The street food of a nation speaks volumes about its gastronomic influences and culture. Because it is so easily accessible, cheap and tasty, foodies swear by it and make sure that wherever they go, they never miss out on at least a day of street hopping, lip smacking, street food binging. South Korea also has great street food traditions and Seoul is the perfect epicentre for a traveller to experience that. So here are a few dishes you should definitely try if you travel to South Korea and end up in Seoul.
1. Chi-Maek (Fried Chicken)
Get ready to eat some KFC. No, not Kentucky Fried Chicken. Korean Fried Chicken. A much adored part of South korean cuisine, the stalls that hawk this delicacy are ubiquitous and each has its own unique recipe which usually includes garlic and tomato to fry up delicious pieces of crispy brown chicken. And then there are the sauces and glazes like yangnyeom (spicy seasoned sauce), soy, and sweet and spicy sauce. Oh, and don’t forget the kimchi!
2. Jeon (Savoury Pancakes)
We’re no stranger to savoury pancakes, are we? The delicious Utthapam has been delighting us for ages! This is the South Korean take on this brilliant twist called Jeon. These freshly prepared and made-to-order pancakes are loaded with pork, seafood, kimchi and anything else you request or the chef can think of. Pair them with some Makgeolli (rice wine) to make the meal complete.
3. Gogi-Gui (Korean Barbecue)
Damn, the Koreans love their barbecue. If you’ve ever eaten at any Korean establishment, you’ll have seen that most tables have a grill built into them for ready barbecuing on cue. You cook your own meats here to your own taste. Watching beef or pork sizzle on the grill in a tantalizing sight. Plus, there are like a dozen side dishes like Kimchi you can munch on. The grilled meat is usually eaten in lettuce or perilla leaves (a plant from the mint family), with a drop of ssamjang paste – a mixture of crushed beans and chilli. By the way, Korean barbecue is a sharing dish meant for two or more people, so take plenty of friends or make some.
4. Saengseon Hoe (Raw Fish)
Korea’s answer to sashimi is so popular that it is readily available on the street. The freshest Saengseon Hoe that Seoul has to offer will be found at the Noryangjin fish market. The more than 700 stalls dedicated to fish will be happy to slice up whichever sea creature takes your fancy. Like Sashimi, it’s an acquired taste; but if you love it, there’ll be no stopping you.
5. Naengmyeon (Cold Noodles)
I never thought I’d actually say this earnestly, but “thanks North Korea.” That’s where this dish originated actually. It’s perfect for hot and humid summer days and is sometimes referred to as Pyongyang Naengmyeon. The buckwheat noodles are cooked and then chilled before being mixed with diced vegetables and topped with Gochugang sauce. Gochujang is a red chilli paste that also contains glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, salt, and sometimes sweeteners. The taste is going to be cold and spicy, so be ready for a surprise in every bite.
6. Jjukkumi (Baby Octopus)
Yes. You read that right. But you knew something like this was going to be on the list given the South Korean’s love for seafood, right? Caught and served fresh, you can’t go far in Seoul without seeing jjukkumi in one form or another. One of the most popular versions is jjukkumi bokkeum, where whole baby octopus are cooked and mixed with an incredibly spicy gochugang sauce. If you’re not squeamish, you can also eat jjukkumi chopped, raw and still wriggling. Chew well to avoid choking!
7. Juk (Rice Porridge)
No, this not just dalia. One of the few traditional Korean dishes not bathed in chili, juk is by no means a plain and stodgy breakfast staple. Traditional juk is a sweet porridge such as patjuk (red bean), or pumpkin porridge. Today, stalls also sell savory versions that include mushroom, salted seafood or meat. Yummy.
8. Dakgalbi (Stir-Fried Chicken)
Originating from the town of Chuncheon in Gangwon province, dakgalbi is now a firm Seoul favorite. Diced cubes of chicken are marinated in the spicy gochujang sauce and then stir-fried with cabbage, sweet potato, perilla leaves, onion and tteok rice cakes on a hot plate.
9. Tteokbokki (Rice Cakes With Sauce)
Doesn’t sound special, right? But it is oh-so-tasty. The ‘tteok’ part of the name refers to the rice cakes themselves. But these are no ordinary rice cakes, these chewy sticks of rice are usually smothered in, you guessed it right, the spicy red chilli sauce called gochujang. It seems the Koreans love their spices as much as we do.
10. Budae Jjigae (Korean Army Stew)
The Korean War of the early 1950s gave birth to this street food staple. When rationing made protein and other food-stuff difficult to come by, the city’s civilian population began to make a stew using tinned meat and sausages from US army rations, cooking them in a traditional chili paste soup with cheese, tteok (rice cakes) and vegetables to create a thick broth that combines western and traditional food influences.
Soul food on the streets of Seoul. What could be better?