The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Korean Street Eats (and others) in Seoul

Even though I've been pretty fortunate to have experienced a few excellent fine dining experiences, I know that some of the best food are found on the street in countries that have a colourful and vibrant street life (such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Thailand just to name a few). During our recent trip to Seoul, we discovered that Korea has a pretty strong street food culture, with plenty of street food vendors set up along busy streets and amongst clothes, bags and shoes stalls in open-air market areas. Even on the crowded upscale shopping streets of Myeongdong, there was no shortage of street vendors selling a variety of hot and cold snacks and meals of both sweet and savoury (although mostly sweet) kinds. Here are shots of some of the street food (and others) we encountered in Seoul.

One of the first street food I encountered while exploring Myeongdong on my own was boiled silkworm pupa (known as Beondegi). No, I didn't try any because the lady vendor gave me a weird look when I enquired about it, like she was suggesting that it wasn't something I want to try. I hadn't heard about eating silkworms before, and with my lack of Korean language ability, and not seeing anyone around eating this stuff, I didn't want to be the foolish foreigner who'd been duped into eating something that not even the locals ate. I probably would have been game to try it if I wasn't on my own. I did eat one of the toasted garaetteok (rice cake) that the vendor was keeping warm on the grill next to the vat of boiled silkworm pupa, but that was very plain and nothing to write about.

Vendor selling toasted garaetteok and boiled silkworm pupa:

Nearer our hotel, I walked past this roaster vendor who had various items that he would roast for you to take on-the-go. He had chestnuts, dried stringy squid, octopus and a few other items for your picking, and I found myself chatting to him in Japanese as I enquired about his food (he had signs up in Japanese, so I presumed that he had Japanese ability). I got a cup of sliced octopus, and here is a shot of him roasting my order. After I paid and received my freshly roasted octopus, he said thank you in Mandarin - he must have figured from my less-than-perfect Japanese that I wasn't a Japanese tourist. The octopus slices were deliciously sweet and had a fantastic smoky charred taste.

Friendly roaster vendor, and the yummy more-ish freshly toasted octopus slices:

After enjoying a bulgogi dinner with a friend and her husband, we went back to our hotel room with a packet of some fried snack given to us by my friend to try. This snack was very light and airy and covered with large flecks of soft-like-icing sugar crystals. It is not as sweet as it looks, and in fact doesn't really have much taste to it. I don't know what it's called, but it's popular because I saw it everywhere [edited to add: thanks to a Korean reader, I've been informed the snack is called yuga]. We also bought a sweet that is identical to the Chinese dragon's beard candy, but several vendors selling these claim that they are a traditional Korean sweet. Rob and I love dragon's beard candy, and this was perhaps the sweetest thing we had during our trip (not hard to achieve because Korean sweets are not very sweet at all).

A popular Korean snack called yuga; and the dragon's beard candy:

At Seoul Subway station, while making a transfer for Suwon, we passed by a small snack shop selling packets of brilliantly coloured soft and fluffy rice cakes. These nicely packaged cakes were selling for only 1000won, and we just had to get one to try. We'd seen them before in Tokyo's Korea-town, but we weren't sure what they were and were always too full from a meal to want to try. They were so much cheaper in Korea, and we were peckish at the time, so it was the perfect time to get one to try. There were quite a variety of Ddeok sold at this particular shop, but we didn't know what the flavours were nor did we know how to ask, so we just picked one almost randomly. It was soft and spongey, only very slightly sweet, and I enjoyed it because it was light and easy to eat. We also got some Banana-flavoured Milk, because we heard that it was something you had to try in Korea. It tastes like banana-flavoured milk! Nothing terribly special, really, but apparently it's a household staple in Korea. I did a bit of googling, and found some interesting information about Korean banana milk.

Steamed ddeok (rice cake); and banana milk:

One of Rob's favourite Korean food is a sweet filled fried pancake known as hoddeok. Ever since we first discovered this delicious treat, Rob had to get it everytime we are in Tokyo's K-town. There was a vendor in Namdaemun market selling hoddeok with 5 different fillings: sweet red beans, pumpkin, apple, strawberries and sweet potato. The pumpkin flavour was delicious, but Rob wasn't satisfied and got a second one from another stall. These are so good, especially when fresh off the hot plate.

Delicious sweet pancakes, served in a paper cup to have on-the-go:

I'm finally getting to the end of our trip to Seoul, but stay tuned for one more post, about our last meal before we flew back home to Tokyo.


  1. Hi, today I happened to see you blog. You tried Yuga given by your friend in is made of glutinous rice,and the flecks outside are coated with the small bit of fried glutinous rice.
    I hope to enjoy lots of new and nostalgic food on your blog. I am now in Japan

  2. Hi Jisoo, thanks for your input! I am glad to finally know what that snack is called :) I hope you are enjoying Japan as much as I did!

  3. Thank you . My life in Japan is literally life rather than enjoy,for I and my husband will be living for the rest of our lives here. My younger sister have living in Sydney for about 20years.

  4. I forgot to tell you. I have been living in Japan for 14 years since I left Korea.

  5. Wow, 14 years! Japan is a beautiful country and I hope life is good there for you. What a coincidence your sister is living in Sydney because we just arrived in Sydney for a short trip to visit family :)