, savory and/or spicy sauce that is as addictive as anything on this list.

It’s not hard to see why: The sauce is a caramelization of soy sauce, garlic, ginger, rice vinegar, and more than enough sugar. The little chunks of chicken are that perfect mix of crunchy-on-the-outside and juicy-on-the-inside. It’s irresistible, which is why dak gangjeong quickly becomes a favorite of whoever tries it.

You can find this at restaurants, food courts, shops that specialize in it, as well as on the street, where it’s usually served up in small or large cups with long toothpicks for easy eating.

Mandu 만두

Like most places in Asia (and around the world), Koreans love dumplings. It’s available at restaurants, usually as a side dish, but another place you can eat these is right on the street.

There is a pretty big variety wherever you go but one type of mandu will show up pretty much everywhere – kimchi mandu.

Street Toast 길거리 토스트

Korean street toast is a complete sandwich that’s prepared lovingly on the streets of Korea. Although it can be an all-day affair, I always associate street toast vendors with the early mornings or the late nights. A savory-salty-sweet sandwich that can be eaten with one hand as you commute to work or enjoyed standing out on the street after several hours of partying.

It’s usually all made right in front you. Generously buttered bread. A little omelette patty. Various veggies – shredded cabbage, carrots, zucchini, maybe even corn. Perhaps some luncheon meat. A slice of American-style processed cheese. And the absolutely essential combo of ketchup and sugar sprinkled on top.

Gyeran Bbang 계란빵

The obvious downside of visiting Korea during the winter months is that it gets pretty darn cold. The upside? The winter selection of Korean street foods are delicious. Amongst them is gyeran-bbang.

Literally translated, it means egg bread. But to taste it is to know that it’s so much more. It’s fluffy, like bread and muffin had a baby. It’s the perfect combination of savory-sweet. And tucked inside is an absolutely delicious egg.

It’s one of the top 5 things I look forward to every time I visit Korea in the winter.

Dak Kkochi (닭꼬치)

Another classic Korean street food is dak kkochi, which is essentially skewered chunks of bite-sized chicken interspersed with green onions. The convenient-to-consume skewers are grilled or torched and coated in a savory-sweet sort of BBQ sauce.

It’s a delicious, portable, protein-rich snack to grab on the go.

So-Tteok So-Tteok (소떡소떡)

‘So’ is short for how Koreans say ‘sausage’ and ‘tteok’ is the Korean word for rice cake. Which sums up this street food – it’s a long skewer that holds alternating Vienna sausages and rice cakes.

It’s a satisfying combination of chewy carbs and protein, albeit the processed kind.

Gun Bam (군밤)

Here’s a welcome departure from the usual litany of fried, sauce-d, and often processed street foods: roasted chestnuts.

Unfortunately, they’re usually only available during the colder months so you’re in luck if you’re visiting Korea during the fall or winter. In which case, you need to pick up a bag of roasted chestnuts. They’re affordable, they’re delicious, and they make for a very healthy snack as you roam the streets.

Gun Goguma (군고구마)

Similarly, another healthy, roasted, and absolutely delicious Korean street food option is sweet potato. The scent alone is intoxicating. Follow your nose to sweet potatoes being roasted on smoky charcoal or even better, inside these keg-shaped fire roasters…

The skin is charred, the smell is wonderful, and just wait until you see what lies beneath as you peel away the flaky skin: sweeter-than-sweet potato that will change the way you think about sweet potato forever.

cream Waffle 크림 와플

These aren’t any old waffles. Whereas there are franchises around Korea that serve waffles with every imaginable topping and sauce these days, the original cream waffle was made by slathering one side of the waffle with a generous amount of cream and a slightly less generous amount of apple jam.

If you happen to be a Korean person in my generation – I’m an elder millennial – this is a taste combination that’s been imprinted on your young tastebuds and forms the standard of what should go on a waffle.

Gukhwa-Ppang 국화빵

Gukhwa-ppang is a flower-shaped pastry – chrysanthemum – that’s filled with sweet red bean paste (what else?). Like the fish-shaped bunggeo-ppang, it’s grilled in iron molds until it’s got a slight crisp on the outside and chewy goodness in the inside.

Traditional Korean Street Food

These are the Korean street foods that have been around…forever. If you want a taste of Korea’s past, here’s what to try…

Guwun Garaetteok 구운 가래떡

As you walk the streets of Seoul, you’ll see street food carts with long, thick and white cylindrical things piled up. That’s tteok (rice cake) – or more specifically garaetteok, which is what rice cake is called before it’s sliced up into bite-sized pieces.

And it makes a surprisingly satisfying snack in and of itself. Especially since it’s grilled until it’s toasty-crispy on the outside and meltingly chewy on the inside.

It’ll often be served with sweet dipping honey. Yum.

Hoppang 호빵/Jjinppang 찐빵

Out of all the Korean street foods on this list, jjinppang (aka hoppang) has probably been around the longest. It’s one of the only street foods I remember from my very early childhood in Korea. I can still recall the steam, the fluffiness of the buns, the food lust I felt whenever hoppang was near, the indecision between whether to go for sweet or savory…

These fluffy white buns mostly come in two fillings: sweet red bean or vegetables and meat. Kimchi flavor is a more recent option as well. And there are some specialty flavors – mandarin orange in Jeju, pizza, pumpkin, or even buldak. But mostly, the choice is between sweet red bean or veggies and meat.

My advice? Try them all.

Note: Hoppang and jjinppang look the same and the words are mostly used interchangeably. Wikipedia explains that the difference between the two is that jjinppang is traditionally made with sourdough fermented with the yeast found in makgeolli, the traditional Korean rice wine. And the red bean paste inside is left chunky – crushed, not ground into a fine paste, like it is in hoppang.

This isn’t actually correct, though. Hoppang was actually the brand of jjinppang products produced by a company and it eventually became popular vernacular. Sort of like how “Google” became synonymous with online search engines or “Chapstick” for lip balm.

Ppeong-twigi 뻥튀기

Ppeongtwigi is as traditional as it gets. This slightly sweet puffed rice grain snack is one that my parents and grandparents remember eating when they were young. And it’s a snack that advertises itself.

You see, the name is onomatopoeic – ‘ppeong’ is the loud popping sound it makes as the rice grains succumb to pressure from the heat and puff up. Sort of like popcorn.

You can buy pre-puffed and packaged bags of ppeing-twigi. But what would be the fun in that?

Try to get yours freshly popped. That way, you also get to watch the frisbee-like snacks coming out of the machine.

Hotteok 호떡

Hotteok are circular Korean-style pancakes that have the syrup in the middle, rather than drizzled on top. And it’s not really a syrup – the molasses sweet, nutty, cinnamon-y filling is unique to hotteok and hard to describe.

You just have to taste it.

It’s also fun to watch the process. Little balls of dough filled with the sweet filling are placed on a well-greased griddle and then pressed flat with a stainless steel device that was designed specifically for this purpose.

It’s served hot off the griddle, encased in a bit of thick paper and off you go.

Note: If you like the taste of hotteok but don’t love the oiliness, try bubble hotteok. It’s a modern variation of hotteok that’s baked, not fried, so that the bread puffs up (thus, the bubble).

Beondegi 번데기

This one is for daring foodies because the majority of tourists – and even many Koreans – aren’t able to stomach the look and scent of what is essentially steamed silkworm pupae. Because it looks like what it is.

This affordable and protein-rich snack rose to popularity following the Korean War, when food was scarce and protein even scarcer.

And it’s remained a mainstay Korean street snack for the simple reason that it’s healthy, low in fat and rich in protein and nutrients. Combined with the savory-spicy sauce that it’s served with, it’s not bad once you get over the initial smell. But not for the faint of palate.

kkwabaegi 꽈배기

Deep-fried, twisted dough is always going to taste good. Especially when they’re also dusted with sugar powder.

Kkwabaegi is a sweet, old-school Korean street food that’s to Korea what the donut is to the US, the croissant to France or the cinnamon roll in Sweden.

Chapssal Donuts 찹쌀도넛

I don’t want to play favorites here – I love almost all Korean street food – but I gotta say, these are probably my favorite sweet snack.

It’s another old school Korean snack that’s endured the test of time. You just have to taste it to understand why – it’s sweet, it’s crunchy, but the best thing about it is how satisfyingly chewy it is.

That’s because it’s made from chappsal flour – a sticky rice flour that encases the doughnut. Inside, it’s filled with sweet red bean paste and then lightly (or heavily) dusted in sugary powder.

Hodu-Gwaja 호두과자

Hodu-gwaja translated to walnut cookies but this classic Korean dessert snack has a texture that’s closer to muffin than cookie. Little bits crushed walnut are mixed into the wheat flour that forms the outer dough so you get that satisfying crunch of nuttiness with each bite.

And on the inside, there’s….you guessed it. Sweet red bean paste.

Trendy Korean Street Food

If you’re staying in the tourist-heavy areas of Seoul – aka Myeongdong, Hongdae, Insadong – you will have access to the most cutting-edge, experimental Korean street food. Many of which many Koreans haven’t even tried yet.

The upside of being a sort of Korean street food guinea pig is that most of it is delicious. Here’s what to look for…

Cheese Lobster Gui 치즈폭탄 랍스터 구이

Out of all the Korean street food, this is the most expensive. But hey, it’s lobster.

Or more specifically, lobster tails full of cheese and buttery soft lobster meat and then flame-grilled until the cheese is burnt and oozy.

Tornado Potato 회오리 감자

Think heavily-seasoned fries on a stick. Aesthetically pleasing and convenient to munch on, this swirly tornado potato is by no means a classic Korean street food. But it is popular and pretty darn delicious.

How could it not be? It’s deep-fried to crunchy perfection and smothered with a cheesy-savory powder that is pure MSG heaven.

Tanghuru 탕후루

Warning: If you have kids, they will make you get them one of these. In true Korean street food fashion, this is a skewered snack. But not meat, not rice cake – these skewers features brightly colored chunks of fruit…coated in crunchy rock sugar.

At first glance, they sort of look like the shiny coating on candied apples but they’re crunchy, not sticky, which is a nice contrast to the soft fruit that’s underneath.

Kkul-Tarae 꿀타래

Kkul-tarae translates to “honey skein” or “honey pouch.” I think an even more accurate name would be “honey cocoon,” which is really what it looks like. But the best name is the Chinese version, which is the candy that this street food is based on: Dragon’s beard.

It’s not a Korean street food you’ll find everywhere – it’s mostly confined to the street vendors dotting the traditional Insadong area. And it’s undeniably interesting looking – especially the way it’s prepared. A hard piece of honey is pulled and stretched into increasingly thinner strands until it becomes silky-fine, almost like a spider web.

It’s then encased around a sweet, nutty filling.

Even if you don’t end up buying, it’s worth watching how they’re made. Although, you’ll probably end up buying, if just out of appreciation for the skill of the candy crafters.

And there you have it – an (almost) complete list of Korean street foods that are absolute must try. Are there any I’m missing? Share in the comments!

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