Thanks to the emergence of Korean dramas, movies, comics, and music, travelers have recognized South Korea as a popular destination for great food, rich cultural heritage, and exciting activities (both during the day and night). Korean cuisine has especially captured the hearts of many self-proclaimed foodie travelers, who are on the prowl to find the next best foods, whether it's at a fancy sit-down restaurant or from a cozy street stall.
In South Korea, Seoul is home to many bustling food markets, from the neighborhood of Myeong-dong to the famous Gwangjang Market (that's been in operation since 1905). However, other places like Jeonju and Busan are also home to busy food markets, where travelers can find local favorites to more international fare.
On your next visit to South Korea's bustling food market, seek some of these local favorites and let your taste buds go on a culinary experience!
Tteokbokki is an iconic South Korean street food that drenches garae-tteok (long, noodle-like rice cakes) or tteokmyeon (circular-shaped rice cakes) into gochujang, a spicy chili paste, or soy-based sauce. You can find this savory treat in fast-food stalls along the streets of South Korea, which is great as a late-night snack!
7 Dalgona Candy (Honey Comb Candy)
Fans of the Netflix hit Squid Game may recognize this sweet treat!
Also known as ppopgi or Korean honeycomb toffee, this sweet confectionary is simply made from heating sugar and baking soda, which is usually formed into a round shape before being stamped with a simple shape (like a star, umbrella, or circle). This is a popular street food that was usually sold outside schools, and children would compete with each other to carve the shape out of the candy (those who were able to carve the shape without breakage were sometimes given a second candy)!
Known as Korean dumplings, mandu are popular fare during Lunar New Year and was a favorite among Korean royals. Today, this popular snack can be found everywhere in Korea, whether it's at sit-down restaurants, grocery stores, or street vendors (it's even quite easy to make at home)! Popular fillings for mandu include kimchee and pork, but other delicious ingredients like onions, mung beans, sweet potato noodles, and other vegetables, can also be added to mandu, making it a truly versatile food (which can either be grilled, fried, or boiled in a water bath).
Also known as nokdujeon, bindaetteok are savoury pan-fried pancakes primarily made of soaked mung beans and other mixins like scallions and meat. Bindaetteok was inspired by the bing, a flat Chinese pancake, but was introduced as a nutritious source of food for the poor. Today, bindaetteok is a must-try, especially for travelers exploring Seoul's Gwangjang Market, home to the legendary Soonhee's Bindaetteok.
What do you call hotdogs which are drenched in savory, panko-crumbed batter and studded with salty potato pieces, which are then deep-fried before being sprinkled with your choice of sugar, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, or powdered cheese? The legendary, mouthwatering gamja-hotdog! Although this Korean-style corn dog is popular throughout the country's markets and street vendors (even making its way into Korean dramas), this savory snack has taken the world by storm, with shops popping up in places like the United States, Canada, and the Philippines! Vendors sell these hotdogs on sticks and can even make them with various fillings like mozzarella cheese, fish sausages, fish cakes, or even chocolate.
Tourists craving a sweet treat after a hearty dinner should sink their teeth into bungeoppang, a carp-shaped bread pastry traditionally filled with sweetened red bean paste. Today, tourists can find bungeoppang filled with vanilla custard, pizza toppings, and chocolate. Inspired by the Japanese taiyaki, bungeoppang is a Korean childhood favorite that is best enjoyed during the winter months (though it is available all year round!). A common joke in Korea makes reference to this handheld treat, which is: “I want to quit my job and sell bungeoppang.” This joke is used when people are unhappy with their jobs, remarking that bungeoppang is an alternative career option due to how easy it is to set up shop and sell these adorable fish-shaped pastries.
Soondae may be an acquired taste for some tourists, but locals love this Korean-style blood sausage! Made by boiling cow or pork intestines, soondae is commonly stuffed with minced meats, dangmyeons (glass noodles), and pig's blood. Firm and juicy to the touch, soondae is often served as street food with a side of liver with dipping sauces (most people like dipping it in tteokkbokki sauce). Salt, sugar, chili flakes, and sesame seeds can be sprinkled onto the soondae. Variations of this Korean favorite also include adding kimchi, tofu, or even using a whole squid as a casing!
1 Gimbap (or Kimbap)
Informally known as "Korean sushi", gimbap is a popular street food sold across South Korea, especially in Seoul's Gwangjang Market. This savory treat is typically made using ingredients like cooked rice, carrots, danmuji (pickled radish), spam, pan-fried eggs, or fish cakes, which are tightly wrapped around salty seaweed. This makes a great light snack that is often sold on carts in bustling marketplaces. Gwangjang Market is home to a specialty gimbap known as ggoma gimbap or mayak kimbap: small-sized, handheld varieties of gimbap that are served alongside hot mustard.