Korean street food is most delicious on a freezing night after too much soju.
Koreans are massive drinkers, and there’s something about their street food that makes it match perfectly with alcohol. It’s warm, spicy and takes the edge off tomorrow’s impending hangover.
Korean street food culture revolves around the pojangmacha, a covered stall with wheels. You’ll see these everywhere. The food is typically prepared by an ajumma (a respectful word for an older woman). These ladies are tough as nails. My fondest memory is of an ajumma literally chasing away two drunk men who insulted her cooking.
But that’s not to say that this food can’t be enjoyed sober. Korean street food is delicious at all hours of the day. To help you decide what to eat, here’s my guide to the best Korean street food.
The best Korean street food
1. Tteokbokki, 떡볶이
Tteokbokki is the best Korean street food. Simply rice-cakes in a spicy sauce, it looks awful but tastes amazing. You can’t beat the satisfaction of that soft cake and piquant sauce. The redness comes from gochujang, a hot pepper paste found in all sorts of Korean meals.
You can find tteokbokki everywhere. I loved it so much that I ate it everyday. Although there’s nothing healthier than a dish of pure carbs, you can also combine tteokbokki with fried dumplings, vegetables or squid (called twigim) to create the ultimate Korean street food.
2. Sundae, 순대
Spelled like the ice-cream, this is where all similarities end. Sundae is pig intestines stuffed with clear noodles and pork blood. An appetizing prospect, sundae took a while to grow on me. But I came to love it, particularly when it was seasoned with salt and drenched in the spicy sauce. Sundae definitely goes well with too much soju.
3. Odeng, 오뎅
Odeng is fish-cake. It’s cut up and eaten with tteokbokki or served on long skewers that sit in a steaming fish broth. You don’t need to order odeng, you just pick the skewers from the broth then pay at the end. The hearty broth is free to drink and is an essential part of the street food experience.
A specialty variant of odeng is available in Busan. The odeng is stuffed with cellophane noodles and vegetables which are cut up and placed into a soup. It’s worth finding if you are in Nampo-dong.
Gimbap resembles sushi, but don’t you dare call it that. Gimbap is available everywhere, from specialty restaurants to convenience stores. It’s the most portable Korean dish and is perfect to take hiking. Gimbap is sold in long rolls and the different fillings include vegetarian, egg and pork cutlet.
Another variety called “drug gimbap” can be found at Gwangjang Market in Seoul. It’s called this because of its addictive flavour. Like a drug, you supposedly can’t stop eating it. I had some and thought it was overrated.
Bindaetteok is a type of jeon — a Korean pancake. Very greasy, bindaetteok’s made from ground mung beans, kimchi and green onion. Served without meat, bindaetteok comes from a time when Korea was poor. It’s perfect with makgeolli, a sweet rice wine that’s now in vogue but was originally drunk by farmers.
Hotteok is another type of pancake, but it’s very sweet. Dough is stuffed with brown sugar, honey, nuts and cinnamon, and is then fried and eaten piping hot. It’s utterly addictive, and might be the best thing about Korea’s bitterly cold winters.
Thanks for reading my guide to the best Korean street food. Was it helpful? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.