When we left home to move to Korea, there was one huge worry on my mind- we were leaving behind England, and with it all the comfort of delicious British food. No more roast dinners, no afternoon teas, no proper English puddings. And to our horror when we arrived, no proper chocolate (apart from the dreaded Hershey’s which, in my opinion, is a poor excuse for chocolate and tastes like it’s a year past its sell-by-date).
So, we were leaving yummy old England to live somewhere which the only foods we knew people ate were rice, one of the most boring foods known to man, and ‘Kimchi’- something which we had never heard of and had only seen described as ‘fermented cabbage’… um, yum?
Not having the greatest expectations, we were pretty happy when we discovered that Korean food is actually pretty delicious. The Koreans have certainly been creative when coming up with new snack ideas and in many ways they’ve succeeded in producing good food. But it isn’t without a weirdness which leaves us Westerners interested, amused… and sometimes disgusted.
So here they are- the top 20 weird, and sometimes wonderful, Korean snacks which we have discovered:
1) Gimbap- The Best
These rolls of heaven are pretty much the same as futomaki sushi rolls- rice and seaweed wrapped around a delicious filling. In Korea, Gimbap is everywhere- it was actually the first thing I ever bought when we arrived in Korea at the airport, overcome with excitement at finding sushi for only 60 p.
The reason it’s so good is the variety of fillings- everything from tuna mayonnaise to spicy beef to ham to tofu. Along with the main ingredient, the rolls are filled with things like spinach, grated carrot, cucumber, egg, yellow radish, the list goes on…
Good as a snack or a lunch, you can buy Gimbap from fast food outlets, street food stalls, or 24 hour convenience stores. The best thing about it? A whole roll can have as few as 300 calories, so it has the added benefit of being healthy!
Best. thing. ever.
2) Sweet Garlic Bread- A Deceptive Loaf
This is one of Korea’s weirder taste combinations- garlic bread sprinkled with sugar (cheese pizza dressed with honey is a similar Korean oddity which I have so far avoided). I was excited for a taste of home when I bought some from a local bakery thinking that it was normal garlic bread. Needless to say I was confused when I bit into it expecting to taste something savoury and instead got a mouthful of sugar. What was this strange thing? Should I have it for dinner, or dessert?
It isn’t completely unpleasant, just more of a shock for unsuspecting Westerners. Still, if you’re the kind of person who likes your garlic with a bit of sweetness, this is the snack for you! If not, I’d avoid it.
3) Novelty Ice Lollies- The Most Imaginative Snack
Whoever thinks up ideas for Korean ice lollies deserves a medal for creativity. Take the watermelon ice lolly – it actually has chocolate pieces inside to look like Watermelon seeds, pretty impressive level of accuracy there. Or the corn ice lolly, made to look exactly like a corn on the cob and filled with cream.
Other designs include: ice lollies moulded like sharks and ice cream sandwiches made to look like fish. Endless fun, and even better- they actually taste good too. Win for Korea!
4) Flavoured Sausage Snack- The Babybel/ Cheese-string Hybrid which no-one asked for
I don’t know how to describe these, apart from as a cross between a Babybel and a Cheese-string. They come in different flavours such as cheese, which isn’t so bad, and fish… which is just too weird and which I wouldn’t advise trying. Ever.
But to make it clear for anyone about to try them, this rubbery, bendy snack doesn’t taste at all like a sausage, so don’t get your hopes up.
5) Sandwiches- The Worst Example of Fusion
Sandwiches aren’t massively popular in Korea- they don’t dominate shelves in the supermarkets or in cafes. But even if they are on the menu, the filling isn’t exactly what we Brits would expect.
No, the Koreans take a normal sandwich: chicken, ham or cheese, and add so many other ingredients that it ends up tasting like there’s a whole buffet of sandwiches in your mouth at once (and that’s not a good thing).
Take the pictured example above, which is a sandwich at our school lunch. We were initially delighted to see sandwiches- but then we took a closer look and saw that it wasn’t your ordinary cheese-and-coleslaw filling… some genius had decided to add jam to the mix. And from the happy faces of students and colleagues alike munching away happily, this is obviously a hit combination in Korea.
I, however, remain unconvinced.
6) Dried Ramen- The Kids Favourite
This one is quite easy to try at home: get a packet of instant ramen, sprinkle on the flavouring, shake it all together in the packet… and eat. No cooking involved. Goodness knows what raw ramen does to your digestive system, but the people here don’t seem to mind.
I have to admit I haven’t tried it, preferring my noodles cooked. But you can try it with a packet of super-noodles and make your own mind up.
7) Spiral Potato Stick (Tornado Potato)- The evolution of the Curly Fry
This street-food snack is pretty similar to curly fries, only more fun to eat. Deep-fried, salty, delicious potato goodness- you can’t really go wrong!
8) Imitation Crisps- Another Creative Snack
Here we see the same pattern as with the imaginative ice lollies: Koreans imitating real foods, only this time in crisp versions. You can find french fry crisps, onion ring crisps, even fried chicken crisps.
Combine a bag of the fried chicken and a packet of the french fries with some vegetable crisps, and you can make an entire meal. Pretty tasty (although probably not the most balanced dinner).
9) Red Bean Bun- The Crowd Divider
This is similar to marmite- most people love or hate red bean. It takes some getting used to, admittedly, a sweet bean paste with a texture similar to peanut butter.
The first time I picked up a red bean bun, I thought it was actually going to be chocolate inside, and similarly to my garlic bread experience was confused when I bit into it. Luckily for me I fall into the ‘love’ category so wasn’t disgusted unlike some people I know who’ve made the same mistake!
And for those who like red bean- it’s much healthier than chocolate, so you can finally have a good excuse to hit the bakery, guilt free. Definite positive!
10) Rice Cakes- A Poor Excuse for Cake
I was quite excited to try Korean cakes… that is until I ate some and realised that they aren’t cakes at all.
It’s quite hard to describe Korean rice cakes- try to imagine chewing on a congealed lump of rice, (sometimes lukewarm, most of the time cold), with little taste and which leaves you with an uncomfortable bloating feeling in your stomach. Sometimes there might be a few raisins or beans in the cake, but that doesn’t make it much better.
Unfortunately Koreans love the things and they are everywhere. They’re also a very popular gift to exchange, especially for national holidays- the equivalent of mince pies or Easter eggs- but sadly without any of the deliciousness.
11) Fish Jerky- The Unexpected Delight
This is the beef jerky equivalent, and a popular snack. It’s tasty and healthy and even more delicious when heated- a good way to do this is to barbecue the fish (pictured) so that it ends up warm and crispy.
This snack is a definite winner for me. Just one piece of advice- skip the dried squid. Not only does it look unpleasant, but chewing on a rubbery tentacle isn’t the most appealing thing, as you can see in the picture below.
12) Jollypong- The Breakfast Cereal Snack
This is basically a bag of sugar puffs (although they do also come in chocolate flavour). If you like dry cereal (which luckily I do), then this is for you. If not, they are at least useful to keep in the house as an emergency cereal back up in case you unexpectedly run out.
13) Cheesecake- Same Name, Very Different
This is another Korean food which shouldn’t fool you by it’s normal name. Because this snack does not in any way resemble Western cheesecake with its lovely biscuit base and sweet, creamy topping.
No, this is literally cheese cake. As in, cake which tastes like cheese. Cheddar cheese in fact.
It’s about the same level in weirdness as Sweet Garlic Bread, but a lower level on taste. You’ve been warned.
14) Bappingsu- The Summertime Favourite
This refreshing treat tastes a whole lot better than it looks. It consists of a pile of ice shavings, topped with different things- milk, ice cream, syrup, fruit, sweets, cereal to name a few. The toppings mix with the ice to make a sweet mixture of yumminess, and it’s mainly ice, so it has to be healthy, right?
Warning- beware red bean. If you are a hater of red bean, make sure you get one with a different topping, as among Koreans the bean paste is probably the most popular flavour.
15) Pepero- The Most Addictive Snack since Pringles
These chocolate sticks of heaven are so good that there is actually a ‘Pepero Day’ in Korea, where you give packets of them to loved ones. Seriously.
They come in different flavours- dark, white, almond, strawberry, cookie, and different sizes- for a special gift you can buy huge Peperos in a special gift box.
The only bad thing about them is that it’s too easy to eat a whole box (or two) without thinking. Oops.
16) Tteokbokki – Korean Comfort Food
Made from rice, these are savoury versions of the previously mentioned rice cakes. Apart from that in this form, they are delicious. Similar to Gnocchi in texture, the rice cakes are served warm and in sauce (usually tomato flavoured and spicy, although it depends what type you buy). You can even buy cheese-filled Tteokbokki, which is just amazing.
Most popular as a street food, Tteokbokki is comforting, wholesome and also incredibly cheap to buy. Pretty much everything you could ever want in a snack.
17) Silkworm Pupae- The One Which even Koreans Hate
If you’ve ever wanted to try boiled silkworm, Korea is the place to come. Not only is this snack served as street food, but you can also buy the silkworm snack in cans at convenience stores- very handy if you have a quick craving!
I can’t honestly say I’ve tried eating this as even Koreans have warned me against it- 99% of those I’ve spoken to don’t like it, but it’s still sold in abundance in food markets so someone must be eating it. As for me, I think I’ll continue to avoid it.
18) Choco Pies- More a cake than a Pie
This is a favourite among adults and children alike. Imagine a more cake-like Wagon Wheel and you’ve got it. Sweet and full of marshmallow, this is one sweet treat which is good in Korea. Just don’t be fooled by the word ‘Pie’- this is a cake, plain and simple.
19) Chocolate Rocks- Smarties from the Stone Age
Chocolates which look like stones? Why not?
Whatever the inventor of these chocolates was thinking, we don’t care- they taste good, which is frankly the only thing we care about when eating chocolate.
20) Seaweed Crisps
Korea was way ahead of the kale crisp trend, with their own Seaweed Crisps. These thin strips of roasted, seasoned seaweed are full of salty, delicious flavour and are a great alternative to potato crisps.
With as few as 20 calories in a pack, Seaweed crisps are a completely guilt-free snack which is packed with antioxidants, and a good source of potassium too.. it would be a crime not to eat!
So there you have it- a select group of Korean snacks, from the delicious to the disgusting. That’s not to say there are many more foods which could be on the list: if you ever fancy a waffle-on-a-stick (a ‘long-ffle’), a rice burger or some chicken feet, Korea is the place to be.
Oh, and when you’ve finished eating your snack, you can clean your teeth with pine-tree flavoured tooth paste… sound good?